First of all, here's the post where we put in all the Categories related to Your 2013 Chicago Cubs. Dioner Navarro, your room is over there, Scott Baker, first door on the left. Kyuji Fujikawa, we're going to have you set up right over here.
Personally, I got kind of excited Monday night, I think it was, when it was rumored that the Cubs were in on Michael Bourn. Other than that, the Winter Meetings that just concluded never really was supposed to be a big deal for the Cubs or us fans, and it turned out that it wasn't. Mr. Sullivan's recap of Jed Hoyer's activity is, to me, sufficient. The Cubs are rebuilding. The farm system is improving, but it still lacks pitching quality in the higher levels. The system does have promise in terms of infielders and outfielders, but nobody save of perhaps Brett Jackson who could be ready next year.
The best free agents available are: an outfielder who pissed away his youth, has to be baby-sat or else he ends up in dive bars covered with whip cream and sluts, and tends to choke late in the season; and a pitcher who has documented anxiety issues and would never succeed in an environment as pressurized as Wrigley Field. In this year's free agent pitching market, the Scotts (Baker and Feldman) are pretty much what you can expect to receive. Our hugest lineup hole is at third base, and the best free agent available is the guy the Red Sox gave up on last year, who then went to the Sox and was non-existent the last six weeks, and was a huge contributor to their late-season wilt.
This year, if you want a younger "star", you are gonna have to trade for him. And what are we trading for, exactly? Justin Upton, who's supposedly more talented than God but hasn't shown it in the 5 years he's been in the league? Guys like that. Not sure things, like Felix Hernandez. There are several massive deals being rumored, three-and-four team extravangazas. The Cubs are not in any of them? Why not?
Well, because we have no pitching prospects (the best of all trade bait) or established Major League Talent, except Starlin Castro and maybe Darwin Barney. Well, and Alf Soriano, but there are 36 million and two reasons why he will never be traded for value. The two reasons? The fact that he should be a DH, and the fact that he doesn't want to be a DH. And as far as Castro and Barney? I think you might be shocked at what their perceived trade value is. Or isn't.
So the Cubs made a lot of "value signings", mostly one-year deals that Jim Memolo on MLB Radio called "just the price of doing business". These signings are simply to fill holes while we wait for Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez. That's rebuilding, folks, bringing in a bunch of "guys" who are marginal big-leaguers and are willing to take a one-year deal. None of these guys, with the possible exception of Navarro, are part of the long-term plan.
But based on the comments on Sully's story, this isn't enough. How can the Ricketts family charge what they charge for tickets when everyone knows the team will suck this year? The accusation came up again and again that the Ricketts are just trying to scam us, by purposely putting out an inferior product for the sole purpose of maximizing profits.
It is true that the payroll will be under 90 million. It is also true that tickets are the third or fourth most expensive in the league. But really? If you truly believe that the people in charge of the club are so short-sighted and thoughtless that they truly believe that slashing the payroll simply for cost reduction is the way to go, then you really haven't been paying attention the past several years.
Sam Zell and Jim Hendry tried to buy a pennant. It didn't work, because they couldn't buy a decent lead-off hitter, nor could they buy any leadership. Furthermore, everyone they did buy got older, because that's what people do, and their productivity fell off. They paid for past performance, which is OK if you decide to go "all-in", like the Yankees do every year. Hendry tried playing Fantasy Baseball in Real Life, and it failed. The failure was in varying degrees. There was close failures, and then there were some miserable ones, too.
When the Ricketts bought the team, they decided not to play Fantasy Baseball. They wanted to Build Something. Well, if you can't picture what they want to do, use your beloved Wrigley as a metaphor. The Cubs are the National League's oldest team, with the longest tradition. Just like the whole Cubs organization, Wrigley Field is lovely at skeletal level. Chicago clay bricks, exposed metal, vibrant green ivy. But structurally, both are a shambles, and if you want the thing to last, both have to be gutted and rebuilt using modern materials. Otherwise, the team will perform like a junk bond, and the stadium will be a shrine one day and closed due to falling concrete the next.
Look, it is unfortunate that tickets are as expensive as they are. It keeps me away, and if you aren't of unlimited means, it is probably scaring you away, too. It might have been a good idea to enact a true price reduction strategy after a 100-loss season, but then again, they managed to sell nearly 3 million tickets anyway. If sales dip too far down, then they will be forced to reconsider their strategy. That's one side of the equation that, well, I do have a master's in marketing, so while I don't agree with it, I do acknowledge what they are trying to do. They want to make money, sure, lots of it. But if you want to criticize ticket prices on their own merit, be my guest.
But one thing I am sure of, they are not cutting payroll for the sole reason of making profit. Fact is, outside of Castro, Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Russell, Fujikawa, and maybe Barney, Welington Castillo and Navarro, the Cubs don't expect anything from anyone else but their best effort. Most of the remaining guys are placeholders, and as such shouldn't be paid like superstars. Five years from now, when hopefully the roster is FULL of stars and superstars, the Ricketts family will pay them as such. For now, look for effort and progress. Probably in front of your TV, where it doesn't cost you as much as it would if you bought a ticket.