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The Easiest Decision Tom Ricketts Will Ever Make

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Matt Swain

Illinois engineering student, way too emotionally invested in the Cubs.

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Tom Ricketts has a lot of tough decisions to make, but this shouldn't be one of them.

Since Tom Ricketts was officially announced as the Cubs new owner this week, everyone and their brother have written their thoughts on what his first moves should be. And now it's my turn.

Only mine is easier, something that doesn't require eating Milton Bradley's contract, or magically finding a team that wants Alfonso Soriano, or even doling out a big contract to yet another free agent. It will cost relatively little, and be easily implemented.

Baseball America came out on Friday with their draft spending list, a ranking of the total amount of money each major league team spent to sign the players they selected in June's amateur draft. The list is a subscription article, so I won't give away too much of it, but I'll let you in on one secret.

The Cubs finished 26th out of the 30 clubs, with just over 4 million dollars spent. The 4 teams that finished behind them? 3 didn't have first round picks, and the 4th didn't sign theirs.

For a big market team like the Cubs, who throw money around on the major league roster like it was candy, that is absolutely pitiful. If you were wondering why the Cubs system continually fails to produce MLB caliber players, the best explanation may be just a lack of trying.
The thing is, to move into the upper half of teams in baseball, the Cubs would only have to allot an extra 2-3 million dollars a year for signing bonuses. To put that into perspective, think the price of one Aaron Miles (2.2 million), Joey Gathright and Aaron Heilman (2.425 million), or half a Kevin Gregg (4.2 million).

The amount of money we're talking is miniscule relative to the total Cubs payroll (almost $140 million in 2009), and yet throwing an extra $500,000 dollars here and there at high school players to buy them away from college could eventually build one of the league's best farm systems.

There are players every summer who made it known they want a high bonus, and if they don't receive it they are willing to go play college baseball. Every team in the MLB knows who they are, and without fail first round talents fall to the 3rd and 4th rounds or further based on their demands. But eventually a team scoops them up, throws some money at them, and hopes for the best, knowing that if they can convince the player to sign they've essentially stolen another first round pick.

For examples, look at C Max Stassi, a 1st round talent the A's nabbed in the 4th and signed for $1.5 million dollars, or SP Brody Colvin, who the Phillies signed away from an LSU commitment for $900K. The Cubs made only one signing in the first 10 rounds significantly above slot, inking SP Brooks Raley for $750K to entice him to leave Texas A&M early.

I know many people are wary of handing significant chunks of money to players who may never see the major leagues, but that's how minor league systems are built. And when your minor league system produces quality players consistently, that's when you'll be able to compete for championships consistently.

Another thing that needs to be considered is the money spent on foreign signings. The Cubs are not big players in Latin America, rarely obtaining the best talent there. They do throw some cash around in Korea, which has produced some good prospects (Hak-Ju Lee, Dae-Eun Rhee, Jae-Hoon Ha), but has yet to produce a quality MLB player (see Hee-Sop Choi and Jae-Kuk Ryu).

Clubs are spending more and more in Latin America, to identify the top prospects and then to sign them. This is a market that's even less reliable than the MLB draft for finding good players, but also is where a large number of baseball's stars are obtained.

When you look at the talent acquisition process as a whole, the biggest and most glaring inefficiency of it right now is the ability for a large market team to come in with some big checks and buy all the best available talent. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers (see Porcello, Rick) are examples of clubs that use this to their advantage, and have reaped the benefits of it.

The Cubs can too. All it takes is one less Aaron Miles, and you can let Tim Wilken go crazy on draft day. Even drafting one more talented prospect a year could make a colossal difference in improving the level of the Cubs farm system.

So Tom Ricketts, your decision appears to be an easy one. If you want to deliver on the World Series you promised Cubs fans, the easiest place to start is in the June draft.

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6 Comments

Aaron34 said:

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I think baseball needs to stop being like the unethical NBA who will take high school juniors out to $1k lunches. These kids should go to college. Most of them won't make it to the pros and it's wrong to give a dumb kid $900K instead of the very necessary gift of college. I agree the farm system needs a big revamp but goin after the high school kids is not the way

Mywrigleyville.com

Matt Swain said:

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I disagree that it's unethical. First of all, most contracts signed by high school players have clauses that would pay for college should the player eventually go (see this article on Cubs draft pick Blair Springfield http://www.pantagraph.com/sports/college/article_6a112bb8-720e-5a9e-af5a-3a6ae74615cf.html ).

Also, you could argue it's unethical to do something like the NBA does and essentially force kids to go to college, which is essentially making a life choice for them. Many kids don't want to go to college, and even if you think it's the best thing for them, and even if it is the best thing for them, they still have the right to make the choice themselves.

And plus, most of the kids who do sign away from college commitments get hefty signing bonuses to go follow their dream of playing major league baseball. I don't see what the problem is with that.

waxpaperbeercup said:

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good read matt, where did the cubs rank in this in 2006, 2007 and 2008?

Matt Swain said:

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I only have the 2008 data, where they finished a slightly more respectable 15th, with 5.5 million spent. You also will notice 4 of the top 10 prospects on my latest list were from that draft (Cashner, Jay Jackson, Carpenter, Flaherty).

Aisle424 said:

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Excellent post. It is amazing to me that the Cubs are willing to roll the dice on a $30 million contract to a volatile, fragile guy like Milton Bradley, but not risk $2 million on a kid in college that they could conceivably keep in their system for years at way below market salary.

tim815 said:

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And in a case of one good decision making the next good decision easier, our signings of Castro, Lee, LeMahieu, and Flaherty will make dives after the likes of Miles less necessary.

Add to the line, fellas.

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