Yesterday we talked with Sun Times Cubs beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer.
The discussion focused on the Cubs potential core players like Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija, and even Junior Lake. Today we talk bigger picture, an area where Wittenmyer has delved into quite a bit with his work.
Here is part two.
TL: Gordon, another area you were out in front on was the baseball side lack of resources. How, if any, have things changed with the city signing off on the Wrigley rehab?
GW: The biggest question Cubs fans should be asking about their team’s ability to compete long-term is not whether they have the right front office (maybe they do; maybe they don’t), but whether they have the ownership capable of it.
The Ricketts family willingly entered a deal with Sam Zell that left them with far more debt that anyone else in baseball, with a family-trust financing structure that assures the kids stay out of Papa Joe’s pockets for more money and that has left other original suitors shaking their heads and/or laughing at the deal.
TL: With the Cubs able to opt out of the WGN TV deal soon, is more resource help on the way?
GW: Short-term bottom line is that the Cubs have abdicated their big-market bully status in a division otherwise filled with small and medium sized markets. Long-term bottom line is that they have placed a potentially dangerous amount of trust in city politics and a future television deal that is anything but guaranteed to rise to the levels of the recent news-making deals across the game – and in Crane Kenney to make it happen.
I think you’ll see some restoration of baseball funding once new revenues are coming in. But it won’t be as immediate or maybe even as big as some might expect.
My problem with the whole thing included the disingenuous arguments made along the way to justify at first a plea for public funding, then tax breaks and permission to break landmark rules and signed-in-good-faith leases with rooftop owners.
My biggest problem with the whole thing was the bill of goods the team was selling fans along the way, in continuing to charge the third-highest ticket prices in the game while providing the crap we’ve seen on the field the last two years.
TL: I wrote that the Cubs front office had to win the Matt Garza deal (being the biggest chip on the market). Did they accomplish that?
GW: As recently as even two years ago, I would have shrugged at the Garza deal and given it a big, “Eh.”
But given that the Cubs were dealing with a rent-a-player in an era of extremely restricted draft-pick compensation and not as strong a market for him as it might have seemed in the rumor mills, they did as well as they could have.
In sheer volume alone, it was an impressive deal. That said, every one of those players they got in return has an issue or a track record to suggest he might flame out. But if even one hits and contributes long term, it was a good deal.
The only option would have been to keep him, in which case the Cubs would have qualified for a compensation pick only by offering him a qualifying offer (maybe $14 million this year). In which case he might have taken it, and they would have been right back where they started – assuming he didn’t get hurt again.
TL: What kind of moves do you anticipate this off-season?
GW: I think you’re going to see the Cubs go after maybe one starting pitcher, possibly a sign-to-flip guy but concentrate on some short-term bridge guys for the crappy lineup while they wait for the first trickle of high-end guys to come in possibly sometime next year (Baez, etc.)
With one notable, possible exception: David Price. The Cubs already have his old Vanderbilt pitching coach in the system, and the Rays are expected to shop their ace over the winter.
Two factors to consider before getting too excited: First, the price is going to be extremely high, possibly high enough to keep the Cubs from overspending in an era that suddenly makes top young hitters rare value guys and good starting pitching easier to find. And second, it’s anything but clear that the former Red Sox guys running the Cubs have a good enough relationship with the Rays’ brass to complete a significant trade.
TL: So for 2014 we should expect another bridge year until the system bears some fruit?
GW: More of the same, with a possible flirtation with .500 if the bullpen’s decent enough.
TL: When will it be fair to judge the job Dale Sveum has done?
GW: You can’t. Not reasonably, anyway. He just doesn’t have enough bullets for a fair fight.
I’m sure we’ve all seen things we puzzle about at times. But until he’s managing games that mean something with players capable of winning them consistently, it’s all a guess. For now, he’s spent two seasons managing close to 100 different players on teams that have spent nearly every day of it with a losing record – and they still tend to play hard and care.
Does that say something about him? Maybe. Or maybe it says that nearly all of those guys have external, personal motivations because of the prove-it points in their careers, so of course they’re going to play hard.
Either way, the jury clearly is still out on Sveum.
Follow Gordon on Twitter @GDubCub
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