Pitcher Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs looks to first base during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
In the last of this three-part interview with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, we cover various topics including ticket prices, the policy on rainouts, Carlos Zambrano, the overall baseball budget, Dale Sveum, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Quade and more.
Note: this interview was conducted before the details of the new MLB/MLBPA collective bargaining agreement were made public -- at the time, Tom Ricketts didn't have any information on the new draft rules so he didn't want to make any comment on them, but I included that in this transcript to note that I did ask about it.
BCB: Let's move on to baseball related things. You’re anticipating the overall baseball budget to be pretty much the same as it was a year ago or a little increase? Decrease?
TR: In the same ballpark. How the baseball budget is determined is you take all the dollars you bring in, pay all your expenses and you give everything else to the baseball guys.
BCB: When you say expenses you’re talking about paying nonplaying employees?
BCB: Travel, electric bills, overhead…
TR: All the expenses that go with the overhead of running the team. And then after you’ve paid all of those, that goes to baseball and then it’ll be Theo’s job to decide how to allocate that within, in baseball. Whether it goes to on field payroll, whether it goes to amateur signings, international signings, expanded scouting. Whatever he decides.
BCB: Do you have any sense whether the major league payroll will be a little higher, a little lower, about the same as last year?
TR: You know, I don’t have a final number on that. It’ll be Theo’s call.
BCB: And he won’t talk about it. He made that clear.
TR: Well, he makes it clear that… it’s just not something that most teams talk about in advance.
BCB: In relation to that, in terms of the new collective bargaining agreement that was just signed where there is now supposed to be some sort of luxury tax for over-slot signings, do you think that will have an effect on future international signings or draft signings? Last year you did over-slot for quite a few signings.
TR: You know, it’s really hard to say. I haven’t seen any language that is in this year’s collective bargaining agreement yet so I don’t want to speculate on how that impacts teams. If the rules change somewhat on signing players, we’ll just adapt to them and be the best we can be regardless of what the underlying ground rules are.
BCB: In other words, if there were a luxury tax and you still wanted to make the signings you want to make, you would consider still doing them?
TR: Once again, I don’t know. I don’t know what the rules are, and if it got to that point it would be a decision for the baseball guys if that was the best allocation for their dollars.
BCB: You definitely make a statement the last draft and Theo said that they watched it while he was still in Boston and said: "They get it."
TR: I think that as a team we’ve probably under-invested for a while now. I think there was a little too much emphasis on getting the last piece on the major league club and that cost us in the dollars that were available for our amateur signings. I think that our draft guys did a pretty good job, given the constraints. But this year we looked at it and said let’s go ahead and try to get a few more high ceiling guys. A few guys who want a little more money over-slot and start really restocking the system with guys that may be real contributors at the major league level.
BCB: The added hirings that have been made, the new scouting director and various other people, I assume that’s also Theo’s call. That also comes out of the one big baseball budget that he’s given whenever he wants to hire new scouts and whenever he wants to expand the baseball department?
TR: Yes, that comes out of the baseball budget. Obviously they brought in Theo, then Jed and Jason [McLeod] and then Joe [Bohringer] and Shiraz [Rehman] have all come in and we’ve also blended them in with some of the guys that were already here. So, it’s definitely in their budget and actually it’s great. I think it’s great that we’re building a little more depth in our baseball staff.
BCB: Where are you putting everybody?
TR: We are space constrained, that's for sure. The good news is these guys travel a lot so we actually can figure out where to fit them. It is a need.
BCB: Regarding ticket sales, what do you hear or know about season ticket renewals? How are they going? Because I heard that some of the deadlines actually were extended for people that hadn’t paid their deposit yet.
TR: The ticket sales are very strong. We’re very, very happy. We asked for people’s deposit to come in much earlier than usual. If they missed, we just want to make sure that if anyone missed the deadline it wasn’t because they didn’t know. So that’s what you’re hearing.
BCB: And this year you’ve offered upgrades to people who might want to change locations.
TR: The nice part about getting a feel for who’s renewing their season tickets earlier is you can find out people who aren’t renewing and then move people down to their seats. It gives us a little more time to kind of shift people around if possible. I’m not sure how many seats are available for the relocations but we just want to have an orderly a process as possible. Knowing a little earlier helps us with that a lot.
BCB: Any thoughts about, because we’ve talked about this a couple of times, of readjusting the policy on rainouts?
TR: No recent discussions. We’ve talked internally, but we haven’t made any decisions.
BCB: Obviously all over baseball rainouts were a problem this past season.
TR: 2011 from a weather perspective is one we all want to forget.
BCB: Last year, after Carlos Zambrano was asked to leave, when you were asked whether he’d be back, you said on TV, something to the extent of you’d find it very difficult to see him in a Cubs uniform again. And then Theo has laid out some ground work for him to maybe work his way back to the team.
TR: I forget the exact words I used on that television broadcast. The fact is we were very disappointed in his behavior and it wasn’t the first time we’ve been disappointed in his behavior, so at the time, it was just a matter of, well, it’s just really hard to imagine he’s really coming back in the near future. But it’s really Theo’s decision. I think that Carlos wants to be a Cub and he wants to do what’s right. We’ll leave it up to the baseball guys to manage it from there.
BCB: What would you say, then, is the biggest difference between having Theo and Jed in charge of the baseball operations and Jim Hendry running the baseball operations?
TR: It’s still pretty early. I haven’t had a lot of time to compare the two styles, but one thing I can say is that I think we have a much bigger team now. We have a lot more guys that are looking at the problems more collectively, a few more people in each meeting. I think ultimately there will be a lot more analytical decisions. Not that Jim didn’t use analysis when he felt it was appropriate, but I think that it’ll be something that Theo and Jed will lean on a lot more than maybe Jim would have. But it’s still too early to tell the complete differences between the two baseball cultures. Outside of that, there’s a lot of energy. The guys are really on a mission here and I think it’s going to be pretty exciting to watch.
BCB: You met with Dale Sveum after they told you he was their choice. What’s your impression of him after having talked to him?
TR: I like Dale a lot. What you see is what you get. He’s a straightforward baseball guy. He has pretty full analysis when you ask him certain baseball questions. And he’s just a stand-up guy. I think players are really going to respond to him.
BCB: What was the feeling of the players when they found out Mike Quade wasn’t going to be back?
TR: I haven’t spoken to any players on that.
BCB: I don’t think any fans were surprised.
TR: Mike did his best and I wouldn’t say anything other than Mike was the right guy for the job when we made the decision. He did his best with a lot of headwinds last year. I wish him all the best and I’m sure he’ll do very well in baseball for a long time.
BCB: What do you say to the people who are upset that Ryne Sandberg wasn’t even going to be considered?
TR: The manager decision was in Theo’s court. He had his reasons for focusing on a certain kind of candidate and he just executed. It’s nothing against Sandberg or anything he’s done in the past or a reflection on what the Cubs think of him as a player or a person, it’s just what Theo was looking for at the time.
BCB: Any final words of wisdom for Cubs fans?
TR: I think most fans understand that to really get the organization heading in the right direction, it doesn’t happen overnight. That said, you get a few good off season moves and you have guys who stay healthy next year and anything can happen. We’re excited about next season, but we’re really excited about our future as we go forward. Some of the lower profile but very smart decisions that we make will start to pay off over time and fans should know that their baseball team is in good hands. We have the right guys running the organization.