Kap's Corner

Cubs Sale Archives

Quade Gets The Gig....Will Sandberg Leave the Organization?

The Cubs have removed the interim tag and have named Mike Quade their full time manager giving him a two year deal with a club option for 2013. So how did General Manager Jim Hendry arrive at this decision after interviewing several candidates over the past three months?

According to Ryne Sandberg who just appeared on multiple radio shows and spoke with the Chicago Tribune's Dave Van Dyck, he was informed by team chairman Tom Ricketts on Tuesday morning that the Cubs were going with Quade over him because, according to Sandberg, Ricketts said, "it was a tough decision" choosing Quade over him, but that "it was (general manager) Jim Hendry's call and he was going with his gut feeling."

"I told him I'm disappointed and that I appreciated the process and being involved," Sandberg said by phone. "That was the end of the conversation."

Sandberg was not "offered anything" by Ricketts, including the top job at Triple-A Iowa, where he was just named Pacific Coast League manager of the year. "I'm just kind of digesting it right now and I've got my agent getting feelers out," said Sandberg, who wears a Cubs cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. Asked if he would return to Iowa, Sandberg said, "I don't know. I'm hoping there's something else out there. I'm hoping to manage or coach at the big-league level."

So now the question is why was Sandberg passed over and why wouldn't the Cubs wait to at least talk to Joe Girardi whose contract with the New York Yankees is up whenever the Yanks finish their postseason run? These are questions that will be asked at the press conference this afternoon to introduce Quade. The answers should be very telling.

Quade is a solid baseball man and a terrific guy. He grew up in the Chicago area and he understands the Cubs culture. He was well liked as a member of Lou Piniella's coaching staff and he impressed the current Cubs players when he was named the interim manager for the last six weeks of the 2010 season. However, whether or not he can take the Cubs where they haven't been for 102 years remains to be seen.

This much is for sure. General Manager Jim Hendry has made his final managerial hire for a long time because if this one doesn't work he probably won't be around to hire the next one. He needs to have a solid winter and he must show that the direction of the club is pointed upward because after a rough 2009 and a horrific 2010 he must get things turned around and it must happen relatively quickly. He turned the trick when he was named GM in 2002 and had his first team 5 outs from the World Series in 2003. He turned the trick again in 2007 after a terrible 2006 season winning back to back division titles and crafting a team that won a National League best 97 games in 2008. He had better be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat in 2011 or he may be looking for work. 

The Cubs Managerial Search

The Cubs managerial search is rolling along as GM Jim Hendry continues to his homework on several candidates both in-house and outside the organization. He has interviewed Eric Wedge (just named the manager of the Seattle Mariners), Don Wakamatsu, Bob Melvin, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Quade, and others and he has talked to several baseball types he knows around the game to hear their thoughts and opinions.

Before he makes a hire he had better look himself in the mirror and realize that the last two full time managers of this team were unwilling to hold players accountable despite coming in with reputations as locker room leaders. From the ridiculousness that derailed the 2004 Cubs to the antics of Carlos Zambrano this season no one has ever had the courage to lay down the law and be the tough guy that the Cubs have needed for far too long. That is squarely on the field manager and upper management who did absolutely nothing to control the players who let the broadcasters and the extraneous noise distract them in 2004 to Lou Piniella completely losing his team in 2010 as the season spiraled out of control. Set down a way to play and let no one operate outside the rules. Period, end of story. If a player misses a team flight because of his birthday then he doesn't pitch no matter who he is (think Big Z in 2009). If a player doesn't run hard out of the box then he is removed from the game and he sits. Whether he signed a 136 million dollar contract or is a minimum salaried rookie. Operate that way and you have a chance. Anything less and you will lose the respect of your team very quickly.
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An Honest Assessment of the Chicago Cubs

With the 2010 regular season now over it is time to turn our attention to 2011 and that means fixing all that is wrong with the Chicago Cubs as they ended the season in 5th place with a record of 75-87 and 16 games behind the division champion Cincinnati Reds.

What Went Right

The signing of Marlon Byrd was a solid decision as he was excellent defensively, was well liked in the clubhouse, and contributed a solid season offensively. Ryan Dempster was solid winning 15 games and throwing over 200 innings as well as providing tremendous leadership in the clubhouse. Carlos Marmol was excellent all season long saving 38 games and dominating like no other reliever in the game. He does have his occasional control problems but he should be an elite closer for many years to come. Sean Marshall settled into the setup role very well and has emerged as one of the better relievers in the National League. His emergence calmed a very shaky bullpen that struggled in April and May. Finally, shortstop Starlin Castro exploded on the scene when he was called up to the big leagues in early May. He was solid at the plate and showed flashes of brilliance defensively despite commiting 27 errors. He should be a fixture in the Cubs infield for many years to come. 


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Undercover Boss Comes to Wrigley Field

The Ricketts family are newcomers to the baseball world and despite the rough season the Cubs are having on the field it has been a learning experience for all involved in the family.  
I have learned that Todd Ricketts just completed nine days of shooting today on an episode of the popular CBS show "Undercover Boss" at Wrigley Field. Ricketts was in complete disguise including a beard and was not recognized by any Cubs employee as he performed a variety of jobs including hot dog vendor and security guard.

The family looked at this as a great way to learn the inner workings of the business from the ground floor up, despite the poor season. We hear that Ricketts really connected with his "fellow employees".

The show is being rushed into production because as one source who works closely with CBS told me: "Todd Ricketts was a natural and he made the show. It may be the best Undercover Boss we have ever done." It could air within a month. More to come.

**Breaking News** Cubs Close to Trading Derrek Lee

**Breaking News** The Cubs are close to trading first baseman Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves, I have learned exclusively. The trade was first discussed on Sunday evening when the Braves called Cubs GM Jim Hendry and expressed interest after learning that one of their best offensive players, Chipper Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury.

As a 10-5 man (10 years in the major leagues and the last five with the same team) Lee has the right to reject a trade as he did when the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim tried to acquire him in late July. However, sources close to Lee tell us that he will approve a deal to Atlanta because the Braves are leading their division thus giving him a shot at winning another World Series ring. Lee was a member of the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins who beat the New York Yankees in the Fall Classic.

The deal that would send Lee to the Braves has not yet been finalized but MLB sources characterize the trade as nearly done. One holdup has been Lee's balky back which has kept him sidelined the past couple of days. The trade is not expected to land the Cubs much in the way of talent because of Lee's subpar 2010 season but it will provide some salary relief as Lee makes 13 million dollars and the Braves are expected to assume most if not all of his remaining money.

Stay tuned and I will update as soon as I confirm that the trade has been completed. For all of the breaking news that I cover please follow me on Twitter @thekapman. Kap

A Look at the Trade of Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot

The Cubs started their overhaul of the roster for the 2011 season by trading pitcher Ted Lilly and 2nd baseman Ryan Theriot to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2nd baseman Blake DeWitt and two minor league pitchers.

The two minor leaguers the Cubs received were both drafted reasonably high but only one is projected by minor league talent evaluators as a probable big league arm. Brett Wallach, the son of former major league infielder Tim Wallach is a recent convert from position player and pitcher to full time pitcher and has, according to the scouts I spoke with a solid chance of pitching in the big leagues as a back of the rotation type or as a set up man. Kyle Smit was a touted prospect in 2006 when he was drafted in the 5th round but has not progressed as the Dodgers had hoped. Here are a couple of scouting reports on the two pitchers from the MLB Daily Dish:
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The Next Manager is a No Brainer Hire

With Lou Piniella's announcement last week that he is retiring as the manager of the Cubs the speculation has been in high gear as to who will replace him. From Ryne Sandberg to Bob Brenly to Bobby Valentine there has been no shortage of names tossed about.

I have looked at this decision for a while now knowing that Lou would not be returning to the Cubs and there is really only one name that should be on the Chicago Cubs shopping list. New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

Girardi is so obvious that I am stunned to hear some people tout others over him. Girardi is a winner who has multiple World Series rings as a player and has won one as manager of the Yankees. He was also named Manager of the Year when he was with the Florida Marlins and took a team with a 14 million dollar payroll and nearly made the playoffs. He has had small payrolls, large payrolls and has handled both situations very well.


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Lou Piniella To Retire

Cubs manager Lou Piniella will announce this afternoon that he is retiring at the end of the 2010 baseball season. I just spoke exclusively with Piniella and he did confirm that he is stepping down but he is very upset that the news leaked out before he had a chance to inform his team.

"Yes, it is true that I am retiring. I am 67 years old and it is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life and to spend more time with my family. However, I am very upset that the news leaked out before I had a chance to inform my team," Piniella told me.

Bill Madden of the NY Daily News learned of the impending announcement from Piniella's agent Alan Nero who told him the news in confidence. However, Madden did not keep the news quiet and thus the story broke, angering Piniella and his family.

Piniella will address the media at 4:15 from the interview room at Wrigley Field. I will have full coverage of the announcement both on Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet at 5:30 and on the Tenth Inning Show immediately after tonight's Astros/Cubs game on WGN Radio.

What Keeps The Cubs From Winning?

We all know it has been 101 years and counting since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and it isn't looking like this season will end the longest drought in sports history either. On Saturday I interviewed Cincinnati Reds star Scott Rolen who has played many games in the Friendly Confines and asked him why he thinks the Cubs don't win. What he told me might surprise you but give the man credit. He spoke from the heart and was extremely passionate in his comments.

DK: There is a lot of talk about leadership in a locker room. What is your take on the importance of leadership?

SCOTT ROLEN:
 
That word is thrown around a lot. It was thrown around a lot when I was in Philadelphia. Leadership means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The leadership aspect is a bunch of guys going out together and playing good baseball. When you're playing good baseball your winning baseball games then you have good leadership and you have good personnel. When you're going out and playing sloppy baseball and not winning ball games then we have bad leadership. I don't take it, I appreciate it. I take it as...a high regard and very complimentary. But we're trying to be professionals on and off the field trying to go out and play good baseball and stay on top of things and not let things get out of hand and have little brush fires along the way, just keep a nice clean clubhouse.

DK: We hear all the time about bringing in winning type players because they have won championships and they have "been there before". Do you agree?

SCOTT ROLEN:
 
Well, again I'm kind of a downplay guy, I think it's a little overblown. A winning player is a player that's on a team that won. That maybe didn't get a lot of at bats or get a lot of playing time. Whatever, there's something to it with individual guys, but it's individual personnel, case by case, there are special people in all sports that play the game that are infectious that have a way of putting people where they need to be. In the clubhouse keeping things loose, keeping things going in the right direction without a doubt. I do believe in that, but being a winning team and being a winning player, yeah I don't know.

DK: You have played a lot of games here at Wrigley Field during your career. Why do you think the Cubs haven't been able to win here?

SCOTT ROLEN:
 
I think I don't know is probably the politically correct answer. True answer? The facts or the truth? The facts? The facts as I see it, I think they have their hands full a little bit. I think they're limited in their facilities here, their batting cage, I think it limits their work. A little restricted obviously in the clubhouse and their weight room. A lot of facilities that other teams have. They play a different schedule than everybody in baseball. There's three things in my mind that are facts. I don't know if that's the truth because to me there's a difference between the facts and the truth. Well it's a night game now basically. You sleep in during the day, you play a lot of night games and you struggle with travel days and everyone struggles with day games. They're playing 50, 55, 60 whatever day games a year. It's a different schedule. So I know for us coming here playing four day games, we're beat. That's their season. That's what they're doing. It puts their backs against the wall a little bit. They have good players, they have good personnel, they know how to play baseball. They have a good organization, but you know honestly I think it's difficult for them. Like I said, when we're talking about facilities everyone talks about Wrigley Field. Great atmosphere we love coming here, the fans, batting practice, everything. Fantastic, the ivy the whole works. I'm in. There's a lot in the game today, there's a lot of beautiful facilities. That are geared towards working, towards perfecting you know your skill, towards video, you know a lot of things have changed in the game and I'm not sure what the other side looks like but you know batting cages and stuff, I think are a bit restricted. They have to work pretty hard, they've got their hands full. But great place to play, everyone loves playing here and good personel, good ball club, good players.


How to Start Rebuilding the Chicago Cubs

If the Cubs do not show signs of life heading into the all star break I fully believe that we will hear from Chairman Tom Ricketts on his and his family's thoughts about the team and their plans for cleaning up the mess. So with that in mind here is what I would advise them to do to prepare for a very tough meeting with the media and the July 31st trading deadline.

1) Management must let the fan base know how frustrated they are with the on field performance and also let them know that it will not be tolerated and that change is coming to the Cubs in a big way.

2) Identify those pieces that have trade value and can be moved. That means there are no untouchables on the roster. However, it would take a huge deal to pry some of the best youngsters away from the Cubs.

3) Be willing to eat significant dollars to clear out the dead wood on the roster so that a complete overhaul of the team can begin as soon as possible.

4) Show the paying customer how much this season has upset you. They are paying a tremendous amount of money to support your team and they also invest their heart in a team that has broken it more times than they care to remember. They have to know that you are as upset as they are or you could see further declines in attendance and support.

5) Lay out a plan for the future. The Cubs fans will buy a plan if it is spelled out to them in a clear and concise manner. There has never been a definitive plan to rebuild the team. It has always been about trying to upgrade and compete all at the same time. Unless you spend Yankee level money that plan has very little chance of succeeding.

6) Talk about playing with pride and fire. That is much more of an indictment on the players than it is on the manager. However, when you see players like Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez struggle day after day and they continue to remain in the 3-4 hole on the days that they are playing it is no wonder that it appears as if poor play is accepted. Lee and Ramirez have been awful all season long but never have we seen them dropped down to the 6-7-8 spots in the order.

When the White Sox were struggling in early June we heard Kenny Williams say that it would not be tolerated and that changes were coming if things didn't improve. He also said that "I'm tired of looking at this and so are our fans." By doing that he let everyone who buys a White Sox ticket know that he was as frustrated as they are and that it was unacceptable. We have not heard much of that from the North Side and that too is unacceptable.


What Would You Do If You Were Tom Ricketts?

I host the Tenth Inning post game show on WGN Radio after most games and I am inundated with calls from fans who want to blame Lou Piniella for the poor play of many of the Cubs highly paid stars. So it got me to thinking. If you owned the Chicago Cubs what moves would you make? Not just in player personnel but in all aspects of running a major league baseball franchise from the team to the front office to the concessions to the marketing plan.

Put some thought into this and post your ideas in the comments section. I will take the best laid out plans to Tom Ricketts and hand your ideas to him. Be creative, think outside the box, and remember there are a ton of aspects that are included in owning a major league team that you probably haven't even considered. Where would you build the new spring training facility? Who would be your manager next season if Lou doesn't return? How much would your payroll be?

These are all interesting questions and questions that I want you to answer. Be thorough and have fun building a franchise but remember it is not as easy as it looks!

Go get em!

An Honest Assessment of the Cubs

With the Cubs currently sitting at 19-22 and 4 1/2 games off the pace in the NL Central it is time to evaluate the roster, the off season moves, and the decision making through the first 6 weeks of the season.

General Manager Jim Hendry did not have much payroll flexibility this past winter and he had a number of things he wanted to address as he tried to retool his baseball team after a disappointing 2009 season. Hendry needed to land a center fielder, he needed to move Milton Bradley, he needed to upgrade his bullpen, and he needed to help some of his best players return to their previous form after having sub par 09' campaigns.

Let's look at the Cubs moves and decisions since the end of the 2009 season and grade them accordingly:


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An Open Letter From Tom Ricketts

I received this letter from several Cubs fans today so I decided to post it here on the blog so you could read it and decide to participate if you wanted to.

This is from Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts:


Are you a TRUE Cubs fan?

Date:
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Time:
12:00pm - 3:00pm
Location:
Chicago City Hall - Room 201-A
Street:
121 N. LaSalle St.

Description

If you're a true fan of the Cubbies then come on out and show the team your support.

Dear Friends,

You've probably been hearing about the Toyota sign we've proposed for the back of the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field. As fans and neighbors, we want you to know why this is important to the team and how it can help preserve the Friendly Confines.

As you know, Major League ballparks have historically relied on in-park signage to generate revenue. Legendary Fenway Park, older than Wrigley Field, has added significant signage throughout its outfield - and two World Series championships - in the last six years. Most other MLB teams also receive substantial public subsidies; we do not. In our case, we have asked for one sign in the outfield.

When we became owners, my family and I anticipated the need to spend tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars over the years ahead to preserve Wrigley Field. This past off-season, before we saw a single game as owners, we invested $10 million to shore up the infrastructure of the aging ballpark, renovate and expand its bathrooms, preserve our beloved scoreboard and replace some of the less attractive features of the park, like the concrete panels on the Addison street fa├žade. As long-time Cubs fans, we know Wrigley Field is a special place and our hope is for future generations to share the wonderful experience of visiting the Friendly Confines.

In addition to the dollars invested in the park, we have maintained one of the highest payrolls in baseball and increased our budget for scouting and development - the key to future success. Winning a championship requires significant financial resources and we are currently reinvesting all profits - from the Toyota sign and otherwise - to make this happen.

Beyond the economics, there is an important principle at stake here. Wrigley Field has thrived for years as a privately-owned facility, albeit one where public interest is keen. We believe the park continues to be well-served by this principle which has guided its operation for nearly a century.

We have also been very respectful of the City's landmark designation and the process we have undertaken to win approval has been thorough. We've worked with the City and made adjustments, including modifying the location and design of the sign at the request of preservationists and City zoning officials. We've also worked with the rooftop businesses and in fact chose the proposed location because it least impacts those rooftop partners with whom we have long-term agreements. The landmark designation was never intended to put Wrigley Field in a time capsule. It's intended to allow flexibility and growth, within reason, to help the ballpark stay alive for the decades to come.

Finally, much of the opposition is rooted in commercial interests of one particular building and is designed to protect advertising currently on a rooftop across the street from Wrigley Field. Protecting the interests of one rooftop advertisement does not help preserve Wrigley Field or put together a championship team.

We would welcome your help and support for this sign. If you would like to lend your voice in support, please e-mail us at cubsfanfeedback@cubs.com.

I hope this information is helpful. Efforts like this are important as we continue to invest in our team and our 96-year-old ballpark. Improvements to Wrigley Field and modest changes throughout the years have kept the Friendly Confines alive while other stadiums have come and gone. Working together as we have allows us to remain viable and continue to flourish.

Thank you again for your help. And Go Cubs!

Sincerely,

Tom Ricketts
Chairman

The Latest on the Cubs, Zambrano, etc....

With the Cubs record now back to .500 at 13-13 and a 6 game road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati up this week it's time to take a critical look at the team and some of the issues that they are facing in the fairly near future.

Before I go position by position I feel it necessary to address Phil Rogers "Morning Phil" column on the Chicago Tribune website today. Phil addresses the hot streak that Alfonso Soriano is currently in and says:

1. Forgive us, Alfonso. We should know better, but how quickly we all forget. When Bob Brenly, David Kaplan and seemingly everyone following the Cubs was treating Alfonso Soriano with something between contempt and ridicule for failing to run hard out of the batter's box on a blast to the wall April 20 at Citi Field in New York, they missed the bigger picture: Soriano was showing signs of become a dangerous hitter again.

Well, Phil you are showing an incredible lack of understanding of how the game is supposed to be played. Sure, Soriano is red hot and he is carrying the team but you have once again missed the much bigger picture. There is a right way to play the game and a wrong way to play the game and when Soriano doesn't hustle that is the wrong way to play the game and that my friend is an undeniable fact. You can defend his lack of hustle all you want but if it is no big deal then why was he pulled into Lou Piniella's office after that game in New York and talked to about the play? Are you telling me Phil that when he hustled a double into a triple the next night that it had nothing to do with the tongue lashing he received from his manager less than 24 hours earlier?

C'mon Phil, I know that you are smarter than that. Reading this it sure doesn't show it though.

Now, onto an assessment of the Cubs through the first month or so.

Starting Pitching

With Carlos Zambrano now in the bullpen as a set up man the rotation has stayed surprisingly solid through the first month. Carlos Silva has been solid and Tom Gorzelanny has been very capable in the #5 spot. Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells have been excellent and if not for the failings of the bullpen prior to Zambrano's arrival the Cubs record would be far better than 13-13. Ted Lilly has had one good start and one poor one so it is far too early to pass judgment on his long term prognosis this season. While the back end of the rotation has been a pleasant surprise you still cannot convince me that the rotation is better without Zambrano and I fully expect him to return to his role as a starter at some point this season. Unless of course the Cubs make a major trade that includes Big Z.

Bullpen

With 3 rookies on the opening day roster it is not hard to understand why the Cubs pen struggled so mightily in April. Combine that fact with the struggles of John Grabow and you can see why the record is what it is. Will Zambrano be the steadying influence that bullpen needs to vault the Cubs into contention? He can be if he is willing to commit himself to the role and if the Cubs rotation stays solid. If one of the 5 starters struggles then Zambrano will go back to the rotation and the hole in the set up role will again become a glaring weakness. Look for Jim Hendry to make a trade to shore this area up but with very little trade activity in the industry over the season's first 45-60 days it may be a while before deal gets done unless the Cubs GM is willing to significantly overpay.

Infield

The corner spots have been an issue offensively but Derrek Lee is showing signs of breaking out of his April slump and should be a solid force going forward. Ryan Theriot has been outstanding offensively hitting .348 and while he is not a Gold Glove shortstop he is more than solid at the position. Aramis Ramirez has been awful through the first month but based on his career numbers you have to believe that he will return to form as a very potent offensive threat. If he doesn't then the Cubs have major issues because his production is irreplaceable from the backups currently on the roster. Second base has been a pleasant surprise offensively as Mike Fontenot is hitting over .300 but can that continue for an entire season remains to be seen. The Cubs top prospect Starlin Castro is currently hitting .354 in Class AA but he is 5 for his last 35 at the plate so it appears he is in line for at least another few weeks of seasoning before he could make his major league debut. When he does look for Ryan Theriot to move over to 2nd base on an everyday basis.

Outfield

With all five outfielders on the roster deserving of playing time this is perhaps the toughest part of Lou Piniella's job. Alfonso Soriano. Marlon Byrd, and Kosuke Fukudome have all hit well but Tyler Colvin also is producing and has more than justified Piniella's faith in him when he put him on the opening day roster. Xavier Nady is a professional hitter and is not happy with his lack of playing time but with his surgically repaired elbow still an issue and the outfielders hitting well it has made opportunities for him to play scarce.

Catcher

A position of strength as Geovany Soto has rebounded from an awful 2009 and is a threat again at the plate. He is also throwing well and is a huge upgrade over the production the cubs received behind the plate in 2009. Koyie Hill is a very capable backup and has more than held his own when he gets an opportunity to play.

Summary

So, can the cubs make a run in the NL Central Division? Yes, if their rotation stays solid and the bullpen anchored by Zambrano and Carlos Marmol does its job consistently. Aramis Ramirez has to return to the form that he is capable of because without his bat in the lineup the Cubs have no chance to be solid enough offensively to compete for a playoff spot.

However, this is a station to station baseball team that does not have much team speed so when the wind blows in the Cubs are not very adept at manufacturing runs. They need to string together bunches of hits to score and that is not an easy proposition in the big leagues. I still have major questions about this team and while the past weekend was a solid step in the right direction let's not forget that they were playing the Arizona Diamondback and not the Philadelphia Phillies. Show us some excellent play against some of the better teams in the league and then maybe I'll start to believe.





No Announcement on Spring Training Site Today

Numerous news organizations are reporting today that the Chicago Cubs will announce their future spring training home this afternoon. I have confirmed that they will be making no announcement today as they weigh proposals from both Mesa, AZ and Naples, FL.

Speculation is running rampant that the Cubs have settled on Naples or are close to making that decision but I do not believe that any announcement has been decided upon. Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan had a story that talked about a "bed tax" that would potentially seal the deal for a move to Naples.

I predicted months ago that despite an excellent offer from Naples that the Cubs would get a deal done that would keep them in Arizona and I still believe that will end up being true. Look for an announcement sometime next week.

The Best of the Decade in Chicago Sports

As the first decade in the 21st century comes to a close, let's take a moment to reminisce about the best and worst moments and athletes of the past ten years in Chicago Sports.

Best Team: 2005 Chicago White Sox

Only one Chicago team could call itself champions in the first decade of the 2000s, and that team plays at 35th and the Dan Ryan.  The White Sox magical run to a world championship in 2005 erased an 88-year drought of glory on the south side.  Everything went right for Ozzie Guillen's club that year, as his starting staff of Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia each won 14 or more games in the regular season, leading the club to a 99 win campaign.  Playing "Ozzie Ball", the Palehose used speed and timely hitting to scratch across runs with Scott Podsednik changing the team's offensive strategy.  The White Sox stormed through the playoffs, going 11-1 in October, which included a sweep of the then-defending champion Red Sox, and the Astros in the World Series.  Their bullpen was rock solid all year, as Bobby Jenks burst onto the scene as a bona fide closer, and earned the save on October 26, 2005 to earn the Sox a ring.

Worst Team: 2000-2001 Chicago Bulls

After a historic run of six world championships in the previous decade with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, things went very bad and very fast for the Bulls after the nucleus of the team left the Windy City.  The team did have Elton Brand, who averaged 20 points per game, Ron Mercer, who could still contribute, and Ron Artest--who by his own admission--was drinking on the job.  The team went 15-67, bad enough for a miserable .183 winning percentage, and ranked dead last in the NBA in points per game (87.6).  Need any further proof this team was a disaster?  This team only had three players average double-digit scoring, and Ron Artest barely qualified in double-digits with just over 11 points per game.  Also, how about these names that contributed minutes to Tim Floyd's club that year:  Dragan Tarlac, Khalid El-Amin, Dalibor Bagaric, A.J. Guyton, Jake Voskuhl.  Need I say more?

Best Athlete: Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears

Say what you want about Urlacher's attitude, or problematic character at times.  It's no question this city could have embraced him far more than they did over this past decade.  But when it comes to the best athlete in Chicago sports over the last ten years, Urlacher takes the cake.  After being drafted in the first round out of New Mexico in 2000, Urlacher immediately emerged as a standout linebacker for the Bears and quickly vaulted to the top of the NFL.  He had more than 800 tackles in the decade, 37.5 sacks, and 17 interceptions.  He was one of the most feared defensive players in the league for the majority of the decade, and led his team to multiple playoff appearances including a Super Bowl berth in 2006.  Note: Honorable Mention goes to White Sox ace Mark Buehrle, for a consistent and successful decade.

Worst Athlete: Corey Patterson, Chicago Cubs

Corey Patterson had a three good months as a Chicago Cub.  That's it.  Otherwise, his career as a Cub could really only be described as a debacle.  The 3rd overall pick in the 1998 draft figured to solve the Cubs center field problem for the long haul.  All we read and heard about him coming up was that he had great speed, great power, and could be a five-tool superstar type player to anchor the Cubs outfield.  Instead, he was a free-swinging, undisciplined, stubborn liability for the Cubs for parts of five seasons.  Other than the 83 games in 2003 in which he hit .298 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs, he was detracting from the team's success.  (And funnily enough, when Patterson got hurt the Cubs acquired Kenny Lofton, who was a catalyst and a big reason why the Cubs nearly reached the world series that season.)  In 2004, he was a microcosm of the team's shortcomings, and his 2005 season was one of the worst statistical seasons put forth by an everyday player in history.  He's still toiling around baseball, last seen with the Brewers this past season.  The Cubs traded him to Baltimore before the 2006 year, and the Cubs have still not found a long term solution for center field.

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The Cubs Payroll Evolution

In 2003, the Chicago Cubs payroll was $80 million. In 2004, coming off a run to the NLCS, the Cubs payroll escalated to $90 million. 2005 saw the team shave the number to 87 million, and not until 2008 did the player payroll crack the 100 million dollar mark. So how did the Cubs go from spending 99 million dollars in 2007, to roughly 145 million, which is where their payroll is estimated to reach in 2010? 

Several factors played into the scenario that now has the ball club among the top 3 spending teams in baseball. First, 2006 was an abysmal season that saw the Cubs finish 66-96, dead last in the NL Central. Consequently, attendance in the latter stages of the season plummeted, and fans stopped paying attention to the team by September.

Second, the White Sox reached the pinnacle of the sport, winning the 2005 World Series. Their success rekindled interest from their fan base, and saw legions of Chicago area youngsters wearing Sox hats and jerseys. Cubs management took notice of their half empty stadium in September of 2006 and decided that something drastic had to be done.

Drastic meant the firing of Andy MacPhail as team president and firing manager Dusty Baker. The club kept general manager Jim Hendry and gave him a blank check to try to right the ship.  The Cubs knew with the resurgent competition in town and the fact that the franchise would soon be up for sale that they needed to increase the franchise's value to appease both the fan base and drive up the value for a prospective buyer.
  
In November of '06, after reeling in Mark DeRosa on a 3 year 13 million dollar deal, the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year, $136 million contract, which was unprecedented for the Cubs after years of avoiding the premium free agents. Hendry then went to the Winter Meetings in December of 2006 and signed Ted Lilly to a 4 year 40 million dollar deal. This all came after the Cubs re-signed Aramis Ramirez to a 75 million dollar deal, re-signed Kerry Wood, and added Lou Piniella as their new manager.

And do you really think Hendry, after sitting third on the depth chart behind MacPhail and Baker, was really acting alone?  No chance.  The company had as much to do with the team's free spending as he did. In fact, Hendry was given a mandate by management to spend freely, try to win,  and most importantly to management, to raise the franchise's value to aid the sale process.

That also meant that the contracts that were given out were to be back loaded as much as possible so that the new owner would pay much of the deals. However, the economy tanked, the credit markets dried up and the sale process took for longer than expected which made Hendry's job far tougher as he tried to navigate the deals that he had been asked to extend by his bosses.

Yet while the Cubs spent a tremendous amount to improve their team and improve their value, they added some enormous contracts of which the new owner would inherit the bulk. Consequently, the team has very little wiggle room to add marquee players now, or in the near future, since their payroll is tied up in players like Soriano, Zambrano, and Ramirez.  Had the Cubs had more financial flexibility a year ago, what's to say the team wouldn't have been interested in adding Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay at the trading deadline?

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Yankees Covet Granderson, Cubs Won't Include Castro

The New York Yankees spent the better part of Monday at the Winter Meetings trying to acquire Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson, who is available because Detroit is looking to cut payroll. The proposed deal was a three team swap that also included the Arizona Diamondbacks. But as of Monday evening, it appears that the Yankees were having reservations about the amount of young talent that they would have to include in the swap to acquire Granderson.

The Cubs are on the fringe of the discussions, hoping to hang around and see if the price falls a bit, so they can take a run at acquiring the outstanding defender and Chicago native. However, the Tigers reportedly are asking for Cubs top prospect SS Starlin Castro and two more good players in exchange for Granderson, and the Cubs are balking at including Castro in just about any deal.

The Cubs are also hot on the heels of CF Mike Cameron, who played for Cubs manager Lou Piniella in Seattle. He's not only a great defender, but he is considered one of the best clubhouse leaders in baseball. Jim Hendry told me last week that he can make moves even if a trade or signing puts him over the payroll limit set by ownership, as long as he meets his budget number by Opening Day. That was not the case in 2005, when Hendry was forced to let Moises Alou leave via free agency, and to pass on several other moves, because he had not yet moved the contract of Sammy Sosa. 

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Jake Fox and Aaron Miles to Oakland for 3 Prospects

The Cubs have traded Jake Fox and Aaron Miles to the Oakland A's for three prospects. More to come. 

It's Official....The Ricketts Take Control

After a 30 month period filled with ups and downs it is finally official. The Ricketts family has taken control of the storied Chicago Cubs franchise, Wrigley Field, and a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

Here is the press release issued by the Ricketts family through their spokesman Dennis Culloton just minutes ago....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 (CHICAGO) -- The Ricketts family says it's official; the family has taken a 95 percent controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and 25 percent of Comcast Sportsnet after a financial closing today.

The closing on the deal, valued at $845 million, completes a more than two year effort that started when Tribune Company put the team, stadium and broadcast interest up for bid.  Family members Pete, Tom, Laura and Todd Ricketts will now assume control of the team, forming a board of directors. Tribune Company will retain a five percent interest in the enterprise and also have a seat on the board. 

Tom Ricketts, 44, will serve as board chairman and issued the following statement:

"My family and I are thrilled that this day has finally come and we thank Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball owners for approving our ownership.  Now we will go to work building the championship tradition that all Cubs fans so richly deserve. 

It's fitting that this closing takes place during World Series week. Out of respect for the Fall Classic, and at the league's request, we will wait to introduce ourselves to the media and fans until this Friday, a travel day in the series between the Phillies and the Yankees."

The news conference will take place at Wrigley Field at 11 a.m. Friday, October 30th.

More to come later in the day when we discuss this on Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 on Comcast SportsNet and tonight at 7:00 on Sports Central on WGN Radio.

No Chance the Cubs Spend the Spring in Florida

There are reports surfacing tonight that the Cubs have spoken with the city of Naples, FL about a possible move there as a new spring training home. Yes, the Cubs have met with Naples officials and they have toured the city as they consider all of their options for spring training.

However, there is virtually no chance that the Cubs will leave Arizona and the Cactus League for Florida and the Grapefruit League. The travel in Florida is much tougher with some of the cities much farther apart than the large group of teams that calls the Phoenix area home.

This is called negotiating folks, and as the Cubs look around it drives up the offers from the city of Mesa. And it will, in the end, make the deal that the Cubs agree to that much more lucrative. Look for the Cubs to develop a sort of "Disneyland" for spring training baseball in Arizona, with a hotel and restaurant complex located near the playing field and workout facilities at which the team will train.

When it is all finished, it will be a cash cow for the Cubs, who remain the #1 drawing team in the Cactus League. The new stadium will be larger than Ho Ho Kam, and it will be loaded with amenities that the Cubs currently don't have.

Yes, Naples would love to have the Cubs, but I just don't see it happening no matter what they offer. The Cubs and Arizona are a good match, and when Mesa finishes their proposal I see the Cubs staying right there.

Cubs Bankruptcy is Approved

A Delaware judge has approved the Cubs sale from Tribune Company to the Ricketts family paving the way for the sale to close late next week and for the family to take control of the franchise.

Here are the details  of the announcement on the bankruptcy approval by Judge Kevin Carey who is handling the entire Tribune case. Tune into Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 on Comcast SportsNet and Sports Central on WGN Radio at 7:00 p.m.for more on the process and when the deal should close and what moves could be made first by the new ownership group.

Random Thoughts From the Chicago Sports Scene

Once in a awhile I like to look at some of the happenings in the sports world rather than just concentrating a blog post on just one sport. So here are some thoughts and questions that I have been observing and wondering about for a while.

Did you know that the over/under total of wins for the Bears in Las Vegas when the season began was 8 1/2? You have to think that the large numbers of Chicagoans who travel to Vegas must have put some serious money down on the over. The Bears look pretty solid and with Jay Cutler at the controls it would take a real collapse to not win at least 9 games.

The total bet in Vegas that has the casinos very happy is the number that they posted on the Broncos of 6 1/2 after seeing huge money come in on the under with the total posted at 7 1/2. The casinos adjusted their number out of concern that they could lose a ton on the under. Several "wiseguys" continued to pound the under and the casinos could make a fortune with the Broncos already 4-0.
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Let's Clear Up a Few Misconceptions About the 09' Cubs

Now that the 2009 season has come to an end for the Chicago Cubs it is time to take a critical look at the team and dispel a few ideas that some in town seem to believe as gospel. First, as much as the signing of Milton Bradley was a bad idea it was not the reason the 2009 Cubs finished where they did. Repeat after me, Milton Bradley was not the reason this team is not in the playoffs.

Bradley was certainly a problem in the clubhouse and his productivity was not great but there were several other problems that helped derail the season. The fact that the entire starting outfield combined for 43 HR's and 99 RBI's was certainly one reason that the run production was down dramatically from 2008. Add in the fact that Geovany Soto had a brutal year and that Aramis Ramirez only played in 82 games and you have two more huge components of the 2008 offense that did not perform at the same level.
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The Cubs Have to Get it Right (or Left) This Winter

After the Cubs were swept by the Dodgers last winter, management was very open about its need to add another bat to the lineup.  And after listening to Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry, it was obvious that the bat had to be left handed.

Why? Who cares what side of the plate a guy hits from?

It is the same ridiculous logic that we see in baseball today when managers feel that they have to go to the bullpen to have a left handed pitcher face a left handed hitter in a key situation. Never mind that, in many situations, the pitcher may be better against right handed hitters than he is against left handed hitters. Remember Mike Remlinger?  He was brought in as a left handed specialist. But a look at his career numbers shows that he was far better facing right handed hitters than he was against left handed hitters.

Is there any doubt that Neal Cotts was on the Cubs roster as long as he was because he threw from the left side? If he was a right handed pitcher and put up the numbers that he did in a Cubs uniform he would have been released a long time ago. Yet, he was given chance after chance despite struggling mightily.

It is this mentality that is pervasive around baseball and it has to change. It is as foolish as pitch counts being used as a definite when it comes to deciding when to change pitchers. There is a great article in ESPN the Magazine about Nolan Ryan and how he has changed the mentality of the Texas Rangers and their use of pitch counts.
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Can Jim Hendry Fix the Cubs?

Yes, I know he had a brutal winter of 2008-09 and I know that the Cubs have had a very disappointing 2009 season. But I still believe that GM Jim Hendry is the man to fix what ails his baseball team heading into 2010. Sources have confirmed to me that Hendry will indeed be retained as the GM after the 2009 season ends and he will be given a fair shot to straighten out what went wrong with his club this season.

Hendry has been down this road before when he needed to do a far bigger overhaul both after the 2002 season when he was first hired as the GM, and again after the 2006 season when he changed managers, added several new players, and built the core of 2008's 97 win team. Add in three division titles in 7 years for a franchise that, until he arrived, hadn't had back to back winning seasons, and he has accomplished more than any other GM in the Cubs recent history.

Last winter Hendry set out to fix what he thought was the main problem with his team and that was a lack of left handed run production to add, as he said at the time, balance to the Cubs right handed dominant starting lineup. By acquiring Milton Bradley, Hendry felt he was adding a switch hitter who was an on-base machine in Texas last season and he envisioned Bradley driving in runs and being a constant presence on the base paths. 
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The Cubs Need to Say Goodbye to Rich Harden

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Rich Harden's inability to pitch deep into games combined with his injury history makes it likely he won't be a Cub in 2010.

With the Cubs looking towards next year and trying to figure how to improve their team without having a big budget increase lets take a look at their salary commitments for 2010 and how their payroll may prevent them from making many major moves.

Here are the Cubs who are already under contract for next year:
Alfonso Soriano  19 million
Carlos Zambrano 18.875 million
Aramis Ramirez  16.75 million
Kosuke Fukudome 14 million
Ryan Dempster  13.5 million
Derrek Lee  13 million
Ted Lilly 13 million
Milton Bradley 10.33
Jeff Samardzija 1.0 million
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119.455 million

Add in to this number arbitration eligible players like Ryan Theriot, Carlos Marmol, Aaron Heilman, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Mike Fontenot, and Koyie Hill and you have to figure that the payroll will swell to approximately $130 million or more and that is just for 16 players.

Add in needing to either re-sign or replace Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg, and Reed Johnson and you have a payroll that is close to or more than 140 million BEFORE you attempt to improve the roster.

So those of us who like to play arm chair general manager and have the Cubs taking a run at Chone Figgins or another high priced free agent better understand that the Ricketts family is not going to be adding big money to the payroll in their first year of ownership.

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Let's Talk About Big Z

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Carlos Zambrano has his share of detractors, but should the Cubs consider trading him this off-season?

Paul Sullivan stirred up Cubs Nation over the last 24 hours when he talked about the possibility of the Cubs trading Carlos Zambrano this winter in an attempt to create more payroll flexibility and to add some young prospects to the club.

Since his article hit the Internet last night after the Cubs 2-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, there has been much discussion about whether or not it makes sense to deal the volatile right hander. Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald thinks it would be foolish to deal Zambrano, because he believes Big Z has pitched much better than his record this season indicates.

Zambrano has been heralded as the ace of the Cubs staff for a long time.  And while he is paid like an ace he hasn't pitched like one since inking his 91.5 million dollar extension in August 2007.

But let's not blame him for his salary. He accepted what the market said he was worth and when the Cubs signed him he did what any one of us would have done, he signed the deal. So don't blame him for that.

Now if you want to complain that he is paid like a #1 starter and he isn't a #1 starter, that is an entirely different argument. I have complained that Zambrano doesn't win enough to be an ace. I know that wins are not the best statistic to judge a pitcher on, but the fact that he ranks roughly 30th in baseball in wins since the day he signed his extension is very disconcerting.
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The Cubs Need to Sign the #1 Free Agent This Winter

Fresh off of a great weekend in Las Vegas with my wife I am back to working the phones and looking at what the Cubs can or might do this winter to overhaul their very disappointing team. That means every area of the team and the organization is under review with new ownership taking over after the World Series.


There are some solid players available in free agency, but as a whole this year's crop of free agents is not particularly strong. However, there is one bona-fide superstar available, and if you land him you land a second piece of your puzzle as a bonus.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa's contract expires after this season and there is speculation throughout Cardinal Nation that he may walk away from St. Louis and look for a new opportunity. What better move could new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and his family make than to hire one of the greatest managers in baseball history to inject some life into his struggling baseball team?

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The best first move the Ricketts Family could make would be to hire Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan for the Cubs. Both men will be free agents this off-season


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How to Start to Fix the Cubs for 2010

With a new ownership group scheduled to assume control shortly after the World Series the
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Jim Hendry has three years left on his contract and he will probably get the chance to build the 2010 Cubs and to correct what went wrong in 2009.

Cubs will not only have a lot of tough decisions to make to improve their team but they will also have a new direction to plan with Tom Ricketts and his family as the architects.

What will the Cubs off season look like? Will Jim Hendry be the man making the decisions? Let's take a stab at answering those questions and trying to figure out what is on the horizon for the 2010 Cubs. First, let's start with who will be in charge of baseball operations. There is considerable angst among Cubs fans over the moves made by General Manager Jim Hendry last winter. Nothing that Hendry tried worked and after seeing a 97 win team go backwards he is certainly hearing complaints from the fan base.






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Ricketts Plan for Wrigley

Crain's Chicago Business has a story up regarding the Rickett's family's plans for Wrigley Field once they complete their deal to buy the Cubs from Tribune Company. As I reported a week ago the deal is done and will be approved by Major League Baseball shortly after the World Series.

Many fans are speculating that the first thing that Tom Ricketts does as the new owner is to clean house but sources close to the situation tell me that they do not expect immediate changes. Instead, they expect the family to assess every aspect of the team from an inside perspective both on and off the field before they implement the changes that they have been considering since they first decided to submit a bid.


Suggestions for the Ricketts Family

There are several moves both on and off the field that I would suggest to the new owners that would fundamentally change the team and the Wrigley Field experience for fans. Demand that things be done your way or else. You knew how to play that card when you had to during the long negotiations to buy the team.
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The Ricketts family reportedly played hardball toward the end of their negotiations to buy the Cubs. Now they have to play hardball and demand that things be done their way going forward.



Everyone in the media seems to be weighing in with their ideas so I figured I might as well give mine. So here we go:

1) Trade Milton Bradley and eat whatever salary you have to eat to make the deal happen. He had a good season in Texas in 2008, so the Cubs hoped it would translate into great productivity here.  But both on and off the field it is not working. So make the move this winter before it becomes a sideshow for the second consecutive season.

2) Say goodbye to Aaron Miles. The Cubs saw Miles hit .317 in 134 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008 and after making the insanely ridiculous decision to trade Mark DeRosa the Cubs figured Miles could do the same for the North Siders. His .178 average and whopping total of 5 RBI's in 146 at bats has to guarantee a ticket out of town despite the fact that he is owed another 2.7 million dollars in 2010.
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**Breaking News** The Cubs Sale is Done!

As we first reported a week ago that it would happen by today, the agreement to sell the Chicago Cubs has been signed between the Tribune Company and the Ricketts family. The deal is for 845 million dollars and will be for a 95% stake in the ballclub, Wrigley Field, and Tribune Company's 25% stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

The Tribune Company will retain a 5% ownership interest but the Ricketts family will have total control of the operation of the baseball team. The next step will be to place the franchise into Chapter 11 so that the bankruptcy court can approve the transaction. After that step is completed then Major League Baseball's other owners will need to approve the transaction. Both of these steps are considered a formality and the Ricketts family is expected to assume control of the franchise sometime after the World Series is completed.

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As we first reported last week, the Tribune Company and the Ricketts family have signed an agreement to sell a controlling interest in the team and Wrigley Field to the Ricketts family. The deal is pending Major League Baseball approval.

 

MLB's next quarterly owners meeting is ironically in Chicago in November but the approval of the sale could be done via teleconference before then so that Tom Ricketts who is leading the family's ownership group could start to make critical decisions about the franchise's direction before free agency begins in early November.

Fans are already speculating on just what the new ownership group's first move will be but sources close to the sale process tell me that Tom Ricketts is not an impulsive person and that he will survey the situation with the ball club before he makes drastic changes to the front office and the team itself.

The sale process has been a difficult one and has dragged on for 28 months since the team was put on the block on Opening Day of the 2007 baseball season but this step is a huge one in the right direction because the club has been without definitive ownership since early 2007 when the Tribune Company was purchased by Sam Zell. From that point on the team has been on the block and speculation about its future has been major news. Now the team will have direction and a fresh approach as they try to win a World Series for the first time since 1908.

As for the radio future of the Cubs here is the latest after the agreement was signed today:

"As part of the sale, WGN Radio will remain as the radio play by play home of the Chicago Cubs, and we look forward to our continued partnership with the club for many years to come," said Tom Langmyer, Vice President and General manager of WGN Radio.

More to come on this story as it develops. Kap

 

What Would You Do If You Were the Cubs GM?

After dropping two of three to the lowly San Diego Padres the Cubs move on to face perhaps the best team in the National League when they open a four game series at Dodger Stadium tonight. Can the Cubs stay alive in both the division race and the wild card chase? A rough weekend could push them so far out of contention that the month of September could be fairly meaningless. However, a surprisingly good series could be the impetus to an excellent home stand that opens on Tuesday against the Washington Nationals.

In today's Sun Times Chris DeLuca wrote an article about Lou Piniella's obsession with getting more left handed bats into the Cubs lineup after last fall's sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. In the article DeLuca talks about Lou Piniella pointing out that the Dodgers threw no left handed pitchers at the Cubs in any matchup that they played in 2008.

The Cubs sat down at their organizational meetings in Arizona last fall and everyone seated at the table agreed that the Cubs needed a left handed run producer. Fine, you want to add a big bat to balance the lineup? That premise no one complained about. However, how did adding a left handed run producer turn into 13 different guys on today's 25 man roster from last season's 97 win team?


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Finally, The Sale of the Cubs Should Be Signed This Week!

The long awaited sale of the Chicago Cubs should finally be signed this week between the Tribune Company and the Ricketts family. The process has been ongoing since April of 2007 but now it is finally about to be completed.

Excellent sources have assured me that there are no more hurdles to clear and the paperwork will be signed by Friday. It will then move on to an MLB ownership committee then a stop in front of the bankruptcy judge and finally it will need approval of the other owners in Major League Baseball. All of this should be wrapped up by the World Series or shortly thereafter and it should pave the way for Tom Ricketts and his family to finally have the keys to the Cubs kingdom.

This timetable will allow the Cubs to be active in free agency which doesn't begin until November and should allow the Ricketts to implement the beginning stages of their master plan in time for the 2010 season. What that plan will involve remains to be seen but rest assured Cubs fans, Tom Ricketts and Co. want to win and they have very definite ideas on what they want to do to improve the franchise.

Here Are the Facts

The Cubs looked awful Wednesday night and were pounded by the Phillies 12-5 so with 50 games to go lets examine the facts and the questions surrounding the franchise. First of all, the Cardinals now lead the division by four games and after adding Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa they have become a much more formidable opponent than they were when the season began.

Let's look at the roster and discuss the situation the Cubs have put themselves in. First of all, manager Lou Piniella will be entering the final year of his contract in 2010. This season appears to be weighing on him heavily and rightly so. Sweet Lou came here to end a century of futility and as of now the picture for 2010 does not look pretty based on how his club is currently constructed and how they are playing. Will he want to return? Three million dollars is a lot to walk away from but Lou is 66 years old and he should be financially set for the rest of his life so is his happiness worth more than the money that he would earn in 2010? Does he have the energy to go into next season knowing how much work lays ahead of him to turn around his club?

He told me as recently as two weeks ago that he was definitely returning and that the fire burns inside of him to lead the Cubs to the title. However, with the team's ownership still up in the air and a number of big contracts to underperforming stars appearing to be diificult to move will Piniella reconsider his plan to manage the Cubs next season?

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The Cubs braintrust of GM Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella will have a lot of tough decisions to make this winter.

 

If he does walk away who would the Cubs hire as their field manager? Joe Girardi who desperately wanted the job and was the choice of many fans when Piniella was hired over him in 2006 is now the manager of the New York Yankees and has a club that may win the World Series this season. He is also under contract for another year so that would appear to rule him out.

Ryne Sandberg is currently managing in the Cubs minor league system but would the Cubs risk hiring a manager who has never done the job at the major league level before? He certainly knows the system and was a Hall of Fame level player but that does not guarantee success as a manager. All in all, if Piniella leaves the decision on who to replace him with will not be an easy one.  

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The Next 7 Games Will Tell A Lot

While everyone seems to be full of excitement over the Cubs play since the All Star Break we need to temper our enthusiasm until the Boys in Blue show us a bit more. The Cubs record since the break is a very solid 14-6 and they have hit the ball very well in addition to getting excellent pitching from their starters.

However, look beyond the record and there are a ton of questions that need to be answered positively before we can get all giggly as Lou Piniella likes to say. First, can this team win against the better teams in the National League? The 14 wins have come against Washington (4-0), Cincinnati (5 of 6), and Houston (3 of 4). Those are not exactly great teams with Washington and Cincy among the worst in all of baseball.

The two series that the Cubs have played against good teams have been Philadelphia where they lost 2 of 3 and Florida where they also lost 2 of 3. In addition, the bullpen has been less than stellar with closer Kevin Gregg blowing two straight saves in Florida and ace set up man Carlos Marmol continuing to struggle with his command and letting teams back into games when he needs to slam the door.

Milton Bradley continues to struggle from the left side of the plate which is a problem when the majority of starters that the Cubs face are right handed. Geovany Soto has to prove he can return in a big way from a lengthy stint on the DL which is no small feat considering he was hitting .230 when he was injured. Reed Johnson is a big part of the Cubs but will he come back successfully from a broken foot? What about Ted Lilly who is currently on the DL with shoulder tendinitis and just had arthroscopic knee surgery?
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What To Do With The Cubs Roster

With Aaron Miles set to be recalled later today after a rehab stint in the minors GM Jim Hendry will need to make a roster move to make room for Miles. This one seems easy with Sam Fuld expected to be sent back to Iowa.

However, there are a series of other moves and decisions that are right around the corner for the Cubs. First, Geovany Soto is expected to return to the roster on Friday. Who gets sent down to clear a roster spot for him?  Reed Johnson will be ready to return in a couple of weeks so who goes to make room for him? Also, Ted Lilly will be ready to return in a couple of weeks and that will require yet another roster move.

So, barring an injury what will General Manager Jim Hendry do to make space available on the roster? Right now there are 13 pitchers on the club so if one goes that clears a spot for Soto. That leaves two more moves needing to be made to make room for Johnson and Lilly. Does Tom Gorzelanny stay in the rotation after pitching 7 shutout innings last night? Do you send down Jeff Samardizja who has had his ups and downs since returning from the minors? How about Jeff Stevens?
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It's Time to Make Some Changes

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Kevin Gregg had a rough weekend serving up home runs to his former team, the Florida Marlins and costing the Cubs a big win and a return to first place.

Many times when a baseball team struggles you hear the expression, "relax it's early" or "it's a marathon not a sprint" but after the all star break it is no longer early and with just 59 games remaining it is indeed a sprint.

This weekend was a lost one for the Chicago Cubs as they dropped two of three games to the Florida Marlins and could have very easily been swept. They also could have won two of three just as easily if their bullpen didn't put up a couple of horrific performances.

Friday evening the Cubs received a solid start from Rich Harden only to see the bullpen implode in the 8th inning with Carlos Marmol starting the inning off by walking the first two hitters and then hitting a man. He nearly escaped any damage by getting the next two men before giving up a game winning single. Sean Marshall then entered and allowed a double to Wes Helms that plated two more and the Cubs lost 5-2.

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Trade Deadline Info/Ownership Update

The non-waiver trade deadline is 3 p.m. CST on Friday and it has been a fairly quiet week so far devoid of the flurry of activity that some in the industry expected. Both the Cubs and the White Sox are looking to make additions to their teams but only if the cost is not exorbitant in both money and prospects given up.

The White Sox are better positioned to make a major move because of the stability of Jerry Reinsdorf as the owner and the financial flexibility that they have after this season. They have millions of dollars coming off of the books after 2009 and as evidenced by their aggressive pursuit of Jake Peavy, Kenny Williams is willing to move if the deal makes sense long term.

Yesterday's trade for Mark Kotsay of the Boston Red Sox was a minor deal but Williams may not be done. He is kicking the tires on adding a big name starting pitcher but only if Gordon Beckham's name is not part of the deal. He is considered an untouchable by the organization.

The Cubs are looking to add a bullpen arm, preferably from the left side but will not trade one of the top five prospects in their system to add a player who is not a prime time addition. That would seem to take them out of the running for Baltimore closer George Sherrill, who is very tough on left handed hitters and has closing experience.  The veteran will be tough to land though because of the price that Orioles president Andy MacPhail has hung on him.
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Ted Lilly Will Undergo Knee Surgery on Monday

Yesterday I posted a list of starting pitchers who will be free agents at the end of the 2009 season and with Ted Lilly on the DL the Cubs will have to move quickly to either add a starting pitcher or to add a couple of bullpen arms and move Sean Marshall into the rotation.

Lilly is being disabled because of tendinitis in his throwing shoulder but he will also have arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday to clean up a problem that has caused him discomfort for a while. He is expected to be sidelined for approximately three weeks.
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Ted Lilly's shoulder injury may force the Cubs to add another starter in addition to bullpen help before Friday's non-waiver trade deadline.


Here is a list of relievers who will be free agents at the end of the 2009 season. Some of these names will be of no interest to the Cubs and some will be unavailable for various reasons. However, regardless of how difficult the task might be to accomplish Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry has to find a way to upgrade his bullpen so that he gives Lou Piniella the ability to mix and match down the stretch of tight ball games.

In addition, if Lilly is gone for an extended amount of time that could severely hamstring the starting rotation and force Hendry to have to add another starter. Forget about Roy Halladay because the Cubs don't have the package of players necessary to get him from Toronto plus with the ownership situation so unsettled they cannot take on the type of money that Halladay makes and will make in the future.

Two names on the Arizona roster that could have great appeal to Hendry are reliever Chad Qualls and former White Sox starter Jon Garland who is a former #1 draft pick of the Cubs. Qualls is in high demand from most of the teams in contention but Garland, while not a top of the rotation guy could be serviceable in Lilly's absence. He also has a very manageable contract that is up at the end of this season and contains a mutual option for 2010. Should Hendry choose just to upgrade his bullpen he needs to give Piniella at least one solid lefty that can be used against the elite left handed hitters the Cubs will face the rest of the season.

Three lefty's that can be had without giving up a ton in return are Joe Beimel of the Washington Nationals, John Grabow of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and former Cub Scott Downs who is pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Downs is a fairly attractive option but Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi has been telling other general managers that he wants to get the Roy Halladay deal done before he looks at other moves.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has rearranged the starting rotation to compensate for the loss of Lilly by moving Kevin Hart up to start today's game, Rich Harden goes tomorrow, Carlos Zambrano goes Monday night, and Ryan Dempster returns from the DL on Tuesday evening. Randy Wells will pitch Wednesday and Kevin Hart will conclude the homestand on Thursday afternoon against the Astros.

SIGHT SEEN....Carlos Zambrano and many of the Cubs pitchers took part in their pre game running from foul line to foul line accompanied by Zambrano's new dog, "Little Z" who is a Sharpei that is 10 weeks old. The dog was a big hit in the clubhouse before the game, especially when Zambrano dressed the dog in a t-shirt and hat.




The Sale Process is Moving Along....Slowly

MLB sources confirmed to me this morning that meetings between the Ricketts family and Tribune Co. are ongoing to try to finalize the sale of the Cubs. However, it appears that the transaction will not be formally completed for quite a while.

Tom Ricketts has been in New York meeting with MLB officials as well as with banks involved in financing the deal. However, the transaction is so complex that it is taking much longer to finish than was once expected. It is still believed to be on track to head to the bankruptcy court for approval but there are still several steps to complete before that hurdle is reached.

Don't look for Tom Ricketts to be in a position of saying yes or no to a major trade acquisition by the July 31 non waiver trade deadline. Until the deal is in the hands of baseball's other owners Ricketts does not have authority to get involved in management decisions. However, you can bet that the Cubs will not take on a large amount of payroll without someone who would be responsible for the money owed down the road saying yes or no.

The Utay group has not been formally told they are out which is smart business by the Tribune Co. because should anything fall through with the Ricketts family they have to have a backup plan. But a very good source in baseball told me this morning that he would be stunned if the Ricketts deal fell through.

Tom Ricketts is trying to bring the deal to completion and will not be too worried about things going on with the club until he is formally handed control. We will update this story tonight on Sports Central.

Let's Talk About the Cubs and the Trade Deadline

The non waiver trading deadline of July 31st is rapidly approaching and their is much speculation about what the Cubs might do or not do to improve their up and down club. Obviously GM Jim Hendry would like to add a bat to improve a struggling offense but the first question that has to be answered is what bat do you target and where do you play him in the lineup?

In today's Chicago Tribune Cubs manager Lou Piniella talked about his team's need to add a left handed bat. Wasn't that what the Cubs set out to do last winter when they dramatically reshaped their roster to clear enough salary space to add Milton Bradley? Here is the cold reality: White Sox rookie Gordon Beckham who made his major league debut on June 4th has 2 more RBI's than Bradley entering play today. Cubs outfielder Micah Hoffpauir has 5 more RBI's in 53 less at bats than the 10 million dollar man and 2B Mike Fontenot has 8 more RBI's than the left handed run producer the Cubs added last winter.  

Bradley has been nothing short of brutal at the plate but with 21 million dollars left on his contract after this season the Cubs are stuck with him. So if he can't be moved what options does Jim Hendry have to improve his team? The only positions that are open for discussion are either 2B where the available options include Pirates standout Freddy Sanchez who's contract status could be a problem with the ownership situation still unsettled. Sanchez is hitting .307 with 6 HR's and 34 RBI's and he has an OBP of .346. He is an excellent defensive second baseman and at age 31 he has plenty of baseball left in him.

However, Sanchez has an 8 million dollar club option for 2010 and after 2010 he will be a free agent which means that if you give up a lot to get him you need to get him signed to an extension at some point in the not too distant future. The price will be extremely high especially because the Pirates would prefer to trade him outside of the NL Central.

Other options for Hendry could be to improve his bullpen with a situational left-hander but the problem there is that the price is exorbitant for mediocre players. One guy that Hendry would love to bring in is Baltimore Orioles standout George Sherrill who can set up and close and is holding left handed hitters to a .125 batting average. However, former Cubs president Andy MacPhail is a notoriously tough guy to make a deal with as the Cubs can attest to in their failed attempt to land Brian Roberts last season. How much would you pay to land a left-hander who is not the final piece to winning a championship?

The only other spot that the Cubs can add a player is in center field but with 2 more years left on Kosuke Fukudome's deal at 26.5 million dollars the chances of him being moved are non existent unless the Cubs eat most of the salary. He has looked better since moving to the lead off spot but a punch and judy singles hitter for 48 million dollars was not what the Cubs envisioned when they signed the Japanese star.

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The Latest on the Sale and the Bankruptcy Filing

This morning I reported that the long discussed sale of the Chicago Cubs to the Ricketts family is almost complete and needs approval from a bankruptcy judge and a vote of the MLB owners to make it official.

Here is the latest on the deal and what you can expect to see over the next several weeks....The Ricketts family has a verbal agreement that they and their attorneys are very comfortable with and while it technically is not a signed deal it will head off to the bankruptcy court very soon where it is expected to receive approval fairly quickly. The Cubs bankruptcy is related to the Tribune's filing and by going through the process it will give the Ricketts a franchise that has court approval that it is free from any liens or future debt related claims related to the Tribune's ownership period.   

The Cubs filing is called a pre-packaged bankruptcy and should move through the court and the entire process very quickly. The Tribune's bankruptcy filing is far more complex and the sale will need the approval of Judge Kevin Carey who is presiding over the case in Wilmington, DE but that is not considered to be a problem.

Once all of the bankruptcy related proceedings are completed then the deal will be sent to MLB where the owners are expected to approve the deal unanimously. That will complete the transaction and hand control of the team to the Ricketts family sometime before the end of August.    

DID YOU KNOW.... Standing on the corner in front of Wrigley Field on Saturday before the first pitch between the Cubs and Cardinals between the red marquee and the Ernie Banks statue was the future owner of the Cubs waiting for some friends to meet him to go to the game. He looked just like another Cubs fan and no one recognized Tom Ricketts as he stood there knowing that he is just a month or so from taking control of the club.Think he'll be that anonymous if the Cubs don't win on his watch? I think not! 

Let's Clear Up Something Regarding the Sale Process in MLB

There have been some people in the media or the blog world who seem to think that if a prospective buyer of the team does not have his bid approved by the other owners that they could turn around and sue Major League Baseball. Well, these media types who think that are sadly uninformed on the process.

When you sign an application to purchase a Major League team you sign away all rights to sue MLB. They reserve the right without fear of legal action to admit who they want to their exclusive club of owners. To receive permission to look at a baseball club's financial books a bidder MUST sign away all rights to file a legal action. The group of baseball owners is a private club and they need no reason for rejecting someone. They choose who they want and it does not matter if they reject someone who offers more money than the person whose bid they do accept.

Ricketts Group Moving Towards a Deal

Baseball sources have confirmed to me this morning that the sale of the Chicago Cubs to the Ricketts family is on track and should be completed as we first reported last Friday by the end of August. In addition, we have confirmed that MLB is not evaluating any proposed deal from the Utay group nor is one expected to be submitted.

Additionally, the bankruptcy court is not going to evaluate and weigh two offers against each other. The way that the process will be handled has only one offer submitted to the court and that will be the Ricketts offer. If the court rejects that offer then a second offer can be submitted. However, the Tribune has worked in good faith with their creditors and the court and has kept them informed throughout every step of the process so the judge's approval is considered a mere formality.
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Tribune boss Sam Zell will be a happy man to have the sale of the Cubs behind him.


Currently the framework of the Ricketts deal is in front of Major League Baseball and they are evaluating the extremely complex transaction. Once their ownership experts give the okay then the deal will be finalized and sent to Judge Kevin Carey who is presiding over the Tribune's bankruptcy. He is based in Wilmington, Delaware where many high profile bankruptcies are heard and his approval is expected to be a formality. The bankruptcy committee has been briefed every step of the way as the Tribune has tried to work with their creditors so nothing in the deal is expected to be a surprise to the court.

Once Judge Carey signs off on the sale then the transaction will go back to Major League Baseball and all of the owners
will vote to approve the sale which will be a slam dunk. Then, and only then will Tom Ricketts take control of the Cubs and end a process that has dragged on for far too long and had many twists and turns.
 

More on the Sale....

The Breaking News Center over at the Tribune has a new story up that is fairly accurate regarding the involvement of the Utay group in the sale process of the Cubs. The Utay group has several question marks surrounding their bid however, including the fact that their deal is much more heavily leveraged and they may not be as easily approvable to Major League Baseball as the Ricketts are.

A recent Wall Street Journal story also has some people involved in the process very unhappy because it keeps the Utay group in the process by removing any downside for them with the Tribune assuming all of the risk by offering the Utay group what is called a "kill fee".

The Ricketts family's bid is much farther along in the process and is still expected to be the winner when the smoke clears. In addition, Major League Baseball has final say on all sales so if they determine that they want the Ricketts and not the Utay group then Tribune Company will not have much of a choice. This process is still expected to be completed by the end of August.

 

All of the Misinformation Out There About the Sale of the Cubs

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Who will be sitting in the owners suite when the sale finally goes through?

There is so much misinformation regarding the sale of the Chicago Cubs from Tribune Company that I have to set the record straight and separate fact from fiction.

First, here is the fiction reported in a Reuters story this morning that is loaded with inaccuracies. The story quotes anonymous sources that say the Tribune has reached an agreement on the terms for a sale of the team to a group led by private equity investor Marc Utay.

That is 100% incorrect.

The Tribune has reached no agreement to sell the Cubs with ANYONE and that includes the Ricketts family, the Utay group, or the man on the moon. Tribune VP of Communications Gary Weitman confirmed to me today that no agreement has been reached with anyone.

The story also says that by reaching an agreement with the Utay group that the company now has two offers to submit to the bankruptcy court. This is also wildly inaccurate.

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Wrigley 2014 - An Inside Look

I have had the opportunity to look at the renderings for what a remodeling job to Wrigley Field that is proposed to coincide with the ballpark's 100th anniversary in 2014 would look like. It does not dramatically increase seating capacity but it adds several new amenities that will make the experience of attending the ballpark that much more enjoyable.

The sight lines inside Wrigley will not change but the plans do include upgrading the seats in the reserved grandstand directly behind home plate to create a premium seat with a private club at the top of the grandstand. Additionally, the space currently occupied by the Cubs offices will be vacated to make room for an upscale restaurant and private club that would be along the lines of the Jim Beam Club that is at U.S. Cellular Field.

The space that is currently used by the media for parking and the parcel of land that has the old Yum Yum Donuts Shop on it would be used to construct a triangle shaped building that would house the Cubs offices, an upgraded training facility for the team, plus restaurants, bars and gift shops that would allow the Cubs to maximize revenue streams that currently go to other establishments in Wrigleyville. A parking garage could also be part of the building but that has yet to be worked out in the plans.

The designs also include an overhead walkway and moving sky walk that would allow fans to enter the ballpark from new entrances that would be created during the overhaul. Between the proposed triangle building and the stadium the plans include for an open air area where fans could congregate after a game and have a drink or a sandwich. Wider concourses, greatly improved bathrooms, and upgraded concessions are also part of the plan.

One area that is still under discussion is what to do with the Cubs clubhouse. It could remain where it is but the size would be greatly expanded because the area underneath the stands would be dug out and the current space used for the umpires room, the media dungeon where Lou Piniella does his post game press conference, and some storage areas could all be used to expand the player's locker room. The team would also like to add an indoor batting cage that is available in every other stadium in baseball just off of the dugout of the home team so that Cubs hitters have a chance to get loose in the latter stages of a game before they are called on to pinch hit. Currently the only place that they can go is to stretch out in the cramped locker room.

The plans modernize Wrigley Field greatly and dramatically increase the revenue streams for the team. However, with the sale of the team to the Ricketts family just about done all of this could change as Tom Ricketts and his group start to examine everything about the organization from top to bottom. This much is certain, at some point over the next 5-10 years you will see dramatic changes to the Friendly Confines. Let's just hope that those changes include a new World Series banner flying atop the venerable stadium.    

The Ricketts deal is not done ... yet

I reported on Friday night that the deal to sell the Cubs and a 25% stake in Comcast SportsNet was close to completion and would be done within two weeks. Today, various sources are reporting that the sale is done and is just awaiting league approval.

That is inaccurate as I write this at 12:45 p.m. on Monday afternoon. Excellent sources involved in the negotiations told me that no deal has been finalized. While the deal is expected to be reached soon it is not done despite what is being reported elsewhere. Tom Ricketts is on a plane and nothing can be agreed to until he lands and is involved in dotting the final i's and crossing the final t's.

In addition, minutes ago Tribune Co. Vice President Gary Weitman issued this statement: "We continue an active dialogue with the Ricketts family with an eye toward reaching a definitive agreement.  We don't intend to comment on the specifics of any potential transaction."

Sources on the other side of the bargaining table also insist that no deal is done but both sides do expect it to happen soon. The deal has taken 2 1/2 years to complete because of the complex nature of the transaction and the economic crisis facing the country that has made financing a deal of this magnitude much tougher than it would have been 2 years ago.

While an announcement that states the Ricketts family as the winning bidders clears one hurdle there are still more steps to climb before control of the team is handed over. The bankruptcy committee handling the Tribune's Chapter 11 filing has to give its approval to the deal and then and only then can it be voted on by Major League Baseball's other owners.

That part of the deal is a slam dunk as the Ricketts family has been a preferred ownership group to the MLB hierarchy since the process began in earnest a couple of years ago. It was originally thought that a group of investors led by Chicago businessmen John Canning and Andrew McKenna were the front runners but they elected not pursue the Cubs after making several inquiries early in the process.

What You Can Expect From Tom Ricketts and Family

After breaking the story on the sale of the Cubs finally being close to completion to the Ricketts family I have been inundated with e-mails asking what type of owner Tom Ricketts will be. After talking with several people who know Tom Ricketts and his family the reviews that I am getting are glowing with praise for what they will be like as owners of the Cubs.

Everyone I have spoken with talked about the type of person that Tom Ricketts is, calling him a first class guy who treats everyone who works for him with class. Ricketts is a very astute businessman who may have made his money in the financial sector but he has long wanted to own the Chicago Cubs and when he saw the opportunity he and his family jumped at it.

Legend has it that Ricketts met his wife at Wrigley Field and that during his teenage years he lived in a building next to the ballpark. He has always been very open about his love for the Cubs and people that I spoke with expect his competitive nature to been evident in his decision making about the team.

Who will be the baseball people that they add to the club? Speculation has centered on either retaining Crane Kenney or bringing in a veteran like Sandy Alderson who has had experience running a major league organization.

One move that would make tremendous sense would be to add Steve Stone to the front office as an assistant to Ricketts. Who better to help the Cubs than the brilliant Stone who has played for the Cubs, called their games for 20+ years and is considered one of the brightest minds in the sport?  No one has been around this organization longer and has a better idea of what they need than Stone.

While the sale process has dragged on for 2 1/2 years the end appears to be near and it will be good for the club to have an owner at the top who will be hands on regarding the day to day operation of the team.

The Cubs are also exploring some trades before the July 31 deadline, and you can bet that Ricketts is being consulted on how much payroll he is willing to add.  But don't expect a huge deal that would add millions to the payroll. A tweak to the bullpen and perhaps a bat for the bench are about all that the Cubs are considering at this point. It's nice to dream about a big star riding in to the rescue but it does not appear likely. 

Ricketts Deal To Be Done Soon

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Tom Ricketts is about to become the Cubs newest owner.

According to a good baseball source I spoke with a few hours ago, the Cubs sale is far more imminent than it was once believed.  Tom Ricketts and the Tribune Company are working towards the deal that would give Ricketts possession of the Cubs and it should be done in the next two weeks, barring any unforseen circumstance.

Since Major League Baseball then has to approve the deal before Ricketts is officially the Cubs new owner, the entire process should be finalized before the end of August.

Guess Who Was Sitting in the Second Row Tonight?

If you were paying attention to the Brewers/Cubs game at Wrigley Field tonight and watched the TV broadcast you probably saw a gentleman behind the Cubs on deck circle who was eating a hot dog and cheering for his Cubs just like any other fan. However, this fan had his eyes on the action as he imagined what changes he would make if he owned the team.

Well, the man who was sitting in those seats was Tom Ricketts who is working to complete his purchase of the Cubs from Tribune Company. Sources close to the sale tell me that the final hurdles are about to be cleared and that this deal is finally close to completion. Ricketts is a die hard Cubs fan and from watching him at the game you can tell that he is making this purchase because of his passion for the North Siders.

From what I am hearing, the radio/TV rights deals have been a stumbling block but after several discussions it appears that Ricketts and the Tribune Co. have found a common ground. This deal should move quickly through the approval process as soon as the final terms of the sale agreement are completed.

The Texas Rangers Have Serious Financial Troubles

With our nation's economy in turmoil it was just a matter of time before a team went into  serious financial distress. Today, I learned that the Texas Rangers needed to borrow 15 million dollars from Major League Baseball to make their most recent payroll.

Sources tell me that the Rangers will be sold to Nolan Ryan and that MLB is assisting in the process so that it goes as smoothly as possible. Rangers owner Tom Hicks also owns a professional soccer team but had no trouble making payroll there and that has the folks in the MLB offices not very happy that they had to send big money to bail Hicks out while he found the money to support another team that he owns. Stay tuned because unfortunately this won't be the last team we see in this situation.

Random Cubs Thoughts From the Breakfast Table

With Aramis Ramirez headed out on a rehab assignment on Thursday and looking to return to the Cubs everyday lineup next Monday it should change GM Jim Hendry's needs as the front office determines what moves they need to make before the July 31st trading deadline.

Do you add a utility type player who can fill in both in the infield and the outfield? Do you look to add a player who could potentially play everyday somewhere? What about improving the pitching staff?

Here is what my panel of experts told me yesterday as we continue our look at the 2009 Cubs:

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Could the Cardinals Lose Albert Pujols? Go Get Him Tom Ricketts!

The folks down in that sleepy town known as St. Louis are starting to get a little nervous that the greatest baseball player in the world, Albert Pujols could walk away from the Cardinals when his contract is up after the 2011 season.

Bernie Miklasz, a very solid columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch brought the issue up in his column yesterday while Will Leitch who runs Deadspin.com (one of the best websites in the sports world) has a great column on the topic.
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Could the greatest baseball player in the world leave St. Louis when his contract is up in two years?


While Albert is under the Cardinals control for the 2010 season and they hold a 16 million dollar option on him for 2011 which they will most definitely exercise, rumors are already starting to brew that he may want out if Tony LaRussa leaves because of a lack of financial commitment to winning by management.

While the sale of the Cubs drags on it still appears likely that somehow, someway, Tom Ricketts and his family will eventually gain control of the Cubs. If that doesn't happen until after the 2009 season then Ricketts will probably spend most of 2010 taking stock of just exactly what he has and what he needs to do.

That timetable puts Pujols heading into the final year of his deal. What better way to show how serious you are about winning to the championship starved fan base of the Cubs than to sign "Prince Albert" to a mega contract.

While this pipedream is a long ways off it's still fun to dream and with fans in St. Louis already starting to get nervous about the prospect of losing their franchise player what better way to ratchet up the heat on the Cardinal fans than by having them wondering if the unspeakable could happen - Prince Albert in a Cubs uniform.

Could the Cubs Sale Process be Re-Opened?

I spoke with several sources today regarding the sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family. There are some people who believe that the process is so bogged down between the two sides that the process could start over with other ownership groups given a chance to try to strike a deal.
However, a very well placed source who I spoke with this afternoon told me that he believes that one of two things will probably happen over the next 30-60 days. Either the terms of the sale will be agreed to promptly and it will then head to the bankruptcy court for their clearance before Major League Baseball gives their approval or the creditors of the Tribune Company could assume control of the company.

If that happens then the creditors can either keep Sam Zell and his management team in place while they call the shots on the day to day operations of the company or they can remove Zell and his team and run the company with their own people.

Should that happen then you might see the sale price of the team go down as the creditors look to get what they can so that they are not forced to run a baseball team that they know nothing about.

Whatever happens, it appears according to the baseball sources I spoke with today that there is no chance the team will make a marquee acquisition before the July 31 trade deadline.
There could be a tweak here or there but forget about Jake Peavy or another big ticket item calling Wrigley Field their home. That means guys like Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, and Geovany Soto had better pick it up and Aramis Ramirez' shoulder has to return to full strength so that the Cubs have his clutch bat in the middle of their lineup.

Don't Look for a Big Move From the Cubs....Unless....

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While the Cubs would love to be active participants at the July trade deadline it appears that they will be forced to play a much smaller role than they might want because of the ownership situation which has pretty much tied GM Jim Hendry's hands.

Look for the Cubs to try to acquire a bullpen arm or two with finding a situational lefty a priority. As for adding another bat that appears to be a tougher thing to fit into the budget although two Major League sources told me that there have been some discussions about Mark DeRosa but for that to happen the Cubs would have to move significant young talent to Cleveland and be willing to admit that they made a mistake when they traded him away.

Personally, I think the smartest thing Jim Hendry could do would be to trade for DeRosa and add a lefty out of the pen. DeRosa's addition would energize the club and give Lou Piniella some flexibility both in the infield and on the outfield corners. He would also be a great presence in the clubhouse and that can never be underestimated.

As for a left-handed reliever, Hendry wants a guy who has a proven track record against left handed hitters and would settle for a guy who Lou Piniella would probably only use for one or two hitters a night. He already has Sean Marshall who can face multiple hitters and pitch significant innings but he is craving a solid situational LH pitcher.

Forget the talk about Jake Peavy coming to the Cubs. Unless the ownership situation is cleared up fairly quickly the Cubs will be hard pressed to add significant salary to their payroll. Here are the terms of Peavy's contract  (courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts):

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