Archives: Cubs Q and A with Sun Times Gordon Wittenmyer

Archives: Cubs Q and A with Sun Times Gordon Wittenmyer

Gordon Wittenmyer has become a controversial figure in the world of the Chicago Cubs.

The Sun Times Cubs beat writer has been penning features that have dared to take a closer look and at times question how the Tom Ricketts ownership has handled the club thus far.  Many think he has gone too far, and has overplayed the angle.

That is more than fair to say.  However, it is still important to have someone that is willing to ask tough questions.

I have always been on board with a rebuilding project and behind Theo Epstein and the plan. Yet, there have been some bumps in the road, and it is imperative to have some writers willing to keep and even eye on the organization.

Let's go back to an interview I did with Wittenmyer back in August.

Some of the questions are still timely.

TL:  You were out in front on was the Cubs baseball operations 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 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:  You were also of the few in the media who didn’t jump the gun to bury Starlin Castro when he was scuffling. Where do you think he stands with the organization’s plan moving forward?

GW:  It’s hard to look at what Castro did for three years and say that he’s not a successful, capable major-league hitter who has made adjustments. That said, he doesn’t have the slugging or on-base percentage to suggest there’s not room to grow there. And that said, what he did provide offensively for a shortstop was still far ahead of almost everyone else at that position.

I think the front office over-thought the whole thing, trying to improve upon what Sveum called a “hit collector.” (Not sure when collecting 190 hits a season became a bad thing.)

As we saw, and I think as you pointed out, Castro tried to incorporate the teaching (of three different hitting voices, by the way) and wound up for much of the season seeing almost a pitch more per at-bat – and watching his production tumble significantly. I think they should have left him alone until he struggled on his own.

TL:  Will Castro be the shortstop when this team wins? 

GW:  I believe the front office still looks at Castro as a core player, albeit one with improvements to make. I think some in the organization wonder if they didn’t contribute to his struggles this year. And I think next season will be crucial for Castro and maybe his future with the club. I don’t think he’ll be traded in the off-season (for one thing that would be selling low).

TL:  The Cubs have wanted to sign Jeff Samardzija to a long-term deal, he and his camp seem determined to hit the market. Is he worth top of rotation money?

GW:  First  of all, people have to get off the whole top-of-the-rotation or not top-of-the-rotation thing. How many bona fide aces are there in the game? 10? 15? If it’s 15, then on average only half the teams in baseball have one. If it’s 20, one-third of the teams in baseball don’t have one.

Samardzija has stuff on a good day that makes him as good and competitive as an elite pitcher, which would make him one of perhaps 60 guys in the game – maybe 100.

The rest of it’s all about how often he can bring it, for how long in a game, repeatedly. And that’s measured in the numbers at the end of the year. And that’s where the comparables are going to come in to determine what fair market value for him is.

TL:  What is the end game?

GW:   Both sides say they’re looking for a fair-market deal. Both sides are motivated to keep him around. The only holdup so far is that Samardzija, rightfully so, wants to actually get a full season of starting in so he has a better idea of that fair market. I think something gets done this fall and that it includes a pile of incentive clauses.

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.

@TomLoxas

Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Interviews

Tags: gordon wittenmyer

Comments

Leave a comment
  • Good interview Tom. My only problem with Wittenmyer is that he is a beat writer for the Cubs not a columnist. I would expect negative comments on a regular basis from Steve Rosenbloom, David Haugh, or any other columnist in Chicago print media. But as someone that has a degree in journalism I don't think Gordon is as objective as he should be as a writer. He definately has an agenda and it's anything but objective. He obviously was very close with the former regime, specifically with Jim Hendry, and has really not had too many positive things to say about the Cubs since Epstoyer took over. It's definately his job to ask the tough questions and not drink the Cubs Kool Aid, but it just seems that he is mostly on the negative tip when it comes to the Cubs. And that makes me not want to read anything he writes.

  • In reply to irishivy75:

    I also do think he likes the FO and gets it. Most of his shots are at the org as a whole. Mostly Ricketts.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    But his gripes with Ricketts seems empty. He's so hung up on the debt load, as if that was Ricketts idea. Anyone who Selig (and Reinsdorf) approved of to buy the team would have had to incur the same debt load.

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    This is true. There is nothing that can be done about it now.
    I wonder if he thinks Ricketts wasn't prepared financially for this?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    If Wittenmyer was saying this, it hits me as factual, and not editorial.

    If whoever in the Ricketts family couldn't figure out that the team would cost $850 million, the stands would need $300 million of work, they would not get public help, there were rooftop contracts, and the TV deals were what they were, he certainly was not financially prepared.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    What you say is definitely untrue. The debt load, if nothing else, was Sam Zell's idea, as a tax dodge for the Tribune company that, like other of Sam's deals did not work.

    At the time it was said that the debt load was tolerable to MLB only because the Ricketts family owed $300 million to itself.

    And since the archive dated August says that the Cubs got the go ahead from the city, there is something preventing him from going ahead, and I wouldn't be surprised if it were not money, as the rooftop problem was foreseeable?

    Let's also remember that MLB was gnashing over the Dodgers bankruptcy, until some group "headed by Magic Johnson" bailed McCort out, and I don't think was so happy when Mets ownership used Madoff "investments" to give ballplayers deferred contracts.

    Mike, have you audited the Cubs books?

  • In reply to irishivy75:

    It's important to know there really aren't many true beat writers left in print sports journalism. With sports radio, instantaneous Internet recaps, and round-the-clock cable sports coverage, few people turn to their newspaper for the "old-time" just-the-facts game recap which was the beat reporter's prime responsibility. To get sports readers they have needed to adapt to attract eyeballs. So most beat reporters nowadays are a mix of beat and columnist... much as most blogs are. It's how print is try to compete in the new cyber marketplace.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Good points Jeff.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    I was about to say that. I doubt that all the newspaper guys on Mully and Hanley were simply beat reporters, or for that matter, Mully and Hanley themselves when they worked for the S-T.

  • I think that is fair. I mentioned on Twitter, it would be too bad if his stuff got buried by the negativity. I think he is important to have dig and ask the tough questions, but, many have said he has gone too far.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    In my opinion, if there is a "too far" in sports journalism, he's not even close. "Too far" is getting personal and nasty in print or on air. Like Jim Rome did to the former quarterback Jim Evert in calling him Chrissy (as in Evert) and goading Evert into an on-air fight. Nothing Wittenmyer says effects what happens on the field, so fans should not respond as if he is hurting "the cause." We have a lot of overly positive writers, and one polar opposite writer in Wittenmyer. If anything, what we are missing is more reporters in the middle... which interestingly is where blogs like this and others have often filled the void.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Well you would have thought what he writes doesn't impact what happens with the team. But then you hear the questions these idiots ask at the convention Q&As. Again will that have an impact? Hopefully not, but you never know with Ricketts. He is very much stuck between being an owner and trying to still be a fan.

  • In reply to Mikethoms:

    That last I heard, the idiots asking questions at the convention were not Dale Sveum or Crane Kenney, for instance. If you think that the people at the convention run the team, something is seriously wrong.

    In fact, I am surprised that anyone would want to go to the convention. But definitely, not to osculate someone's posterior in the Cubs organization.

    But maybe the real point is that Ricketts should be an owner. He sure didn't act like one before he hired Theo. This is a bottom line business, not a dating bar, although he first used Wrigley Field as such.

  • Early on in the Theo/Jed regime, it was apparent to me (as a former journalist) that Wittenmyer was unhappy to see the Hendry regime end both from a professional and personal perspective. Professionally speaking, he had a very reliable stable of inside sources, including Hendry himself. Prime among these were Assistant GM Randy Bush who Wittenmyer seemed to actively lobby to permanently succeed Hendry. Wittenmyer also got the first solo exclusive interview with Randy Bush after Theo's hiring. The interview did not seem sanctioned by Theo/Jed and some of the content struck me as a big political misstep by Randy Bush in light of his new boss. Interestingly, after that possibly "off the reservation" interview, we've heard very little publicly from Bush. (Perhaps Ricketts backed him, but warned Bush "never again.") So Wittenmyer naturally would dislike the new regime and their media discipline for making his job harder.

    There are other differences. Wittenmyer has been very skeptical of the use of new-generation sabermetrics, which the new regime uses, although not exclusively. There also seems a bit of resentment toward the new regime being young, fit, and good looking... you know yuppies... things that never separated Wittenmyer from Hendry.

    But I don't hold any of this against Wittenmyer. If anything, he's found an exploitable niche to work in a tough media enviornment. He's the hard-to-please critic. It gives people a reason to turn to him, knowing they aren't going to read quite the same skepticism from other writers. That said, I always read with a big filter knowing his biases... as one must do with every beat reporter, whose biases are usually in the other extreme in order to play along to get a few exclusives thrown their way.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    So many things I agree with here. Gordon certainly had strong connection with Hendry. The FO he doesn't love but I still think he respects for most part. Filter needed for sure.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Tom, its not that Gordon is asking tough questions, but instead that he seems to be trying to create the story instead of report the story. I personally have lost a lot of respect for the way that he has gone about his business the last year. Instead of fairly reporting facts on both sides, he has decided that he is going to always go with an Anti Ricketts/Cubs theme and only use information (even if incorrect) to support that point. I just feel as a so called journalist he has resorted to always taking things to the low road. While people such as Ann Coulter and other 'political' columnists get paid big money for these types of things, I don't care to read them in sports. If you want to be a beat writer, report the news. If you want to be an analyst of truth as he claims, then actually report both sides to the story, and use facts and not assumptions.

  • fb_avatar

    All excellent points, Jeff. You really nailed it, I think. At the end of the day, a journalist's job isn't just to tell the story, it's to attract readers. And if being a Negative Nancy gets more eyeballs than a Pollyanna, that's the best editorial choice. I am not a journalist, but I do know that riling people up is a more sure-fire way to get more people reading. There's a reason the evening news isn't all human-interest stories. So while GDub's got a bit of a chip on his shoulder, he's also motivated by some sound editorial principles.

Leave a comment