With the Chicago Cubs, fans always talk about the team being in a big market with a strong fan base and lots of funds coming in. There is some truth to that, but there are some details that we should probably discuss as well. Today, Cubs President of Baseball Operations was on the Score and the Born on 3rd Cubs Blog was gracious enough to provide some tweets from the interview:
Theo “Revenue is everything, we want to get to the point to be able to afford $150-$200 million free agent”
— Born on 3rd CubsBlog (@BornOnThirdCubs) April 24, 2013
Gist of the Theo interview….the #Cubs do not have the money to compete at the #MLB level right now.
— Born on 3rd CubsBlog (@BornOnThirdCubs) April 24, 2013
That’s kind of a dire situation. At the same time, the Ricketts family is very wealthy and have dedicated themselves to investing in Wrigley Field and the Cubs, but one has to understand that they didn’t get wealthy by being stupid with their money. And of course, there is a company line being toed here by Theo as he may have to give the guise that the Cubs need this renovation deal to go through ASAP such that they can generate those additional revenue streams they keep talking about. Nevertheless, aside from the bad timing of certain blockbuster deals that could have potentially been made with Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and the like, there is a financial disincentive towards spending at the moment and it’s surprising that Theo is allowed to be so blatantly honest about it.
Before we drown ourselves in Lake Michigan, let’s look at a couple of perspectives. The Tampa Bay Rays have had to scrimp and save while building their perennial contender, playing in a sardine can in Tropicana Field, and hoping that their situation can improve. Despite having a near-ironclad lease with the city, the Rays are exploring their options as they are known to do (quite well, in fact) and hopefully they can turn their strong local fan base on TV into actual bodies in seats.
I’ve often wondered how certain very shrewd GMs such as Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane of the A’s would do with some of the advantages afforded to the Chicago Cubs. Also via MLBTR, Theo was in Boston the other day to raise money for his Foundation to be Named Later, as well as to hold a roundtable with Billy Beane on team-building. There are a lot of interesting tidbits in this article, and the gist is that the Cubs, being in a more financially advantageous situation, still cannot blow their money as much on free agency and amateur talent anymore. The former is due to the dearth of elite free agents hitting the market, and, if true, the lack of revenues holding spending back. The latter is because of the CBA restrictions that will force a team to forfeit their future picks if they spend too much. Beane, like other small market GMs, has a near-opposite problem, where they are able to develop very good players but can no longer afford to keep them as they near free agency. These combined problems are part of the reason why I buy into Theo and Jed Hoyer’s team-buildup plan, because they can eventually get a solid core and pipeline of talent in the system that they can then afford to keep instead of trading for prospects out of necessity because #OwnerCheap.
While the Ricketts and their lawyers, with the blessing of the city of Chicago, wrestle with the neighborhood over the remaining details of the Wrigley renovation plan (h/t Chicago Cubs Online), the focus turns to how the Cubs will approach team-building as they move forward. The Cubs are so much more than their major league product (which we all know is crap, but shouldn’t be this crappy) and we all need to look at the bigger picture. Previously, Tom Ricketts had remarked on how much he wanted the Cubs to be modeled after the Red Sox, who were able to build a solid prospect pipeline, revamp their stadium, and have sustained success before fried chicken beer. Like the Rays, and likely even more so, the Cubs have a huge fan base that want to consume the product. Unlike the Rays, Chicago has a neighborhood stadium that is arguably one of the largest tourist attractions in the state and that, if properly managed, could be a massive cash cow that Ricketts has promised will be reinvested into the team. And while other teams might have shiny new stadiums (Miami comes to mind), few of them have the drawing power of a Wrigley Field, which is why it is so important to get it up to spec like Fenway Park was a few years ago.
An interesting article from Patrick Mooney that popped up today involved Jed Hoyer’s visit to Cincinnati. Jed was in town because the team was sucking and he wanted to be there to commiserate while the team was doing poorly. It seems that instead of becoming like the Red Sox, Jed thought that it might be better to emulate the Reds. And why not? At the moment the Reds have a really good offense, a solid rotation, a respectable farm system, a nice riverfront stadium, and a gaggle of superstars to build around.
General manager Jed Hoyer thought about the Reds during his flight into Cincinnati on Tuesday, how they’ve stacked a lineup with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Chooand Todd Frazier and assembled a rotation around Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake.
“This is a really full-formed, mature team that’s been built through draft and through trade,” Hoyer said before a 4-2 win at Great American Ball Park. “We’re looking to get to that point. You don’t get there overnight. We know there are steps along the way. But we have to feel like we’re making those steps and we have to feel like we’re getting better every year – hopefully every month – and we can see the improvement.”
It is sort of strange to think about, but the crux of the article and everything we’ve discussed is bearing fruit. The Cubs can no longer spend on superstar free agents because the only guys hitting the market are either close to past their primes or have question marks, as the young elite players get locked up. The amateur market, especially with a looming international draft, won’t be able to absorb all that money either due to CBA restrictions. So the Cubs will have to do what Cincinnati and the St. Louis Cardinals have done for years; select and spend wisely on their amateur talent, develop them, and then keep the guys who can help you the longest. The Reds and the Cards have had a huge head start. Let’s hope that Theo, Jed and the Cubs can catch up, because at some point they’re going to be able to figure out what to do with all that extra money and then the Cubs can turn out to be something special again.