Cubs Q and A with Sun Times Gordon Wittenmyer Part 2: Ricketts, 2014, Sveum

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.

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  • Nice! Part Deux tops the first one....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks, I think this should stoke some discussion ; )

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I had no idea about any of this, sitting in San Diego 2000 miles from home. Cubs not on WGN? This is very unsettling. I see few enough games now. I thought these guys had plenty of resources. The nucleus is, I assume, Castro, Rizzo, Samardjhia, Wood,Lake , Baez, and? I still think Samardjhia might wind up closing, but I'm hardly in an informed position. The idea of commercializing the ballpark is a very bad one. I think it may be time for serious consideration of moving to a night game environment. I've long felt that day games may be the seminal reason that we can't win.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I love the work he has done with the baseball side lack of resources, stadium renovations, and TV contracts. He's very candid and come across as non-biased.

    I think as fans, we have a right to be upset at paying the 3rd highest prices for an inferior product. I understand the financial restraints of the team since they purchased it, but still. This stuff makes me cringe every time a saber-metric guy puts a price tag on a WAR when determining a players "value". I'll spend $200 to take my son see a ballgame and get to see an exciting star or a successful team. Not to see the DDJ's of the world.....

    I also think he's spot on Sveum. One of the biggest compliments we pay him as a coach is his players play hard. But that really is a product of their fringy situation, not necessarily Dale's managerial skills. Still, no one was going to win much more with the group he has had to work with.... Jury's still out IMO.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    "I love the work he has done with the baseball side lack of resources, stadium renovations, and TV contracts. He's very candid and come across as non-biased."

    I completely disagree with this. As I said in the other column, not only do I think he comes across as biased, he comes across as someone who doesn't really understand finance. I've read his pieces and listened to several radio interviews on the subject. It's clear he doesn't really know what he's talking about, in my opinion, and that includes general baseball business. At one point in an interview he said something along the lines of he can't believe the team is trying to find all these additional revenue streams when they're this bad. Which, of course, is absolutely absurd.

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    Perhaps he doesn't know finance (and frankly I work with a lot of finance guys and they don't even know a lot about finance) but GW is right about the Cubs having the most debt in MLB. I thought the LAD deal was outrageous but the Cubs have ~$580MM in debt compared to ~$420MM to LAD. AND LAD is worth ~$600 more than the Cubs.

    My numbers are taken from the Forbes article on MLB team values. See below. It may not be 100% correct but the numbers are at least in the ballpark. It was also written in March of 2013 so obviously things have changed.

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    OK, we can agree to disagree on the biased part. He's a journalist, not a self proclaimed finance expert. He's reporting verifiable facts... So tell me, where is he factually wrong?

    I don't listen to much talk or sports radio, so I missed those nuggets. I would not defend him if he criticized ownership for trying to find & maximize additional revenues. Certainly they have every right to.

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    It's lines like this that make me question his objectivity: "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."

    There are ways ways to make that point without the snark that implicitly infantilizes Ricketts.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I agree. I am getting tired of these reporters trying to be cute and doing these back handed rip jobs.

    My guess is that GW has little clue as to the structure of the deal or doesn't have the ability to comprehend the complexities of the deal. So what does he do, rips on the Ownership and paints a picture of incompetance. Does the same thing with Theo/Jed.

    Everyone was quick to rip on Quade during his short tenure, but god forbid we give Sveum an ounce of credit for a team that will improve despite they team's 3 biggest stars under performing and the guys out there still busting tail. Certainly no credit going his way.

    Whatever Godo. At least Sullivan is gone.....Sheesh.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    No, GW is right. The deal as it was structured was heavily debt ridden and a scary proposition when it was presented. I don't want to get into details, but I reviewed the deal and advised my clients to walk away from funding the Ricketts purchase of the Cubs.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I don't think that was his intent, so much as he was communicating the general perception of how others felt about the terms of the purchase. "and that has left other original suitors shaking their heads and/or laughing at the deal.". Taken in it's entirety, vs out of context, he's stating the obvious. This was a deal that wouldn't stand on it's own financial merits and thats why astute business men who loved being astute business men more than they would love being floundering owners of the Cubs walked away. Zell was obviously cashing in on the name recognition and brand value. Not that Ricketts won't be successful, but this was a sweet deal for Zell only.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Just because the deal was structured this way, doesn't mean Ricketts aren't astute businessmen. It just means that they wanted to buy the Cubs, and had the money to do so. There is no way that 'Papa Joe' is dumb enough to make a huge, huge investment with shifty financing. I'm sure they had an army of bankers running valuation scenarios.

    Personally, I think Tom Ricketts is a bit of a clown, and benefited from having an extremely rich father. That said, he seems to be a passionate fan and did the one thing a smart owner should do - and that is hire successful baseball guys. I'd assume almost anyone would agree that we have one of the, if not THE smartest front offices in the game - and considerable depth as well.

    In the end, as I've said before, I view all of this speculation into the deal dynamics as speculation. Unless there it's actually been published somewhere - if so, I'd like to see a detailed breakdown of the deal and its specifics.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    I think we are in agreement for the most part. Mine wasn't meant as a dig on Ricketts. Just that other potential suitors walked away from the deal because of trib's precarious terms. I'm sure Ricketts absolutely wanted to buy the Cubs. That passion may in fact have lead them to make a business decision, at least in part, with more emotional connections than they otherwise might have.

    I agree about our F.O. and Ricketts should be commended for surrounding himself with that talent.

    Wasn't the Trib in Bankruptcy at the time of this transaction? If so, then the Trustee would have had to signed off on this and the details would be included in the Bankruptcy proceedings. Those are a matter of public record at the Federal courthouse.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Agreed. Time will tell, I guess.

    As for the TV deal. I don't think there is much debate that they will get a big increase with the WGN deal coming off the books after 2014 - which I think is something like 40% of the games.

    If I'm the cubs, I'm working to renegotiate the CSN deal and extend it well beyond 2019. I fear the huge TV deals will be a thing of the past by 2019....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Something to ponder here. I do understand what you are saying but I will throw something out to you on the idea the deal was sweet from Zell's standpoint only.

    The Cubs are worth a TON more today then they were when Ricketts purchased them. In a recent radio interview Scott Boras said double, obviously he has a vested interest in making all clubs worth more so who knows exactly.

    Even at the time of the purchase though it was thought the Cubs would go for 1 billion +.

    My point in all this is did Ricketts, sign a deal that is so juicy for Zell because he knew he was buying on the cheap. Ricketts understands finance, so he may have done the deal to get it done.

    Here is my point, it is structured so the additional money is coming out of the company, yet his purchase is worth A lot more. So the organization is paying the bill when he is worth a lot more. From that standpoint Ricketts deserves scrutiny, and Wittmeyer may have a legit argument on how this deal went down.

    Put it like this, the Ricketts family is smart, they wouldn't do a bad deal for them. Well they may have the Cubs footing the financing part of the deal so they have an asset worth considerably more money in a few short years.

    Who is the loser in that scenario? Cubs fans!

  • I recently had a thought regarding Price.

    I am wondering if the Cubs WAY overspent on IFA kids with the anticipation of getting into the PRice sweepstakes. I don't know the rules of trading kids in DSL and VSL, but if you can, maybe they have some value. If you can't, it allows the Cubs to replenish the lower levels from within in a couple three years.

    Just a thought.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I have reservations about Price cost. However it would give them the missing piece a head of time so to speak.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Because they are so far away and have so much risk involved in their development., DSL/VSL guys have very little value in trades.

  • Fantastic interview.

    There've been arguments in the past about why the Cubs would think it's a good idea to let attendance plummet for the sake of saving a few million in payroll, something that seems particularly illogical.

    Wittenmeyer has provided us with an answer that fits the facts and doesn't paint anyone involved as a total, irrational buffoon, so I'm inclined to believe it: that they are spending everything they can, but they entered into a restrictive sales agreement with the Tribune and had overoptimistic revenue projections that led them to believe they could overcome it more than they actually have.

  • Gordon tells it like it is! But I think the Cubs will eventually cash in huge on their TV rights; I don't doubt that as much as GW does. The problem is it will be a long time until all the TV money comes rolling in. To make up for the lack of funds, Ricketts is defacing Wrigley by adding 40,000 feet of new signage, plus the jumbotron.
    Ricketts bought the team even though they didn't have the money to do this the right way, at least in the near term.
    The Cubs don't have a manager problem; or a front office problem; or a Crane Kenney problem. These are all red herrings. The Cubs have an ownership problem.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Oh for the halcyon days when forward-thinking owners like P.K. Wrigley and The Chicago Tribune ran this team...
    (...ran this team to the ground, that is.)

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    In reply to baseballet:

    The TV rights bubble may be about to burst. Al Yellon at BCB, who I have to admit does a terrific job with these type of stories, had a great article about this recently on his site. The way he laid things out, it doesn't appear to me that we should be all that optimistic about massive revenue increases from that side of things. Hopefully the Wrigley Field upgrade, however, will provide significant dollars.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I'd definitely defer to Al when it comes to the TV stuff, though I think Tom will be coming out with something soon as well.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I look forward to it. I'm sure he will do a terrific job. It's complicated stuff to be sure.

    For all the criticism here of the Ricketts, it seems to me that they are trying to exhaust all revenue streams going forward. And that's the way it should be.

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    In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I'm not sure if the bubble is going to burst or not -- the Dodgers deal is just begging to lose a lot of money. But Al's article and the Fangraphs article it was based on have a fundamentally incorrect view of the economics of bundling, and that led to some questionable claims.

  • This interview confirms that Wittenmyer is biased against this ownership. He doesn't have a clue about the finances of the organization, and if he did he'd back it up with hard facts and numbers. I find it difficult that Theo would have been able to sign Soler to a $30M deal, re-up Castro/Rizzo, eat a bunch penalties in this years IFA draft, or do the renovation work in the Dominican, Mesa, or the pending Wrigley reno without expending some resources. Cubs still has a payroll in excess of $100M/yr., so it's not like we're the Miami Marlins. Wittenmyer isn't all that great a reporter or analyst IMO.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Many of those deals are small, long-term commitments. And our current MLB committed payroll for 2013 is going to come in below $100m, I think.

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    In reply to Paulson:

    And let's not forget about the near signing of Anibel Sanchez as well. That was another big contract that would have added to Chicago's payroll.

    I have no doubt's that Zell got the better end of the deal at the time of the sale. It's the main reason others dropped out so easily when the bidding process started. But to make his little slap that the kids will have to stay away for papa Joe's pockets is simply Gordo showing a bit of frustration at knowing the extent of really how much debt was taken on during the sale of the Cubs.

    Just my read on it.....

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    In reply to Paulson:

    I agree there will have to be a significant increase in the payroll if this organization is serious about building a winner - that coupled with the terrific job Team Theo appears to be doing "acquiring assets." But really, I don't think there have been many missed opportunities the past two offseasons in terms of money not being spent.

    To me, it does make sense to wait. But depending on the free agent class, if they aren't going after some top talent by the winter of 2015, you have to wonder.

  • Tom, great job! I feel some vindication.

    I admit there have been times over the last couple of months that I've felt a little sheepish about the bitching I've done in frustration on this site. But not bitching about the rebuild -- I'm all in favor and applaud what Ephoyer have been doing in that regard. Rather, I've been getting more and more pissed about -- and have said here more than once -- EXACTLY what Wittenmyer is saying!

    It is an outrage that the Cubs are charging top tier prices -- about $27,000 a year for four season tickets in Aisle 126 -- and giving us "crap" on the field. It is an outrage that they have gone from a payroll well over $150 million to about $75 million, while actually raising ticket prices. It is an outrage that they are and have been the one of the most profitable teams and are now doing whatever they can to wring every last cent out of the Wrigley Field while giving us teams populated with DFA and waiver wire rejects.

    We're "all in" on this rebuild, but it appears that means that we are stuck for the next few years -- for a total of 5, 6 or 7 years or more! -- with 800 pound gorilla franchise acting like a small market pussy exalting "value" instead just crushing our actual, true small market rivals in the Central. And we fans have to pay top dollar to be witness to that!

    I was super excited when the BILLIONAIRE Ricketts family bought the Cubs and even more excited to learn Tom was a real true fan. The owner of the Cubs should have a fiduciary duty to Cubs fans all over the world to do whatever it takes to finally win the M.F.'ing World Series! And I figured we now had our own Billionaire could go toe to toe with the Billionaire in NY to put together teams that would win and get the playoffs consistently, no matter the cost.

    So we got the Billionaires from Nebreska to buy the Cubs and then, a few years later, we watch the Billionaire from Chicago buy the Dodgers. And then last year and for the first few months of this year, we all laughed at the moronic free spending ways of Dodgers going way over $200 million (maybe over $250M?) in payroll for a team that basically had the same record we had in mid-June. Hahaha, we smugly laughed -- because we all know you just can't buy a winner these days and there was just no way a high priced team like that would go 40 - 8 since June 21. Right now, I'd trade ownership with the Dodgers in a heartbeat!

    We made our bed. I do trust Epstein & Co. I'm glad Cubs Den gives us a front row seat to the rebuild and it is exciting to follow our prospects day-in-day-out with John's insight. The anticipation is great and I am optimistic about the future.

    But it remains to be seen whether Ricketts becomes the John Henry of our town, or the next Bill Wirtz or Michael McCaskey. Right now, it seems like it could go either way.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    This. The Ricketts are looking like Dollar Bill's ownership but with a smiley public face. Whoop-dee-do. Cheap is cheap. These guys took on waaaaaay too much debt to buy the Cubs, and smarmy d-bag Bud Selig approved the thing lock, stock and barrel.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    The Cubs do still have a $107 Million dollar payroll, 13th in baseball as per

    However, that being said, who the **** paid Michael Bowden over 5 million dollars this year

  • In reply to noscbs:

    They didn't. ESPN's payroll tracking is awful.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Yep we have on being a small market club for now. It may all flourish at once in a few years?

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    I'm a season ticket holder. Granted, I have 2 bleacher seats and the night and weekend package. So my investment was around $4,600 for the year.

    Dude, I feel your pain and don't plan to re-up in November. Which is my advice for you - don't re-up. You can complain all you want, but you control where you spend you money, and if the Cubs get any of it. You can simply walk away.

    This is what the Cubs should fear. Yeah, they've had a huge ticket waiting list to cover themselves for a few years, but its is turning over like crazy. I think the tickets prices are outrageous and attendance reflects this. I'm sure they have various financial formulas to identify the highest ticket prices they can charge and get enough patrons to buy enough stuff while in the stadium. BUT, I'd want more fans in the seats, buying overpriced beer and making some noise in the stadium, than the current model.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Cool, give'm up. I'm 44,041 on the waiting list and I 'd like to get season tickets before I retire. The waiting list is over 100k as it is.

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    In reply to Nondorf:

    This seems pretty short sighted. Of course it is possible to buy a winner, but how long will it last? We basically did that in 2007-2008, but are paying the price for it now. I bet there's a good chance the Dodgers will be paying the price in the very near future for quite some time. Epstoyer is trying to build a program of sustained success similar to the hated Cardinals so that you have multiple chances to win the WS. This gives you a much better chance than going all in for one or two years of glutted payrolls.

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    In reply to Gary Kueper:

    Exactly! You cannot find sustained success buy buying the players you think you need to win a WS. You may get immediate success for a year or maybe two, but ultimately your organization will pay for it and pay deeply.

    Dodgers, Dodgers, Dodgers

    It's now easy to say the Dodgers did something right at this very moment in time. What a cop out!

    I hand you the Angels......Um remember them? Remember how everyone was talking smack in the Spring on which team in California was going to win the next WS? I do..... The Angels are paying the price now and will continue to pay for years to come. I suspect the other L.A. team will follow soon as well.

    If spending was the best way to win championships consistently, why did Boston and the Yankees look to drastically cut their payrolls?

    The issue here that is plain as day to see is that the Cubs were in about the worst shape as any team in baseball from the top all the ways to rookie ball. You don't fix that with David Price or any other big name player. The ugly truth is that we had our fun with big name free agents and large payrolls. And now we pay for it.

    Does that justify the high ticket prices now? Probably not. It is what it is. But the overall health of this organization is getting better each year. We are taking the right steps. It's just awfully painful.

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    In reply to Nondorf:

    It's really hard to build a winner from scratch strictly through the farm system. As has been pointed out, for all the talent sitting at the minor league level for the Cubs right now, it's extremely improbable that more than two guys pan out as big stars. And maybe another two or three become solid regulars. That's why you have to be willing to trade prospects for established guys.

    The one good thing about Price is his age. The Canos and the Ellsburys will be in that 30-and-older range where the Cubs don't want to go for free agents, and I don't blame them.

  • I would really like to see the Cubs make a play for Giancarlo Stanton. I think he is worth overpaying for and a deal involving Smardzijia, Soler, and Vogelbach (along with some other ptbnl types) could put the Marlins over the top.

  • In reply to Burnsie25:

    I just watched Stanton in a three game series against the Royals here in KC, and I wasn't impressed. Small sample etc....but still, I've seen Stanton plenty of times before too, I'm not giving up Soler and Vogelbach for a one-outcome hitter.

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    He struggles for the same reason Rizzo has been struggling... he has no protection whatsoever. He is a proven major leaguer and has easy 40 HR power at the age of 23.

    Would you pitch to him if Placido Polanco and Logan Morrison were batting behind him? There's no way. His OBP is .114 higher than his BA because nobody will pitch to the man.

  • The cubs will be leaving Wrigley field for one of the all time sweetheart deals out in dupage. At that point the Ricketts wind up looking like the prince's of baseball. Just in time for a ridiculous wave of young talent on the way. Future has never been brighter.

  • Yes, spending half a billion $$ on renovating Wrigley Field is a sure sign of a move to dupage [sic] DuPage County or Rosemont or Zion-Benton or Romeoville.

    The Cubs' future IS bright, but as to your prediction of a move from Wrigley, dream on.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    All systems go for sure, what day does the construction start? This is really the entire issue to what the interview talks about. The stadium has long been the liability, and the cubs brand the asset.
    Any thought that the cubs could upgrade the stadium without mountains of red tape from the city, protest from the residents, and litigation with the rooftops, has been proven to be a pipe dream. It is not going to happen. The long term success of the team lies west, and you better believe the organization knows it. The sooner the better. It amazes me that the media does not see this and report on it.

  • "It is not going to happen."
    Well sir -- As of several weeks ago, the red tape has been untied. The Alderman and the City Council have approved the deal, including okaying the message boards (which will be too unwieldy to move to DuPage County btw). The rooftop negotiations are the only remaining hurdle. Construction should start once the season is over.

    "It amazes me that the media does not see this and report on it." Well, the media did report on all of this. As did this blog and all the others.

    This dead horse has no flesh to beat upon.

  • The Ricketts are pretty good with money and investments, but obviously met their match with Zell. I'm optimistic that they will be successful in the end. I like the Ricketts' decisions, which seem timely based on the situation that they find themselves. Criticism is easy, but not helpful.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    True... We also have the added benefit of 20/20 vision on past matters. I'm sure the Ricketts were well represented by Investment/Sports Banker's. But even they couldn't have anticipated some of the bumps and twists & turns this has taken.

    The Cubs are a Marquee franchise, that was left in pretty bad shape. Impossible to do a complete make-over and still keep everybody happy.

  • This interview really knew what buttons to push to get spirited reactions from fans. Yesterday's segment dared to bring up national prognosticator who dislikes one of the Cubs prospects and now today's finale brings up finances/payroll.

    The religion and politics of baseball fandom. Got to love it.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    To be clear, in my case and I think many others, I don't care that Law doesn't like Lake. I share his concerns, in fact. I don't like the smug way he handles it to bring attention to himself while digging at Cubs fans at the same time.

    I've actually sat with Law for a couple of innings of a couple of games (at the last UA game and once in AZ) and he wasn't nearly so smug about Lake. I suggested OF to him at the time and he seemed to like the idea -- but he continued to say he didn't like his approach at the plate or in the infield on defense, but that he could have a role in the bigs because of his speed and power potential. Didn't think he was a starter, though. He was honest, held to his beliefs, yet was open-minded. I find that side of Law to be much more engaging.

    By the way, a couple of guys he really likes and talked about in a positive light were Juan Paniagua and Shawon Dunston, Jr -- and, of course, Javy Baez. Didn't like Kevin Rhoderick (who was pitching while we talked) or Matt Szczur (who also played) -- he thought MLB pitchers would consistently induce weak contact from him. He also said Logan Watkins was a utility infielder at best. Interesting conversation that day and earlier at the UA game (where we mostly talked about draft prospects).

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Bwwaaahhaaa all part of my plan.

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    Why does anyone care about the money? This is baseball, not finance 101. I don't care. On the baseball side, I see an owner that came in, changed what has not been working for 100+ years (duh), spends money like its free (see Boise, Mesa, DR, Wrigley...players from all aspects of the world and is building an extreamly awesome looking future for the Chicago Cubs.

    Hacks like GW have to be "shock" writers or they just don't get noticed in the world of the internet. He is ALWAYS a glass half (or more) empty.

    Lastly, we really have no clue into finances of the Cubs. But GW suggests we judge the Cubs on their finances. Do we do that when we compare OUR team to any other in Baseball?

  • In reply to Randy Michelson:

    Oh sorry not to defend my guy but he is far, far from that. He and Mooney are the guys I read religiously. I think his views are daring for a guy around the club daily.

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    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Mooney is excellent. If you work for the Sun Times, you are required to write negative about the Cubs. Just fact, go back and read anything Rick, Rick or GW have written. There was a day when Rick Tel was good, with Sports Writers and SI. Now, he has hit the Hack status as well.

    BTW, you have a right to stand up for your guy. However, if you read the comments, many many agree with me.

  • I really enjoy your work on this site guys. Look forward to reading more about the beloved Cub.

    Regardless of how much truth there is in GW's reporting of the Cubs and their FO his responses totally turn me off. They are laced with snark and crude comments. I expect more professionalism from him. He is just another beat writer I have tuned out regarding the Cubs.

    I question the lack of funds. The Cubs have a new facility in the DR and Arizona along with expanded scouting, coaching, player development, IFA spending and $500M in Wrigley rehab. Not to mention improvements made already which we know little about. Sounds like a lot to me, just saying.

  • In reply to Uncle B:

    Thanks, appreciate the kind words. As for GW, I can't speak to his opinions on the financial aspects. Not my area of expertise. A household budget is challenging enough for me ;)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I let my wife handle the budget after I extract the baseball entertainment $$.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    That's a good plan.

  • In reply to Uncle B:

    I appreciate your opinion but I like to look at things through a finicky lens sometimes. If you listen to him on air he sounds less snarky (Sully) and more aggravated than anything. To me there is a difference. I think he feels they are pulling one over and there has to be some truth to that.

  • After the season ends, the first trade should be Lake, Castro and
    DeJesus to Tampa Bay for David Price. The lack of quality pitching
    is frightening.

  • In reply to ELAN:

    Thank you, Mr. Hendry.

  • In reply to ELAN:

    They would laugh them off the phone IMO.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Agreed ^^. It would have to include Smardzijia and Castro just to BEGIN talks.

  • In reply to Burnsie25:

    How about Castro, Vogelbach & Christian Villianueva? I think we should accumulate pitching, not just upgrade it.

  • In reply to Burnsie25:

    How about Castro, Vogelbach & Christian Villanueva? I feel like we should accumulate pitching not just upgrade it.

  • In reply to ELAN:

    We certainly have had a tough year, but I wouldn't classify Cubs starting pitching as frightening. According to ESPN, Cubs pitching ranks third in the national league in quality starts and sixth overall with 71 quality starts. The failure of the bull pen and lack of timely hitting have been the main causes for this year's problems.

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    In reply to ELAN:

    It will take at least one of the Big Four and at least three more Top 10-types to get Price. If you're going to do that, and I'm not saying I favor this, dangle Soler, Vizcaino, Alcantrera, Vogelbach and Johnson or something like that. But I think you have to be able to work out a long-term deal.

  • Thanks for the interesting two-part interview. I stopped reading Wittenmyer because he's just too reflexively anti-Theo/Jed (after spending too many seasons singing the praises of Hendry and his team -- who were at least good off-the-record sources for him). But perhaps you can shed light on this comment from Gordon: "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." Is there back story here? Or is Wittenmyer just parroting the old Hendry line that 90% of a GMs value is his relationship with players, agents and other GMs? If the Cubs could offer the best package, why would the Rays work with them (just like they did with Hendry on the Garza deal, which was a first major deal between the teams)?

  • I cannot agree with a guy who complains too much about the product that an organization is placing on the field during a rebuild.

    Who doesn't field garbage during a complete and total rebuild? Do we want to waste tens of millions of dollars on second-tier players right now? Tie up resources?

    Last year we suffered through horrid starting pitching in the final months. Now we have to suffer through terrible offensive numbers. A real fan is okay with that. I'm not whining. On the contrary, I'm rooting for a top 5 draft pick.

    What has this done for us? A LOT! By jettisoning our short-term assets, we acquired plenty of talent. And by losing heavily for a couple of years, we've secured high, protected first-round draft picks, not to mention pretty high second-round picks such as Pierce Johnson. If we pick top-ten next year, we have a protected pick if we choose to sign an A-level free agent, and start shifting this team in its new direction.

    Is there a limit to this? Should there be? Well, of course. If I were Ricketts, I'd say, "Enough is enough," after a couple of years of struggle, and watching outfielders dodge so many seagulls. For as much payroll as they have shed, they are losing it in ticket sales and other revenues as well - I'm not sure they can afford another cellar year.

    In my opinion, next year would be a good year to start adding solid veteran help to support the rebuild. We have so many infielders close to being ready. Some of the outfielders are farther away. So why not bring in a Corey Hart (OF/1B) or a Shin-Soo Choo (High OBP/OPS leadoff guy)?

    That's where I would start. The offense needs help, and we still have so many players in development, even on the major league team. But the rotation looks to stabilize over the next couple of years with all the guys we have coming now in Arrieta, Vizcaino, Cabrera, Hendricks and Rusin, followed by PJohnson, Edwards and others. We've been playing better fundamental baseball, and we've had a lot of close games in these losses - a boost in offense could bring a major shift in wins as soon as next year, and get us close to Wild Card contention again.

  • I think they have one more year of futility before the exodus / vocal complaining really starts. They are in a difficult position though. They have so much talent in the minors, but not much of it is close to the Show. So you don't want to sign Choo on a 5 year deal, when you have Almora, Soler and maybe Bryant on the way up. I think they sing the Feldmans / DDJ / etc. to 1-2 year deals this offseason. That gives them 14 more months to gauge the trajectory and timing of their prospects.

    I could see them giving 1 year deals for impact players to reestablish their value - Elsbury, Lincecum, Josh Johnson, etc. Lincecum / Johnson for sure. Trade bait in July.

    Everybody wants the cubs to spend more money, but nobody actually names players and logical prices they should pay. These days, almost everybody is an overpay - unless you are smart and strategic about it (see Carlos Beltran).

    HW09 - you at least named some guys, but Hart is under contract I think and has been hurt. Choo will probably cost 4/$48M at least. Probably more like 5/$60M.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Well there have to be bridge players the Cubs could acquire who are better than the likes of Murphy (age = 30), Ransom (age = 37) and McDonald (age = 35), all of whom started in the last game and all of whom are hitting below the Mendoza line. Last year we had Joe Mather. And there have been others, far too many. Platoons and waiver picks manning way to many positions. I don't have to suggest specific player names the Cubs should have acquired instead, along with specific contract details, in order to make this complaint, do I? That's Theo's and Jed's job and I wish Ricketts would give them more money to let them do it.
    There is a difference between rebuilding and rebuilding on the cheap.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    How much of that, though, is the Cubs not wanting to tie up positions with long term, expensive, past prime players before the farm system is ready to produce talent?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I hear you, but... doesn't that sort of go against the idea that the majority of prospects (even good ones) flame out?

    We're all excited about the stud prospects in the system right now, but if you look at the best ones, they all provide positional flexibility. Baez can probably play 3-5 positions, Bryant at least 2, Almora can play anywhere in the outfield, and Soler could at least probably play LF or RF.

    I'm not saying that the Cubs will all of a sudden try to sign a bunch of players in the offseason, but I suspect it's more about the "past the prime" thing than positional lanes being clogged.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think that's part of it. I agree you don't want three Sorianos on long term deals manning the outfield right now, with another one at third base. The Cubs should not have been going for the gusto the past two years.
    But I also think the front office has spent all they were allowed to spend because Theo said that was the case. And so "expensive" is a relative term. A few affordable bridge players for a major market team can be a cripplingly expensive options for a small market team.
    Similarly, a major market team can afford to absorb some sunk cost at the end of contracts. If the Red Sox have to make David Ortiz a part time player during the last year of his contract because they have Vogelbach and they want to promote him, then they can absorb the financial blow.
    At the very beginning of this rebuilding a few seasons ago (pathetic seasons I had to suffer through for hundreds of games), the Cubs could have signed a few quality bridge players to 4 or 5 year contracts to make the team watchable. But the budget wasn't there to do that. That's on the owners. Furthermore, we can't keep all our positions wide open for the future because some of these high draft picks aren't going to pan out. It's okay to sign a good outfielder. It would have been okay two years ago to have signed a quality third baseman to a four or five year deal.
    I agree with Roscoe (below) that Theo and Jed have done a great job (with the payroll they've been given). I also think the coaching staff has done really well with the defensive positioning and contributing to success stories like Shark, Wood, Maholm, Navarro, Scheirholtz, etc... This season it would not have taken much to for the Cubs to have provided a .500 team, a team we could have had FUN watching while we wait for Almora/Baez/Soler. Just a few quality players would have done it, and we'd all be having fun discussing the actual games.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    You don't 'have' to name anyone. But its not hard to form a logical opinion about who you think they should sign. Its a lot better than just complaining about the team (not saying that is what you are doing here). Nobody will read / remember what you, or I say anyway, so its not like someone is keeping score.

    I made my proposal for potential FA. None of it will happen, but its what I believe to be logical and could become reality.

    I think the Cubs have signed some nice bridge players, but they flipped them to acquire long-term assets. I have no problem with that. I believe that they will continue with this strategy until they are competitive - at which point they will hold on to said bridge players.

  • I know Sveum has made some questionable calls and I'm not saying he isn't capable of success with a better arsenal behind him, but...I hear Mike Scioscia and the Angels relationship wearing pretty thin. Just sayin'.

  • In reply to good4you:

    The Cubs aren't going to fire Sveum and even if they did, they wouldn't hire Scioscia. His philosophy of the game is so different from this front office that it's pretty much a lock that he won't be manager during this era.

  • fb_avatar

    For what it's worth, I thought yesterday's interview was OK. But this one was a home run. Nice job Tom and Gordon!

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:


  • Thoughts:

    I don't think GW was being snarky. I haven't read his stuff a lot (I read the Tribune), but I suspect people are attributing tone of voice that just wasn't there to his words. It happens all the time with e-mail conversations, texts, etc. and this is no different.

    It seems as if the front office feels hamstrung by the finances right now, but I'm not so sure that's a terrible thing. Sure, it would have been nice to get Puig, Darvish, or Sanchez, but really, all of those signings were for above-market value at the time, given the risks. Cespedes was the same thing -- if I remember right, the Cubs actually offered the same total, just for more years. The A's jumped in with a high AAV at the expense of years and might lose him earlier than they want to. These all just happened to work out. If anything, I almost wonder if the limited finances will help the Cubs in the long run because the talent growth will be more organic and the Cubs won't be hampered by any truly terrible contracts.

    To those complaining about prices: supply, meet demand. We can complain all we want but if the pricing structure fits for the team, they're not going to change it. In other words, people are still going to the games. If they stop, prices will be lowered. Easy as that.

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:


  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    A lot of people have stopped. Announced attendance is down 700k from its peak, and actual attendance is much lower.

  • In reply to Kyle:

    I don't disagree.

    I guess where I'd go from there is to say that the Ricketts aren't worried enough yet to drop ticket prices. If the attendance keeps falling like this, at some point they'll be compelled to lower prices.

  • Gotta love the healthy skepticism on the Ricketts family. He totally gets that it's still up in the air and the Ricketts could be doing it right, or just doing it cheap and making it look like right.

  • fb_avatar

    "...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."

    Apparently Gordo is unaware of the law of supply and demand. Doesn't matter how good your product or service is if enough people are willing to pay for it

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    Antitrust exemption shoots the equal playing field of supply and demand in Adam Smith's invisible hand.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Carne Harris:

    How? The Cubs don't have an antitrust exemption, Major League baseball does. Alll teams share it. And the two teams that compete for fans in this town are ruled by supply and demand regardless of the quality of the product. See the 2012 season. Cubs were bad, Sox were good. Cubs sold more tix and could charge a higher price.

    Mr Smith accepts your apology.

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    You could have five price escalating tactics employed and still say, "supply and demand - when people stop buying, prices will drop." Doesn't change the fact that prices are artificially inflated and that the free market assumption the supply and demand argument is built on is completely invalid in such a case. I call it Adam Smith's invisible middle finger.

  • Trading for David Price makes no sense to me. The cost in players alone makes it prohibitive. Outside of that even though the system needs more pitchers like Price, starting pitching hasn't been the issue. The bullpen is awful and they offense can't score enough runs consistently. With an average bullpen this team would be around .500 which is where I had hoped they would be this year.

    I would not deviate from what they are doing, keep picking up guys that can help short term while the guys in the minors mature. There isn't anyone coming up in free agency that fits the plan long term due to age or skill level. I keep seeing Elsbury mentioned but he is a speed guy with dimished power and as Jason has mentioned speed guys tend to rapidly lose value as they age and he is going to be 30. Not that they shouldn't pursue just don't overpay. They have DDJ and probably bring back Schierholtz so they don't necessarily need another left handed bat.

  • Red Flags:
    When Mark Cuban walked away from any Cubs deal shaking his head about what Zell wanted in the deal.
    When an emotional Ricketts lost leverage when he entered negotiations and then eventually a deal as a fan rather then a astute businessman, Zell knew that Ricketts would not walk away.
    When Theo has made comments about 6 months ago that he thought he would have more resources to work with.
    When Jed told the most patient fans in the world to be more patient. Ouch!
    When the first big FA recruiting trip that Ricketts went on did not sign with the Cubs.
    I worry that other organizations will start picking off the Cubsmanagement. Jason must be promoted now (I hear talk of this), he is the most valuable person in management right now. Theo second/ Jed third. The last thing we need now is management turnover. Please take Wilken. Theo/Jed/Jason have done a tremendous job with collecting/developing minor league talent with tremendous upside.
    As much as I dislike the Yankees, how could you not root for Fonzi, a real class act, he looks happy!

  • Ricketts bought 95% Cubs, Wrigley Field, 25% Comcast

    Ricketts selling personal stock for Cash: $400 million
    Financing: $450 million
    Purchase Price: $845 million

    However, to get the deal done they basically had to create an LLC where they are loaning money to themselves in addition to financing from 3 banks.

    They put up $150 million in cash.

    Loan to themselves: $400 million - $150 cash = $250 million
    Bank Loans and Private Placements = $450 million
    Total Loan = $700 million

    Wrigley & Neighborhood Rehab = $500 million
    The new tv deal is $52 million for each team for 8 years starting in 2014.
    8 years * $52million = $416 million
    + new advertising
    + $4 million per year from rooftops
    + saving $10 million per year from yearly Wrigley Field Maintenance = you get near the $500 million number.

    What stinks is the Pirates, Brewers and Cardinals get compensation picks but Miller Park is 77% publicly financed and the Pirates don't own PNC park. The Cardinals got a $45 million long-term from St. Louis County.

  • In reply to ucandoit:

    Which tv deal is that $52 mill per year figure? Is that ESPN and/or Fox for the national broadcasts?

    The TWO broadcasting deals the cubs are really waiting to renegotiate (ca$h in) are the WGN deal & the CSN deal.

    The CSN deal runs through 2019, so they have to wait another 5 years but once they do cash in it will be big.

    The WGN deal technically runs through 2022 but the Cubs are exercising a clause to opt out after the 2014 season.

    From the Tribune:

    "At stake for the Cubs is a chance to cash in on exploding local TV rights fees. The Dodgers, Angels, Rangers and Mariners recently have signed long-term rights deals in the billions. Yes, billions.

    By comparison, the current value of the Cubs package with WGN-Ch. 9, estimated at $20 million per year for 70 games, feels like utility infielder money. Some projections have the Cubs receiving as much as $80 million annually for those games."

    Also there are rumors that the Cubs might start laying the foundations in this next contract to possibly start their own network after 2020, ala the Yanks and the YES network.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Out of all the Ghost Dawgs I know, you have been the most informative. I totally agree, the Cubs will cash in big on the combined TV deals/eventual Cubs Network. Which makes the desecration of Wrigley with the Jumbotron and 40,000 sq ft of advertising especially egregious.

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    In reply to baseballet:

    It's called being savvy business men. Why do you feel the Cubs should compete with one of their hands tied behind their back? To compete on a even playing field they have to try and maximize team revenues and leverage the revenue streams their ball park provides just like every other team. How is smart to let the Reds and Cardinals generate revenue off a jumbotron while the Cubs don't? The Cubs already compete at a disadvantage when it come to revenues from Wrigley Field, why do you feel it's necessary to limit their ability to overcome that?

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    In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    The $52 million annually is the combined revenues from Fox,ESPN and TBS. Its a $26 million dollar bump for every team next season.

    I have little faith in anything Gordo reports on the financial side of the game. The man doesn't understand the difference between operating income and net income yet he keeps saying the team is the most "profitable in baseball". He keeps basing that upon the operating income number quoted in a Forbes article. He does not understand these concepts.

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