Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago has been one of the go-to reads when it comes to big picture Cubs coverage.
Greenberg has detailed the Ricketts ownership, rooftop saga, rebuild, Wrigley renovation, and overall organizational outlook with his own unique take. I was able to check in with him in regards to much of those same issues facing the organization today.
We also covered some ground here last summer.
TL: With the stakes so high, and the finish line apparently so close (one rooftop conflict), how can Tom Ricketts and the Cubs not have this rooftop deal closed yet?
JG: I wrote a line about this recently, the Cubs braintrust are either the best negotiators _ steely-eyed and cold-blooded _ or the worst. Because every deal seems to be of interminable length. (Even though, I've tracked other deals that went way longer.)
The biggest fear the rooftop owners have is that the Cubs are trying to ruin their businesses so they can buy them out. So that might explain some of their behavior. Ricketts is actually cool with some of the rooftops (he owns one, or part of one, right?), but I'm not privy to how the meetings are going down. Few are, really, because so many of the non-beat guys who write/talk about this deal, generally take one side.
Typically, it's been the Cubs side, because, really, the rooftop owners aren't exactly lovable. Frankly, it's in the Cubs' interest to give a little, however they can, and it's in the rooftops' short-term interest for the Cubs to have the money to get good to boost sales. I'm just tired of the story and won't write about it, in full, again, until it's settled or a real lawsuit is filed.
TL: Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have claimed they will have the resources when necessary. There is actually a different outside noise being made that they don't need to spend money on players just yet. Do you agree?
JG: Well, first off Epstein and Hoyer will probably never outright criticize ownership, or their budget. That's a PR nightmare. So you never truly believe anything they say about resources. And if/when they hint at something negative, pay attention, because that means they're really pissed.
Like with any team, there's a natural division between baseball and business. I think there will be money available, but will Ricketts open up the budget before all the Wrigley/cable money comes flowing in? Because that's a long way away.
In one sense, he's shown a pretty strict budget discipline. On the other, he bought a professional sports team, so he has a pretty healthy ego. The major league Cubs need some veterans and most importantly, the players need to know the front office/ownership cares about winning.
No one wants to be in a situation where reporters have to ask about the trade deadline at spring training. Cubs officials have told me the younger Cubs need some winning role models.
Sveum talked about needing them to be "winning" hitters. So yeah, you might have to overpay some veterans to come in and make this team respectable as the prospects come up. But smart fans and reporters know the game has changed when it comes to free agency. There is just less inventory out there, not to dehumanize guys or anything.
Maybe you noticed that when it came to Tanaka, the beat guys were very skeptical the Cubs would win the bidding. Why do you think that is? Maybe the front office was letting them know it wasn't going to happen, right? Meanwhile, the business side guys are spreading hope to create a buzz.
Tom, you heard they were going to bid in the neighborhood of $160M, while Mooney and Gordo reported the final offer was around $120M. There are obviously mixed messages being sent out there.
TL: The TV deal doesn't get any less complicated. How did they fail to sync up the contract years regrading broadcast rights with WGN and Comcast to ensure the best negotiating position?
JG: It was a most unusual situation, having the TV station and radio own the team. Sam Zell was a real sonuvabitch when it came to setting the terms of this deal. As one observer noted to me at the time, "You can see how this guy is so rich." Considering the Cubs own part of Comcast, that's a sticky situation too.
I'm sure the Ricketts group, or on the other side, Crane, screwed something up, but with all the other obstacles to closing that deal, this was probably what they could live with to get it done. Bad timing dominated this deal, from the financial crash to the rise in TV money.
TL: Who is ultimately responsible for these business side missteps? Why are they still there?
JG: It takes a village to (fill in here). I would bet a lot of the mistakes weren't as one-sided as we might deem them, and I rip on the business guys as much as anyone (mostly in jest). For everything Crane has done wrong, he's probably done something right. Same with Ricketts.
I mean, they either got bad advice or didn't listen when they trotted out that amusement tax scam in Fall 2010. That thing died on impact. People say they almost pulled it off with Rahm in 2012 before the "Ending Spending" fiasco.
Can you imagine if they did? Giving the Cubs tax money while schools are being shut down? Would've been a bad look and I bet Rahm would've doubled back. And any reporters that claims city money should go to a private team should have their pressbox privileges revoked. Even the Cubs, the rare team that brings in "new" money (money that's not just reallocted among Chicagoland folk), didn't deserve public funds. Never works out for the city/people.
But to answer your question again, there have been a lot of mistakes made, but as usual, the top people never get fired for them. Look at the golden parachutes given to lousy CEOs all over the world.
TL: Many will mourn the potential break up of the Cubs and WGN. Who is going to be broadcasting the Cubs on radio and television come 2015?
JG: I wonder if WGN will handle a smaller portion of games, while the rest go to Comcast? At least until they start a CubsNet. Speaking of, I can't wait for that launch. You think that's getting done easy with Comcast and DirecTV?
I bet some fans go a season without seeing games on that channel, given the often-contentious fights leagues and teams have with cable carrier multiplied by the Ricketts Cubs' penchant for onerous negotiating. That will be miserable on Twitter/sports radio. When do the bloggers call for a boycott of cable?
As for radio, WGN, the Score and ESPN 1000 (my employer) should all have interest in the Cubs. Imagine if the Cubs win more than 70 games again?
TL: You have said recently the Cubs have purposely tried to lose for three straight seasons (including 2014). How can a big market team pull off such a move?
JG: I mean, it's pretty apparent. Theo and Jed put together teams that could conceivably win, with the knowledge that if and when they lost, they could move pieces for prospects, aka flipping. The Cubs have paid for this strategy by hemorraging attendance and losing season ticket holders.
Ratings are down, displeasing their partners, and in the case of Comcast, hurting their own bottom line. Hell, why do you think Clark is here? "Family-friendly" is code for "we need fans who don't care about wins and losses." But, of course, the Cubs have benefitted greatly from the "white flag years" by getting better draft picks, more slot/pool money, etc. Kris Bryant could pay monster dividends for a decade.
How can the Cubs do it? Here's the thing that a lot of people don't seem to understand: Wrigley is the ultimate stop-gap. Cubs had a bad year for them, attendance-wise, but think about mow many fans would they have drawn last year at Hudson News Ballpark?
Tourists still keep the lights on and season ticket holders want to have their seats in case the Cubs ever go to the World Series. With a ballpark outside, you lose tourists and season-ticket holders. Wrigley is the MVP, as always.
TL: Was it strictly for draft position? Was this always the plan, or did the new CBA and lack of resources derail parallel fronts?
JG: The new CBA definitely changed things. Theo talks about it in this WEEI interview. I'm sure the dearth of money available surprised them too.
I mean, I'm sure Ricketts didn't give Theo a cold, bleak view of the near future when he pitched him. Who does that? Basically, life doesn't always turn out like we think it's going to, and there's always going to be unforeseen obstacles.
I trust that the Theo and Jed crew will find new edges (the international pool money trade games). I don't trust in the business side too much, but give them credit, they're always hustling for new sales, etc. It's tough to sell a lousy team too. But that goes back to Ricketts.
TL: The only positives of late stem solely from the system. Are the Cubs pushing these kids out there, setting them up for an unenviable position by not having more talent on the MLB roster to insulate them?
JG: Well, there's a vacuum of good news to promote, so I get their desire to pump the kids. But if I have to see the official Cubs Twitter account mention Baseball America one more time...Remember this is the organization that gave season ticket holders a ball autographed by "The Three C's," Castro, Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin. Correction: STH only got that ball, valued at negative $10, if they paid for their tickets by check in advance. What a deal!
In all seriousness, you know Theo and Jed won't bring up anyone until they're ready (and at an arb-friendly time). These guys are also pretty cognizant of the mental side of "not rushing" players. Jed went through it with Anthony Rizzo.
As for the pressure when they get here, that's a real part of being a big leaguer. You can't force people not to get excited. But yeah, it'd be nice if there were other veterans here to take pressure off them. Will it be Rizzo and Castro? That's kind of up to them. Don't expect a Soriano-like free agent signing, though.
TL: Does Rick Renteria actually have a legit shot at being the Manager when this team is ready to win?
JG: To be determined. No one has any clue what kind of manager he'll be when he has to be the guy. But given the history of this team, I'd say no.
TL: Please tell me you have a better plan than Sully's plexiglass?
JG: If the Cubs listened to Sully, we'd all be better off.
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