Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts had a long sit-down interview Thursday with beat reporters, including Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, who wrote up a long, detailed summary of what the Cubs owner talked about.
What caught my eye was this portion about the Wrigley Field renovations:
At a Sports Business Journal conference last month, Ricketts delivered this money quote about the Wrigley Field renovations: “We probably missed our budget by around 100 percent.”
Ricketts clarified that comment, saying it was “kind of in jest” and unrelated to the team’s quiet offseason.
Oh? “In jest”? Here’s more from the article:
Ricketts said: “The fact is that our preliminary assessments — before we had a pretty good look at what the situation really was at Wrigley — (showed) it was going to be $300 million or something in that range. It turned out to be $740 million in the end. But no one could have known in advance the level of the issues we were going to find.
“We were also very much in the mindset of: ‘Let’s measure twice, cut once. Let’s do it right.’ We intend to own the team for the next generation or two. We want to make sure that the person that follows me in this chair doesn’t have to worry about the same problems that we had to deal with. So we spent all the money to make sure Wrigley Field was not only an improvement for the fans but something that’s structurally viable for the next hundred years.
“It did not affect the baseball budget. We financed it. One of the things we did was we sold pieces of the team. We paid for it by selling off assets, selling off equity in the team. That effectively covered the expenses that we didn’t anticipate — that we could not have anticipated — early on.”
Oh. And double oh.
It was widely assumed — and in fact, I wrote about it here in 2013 — that the Cubs’ renovation/restoration plan was going to cost $500 million (this quote is from a Sun-Times article I linked in that article, but the link no longer works):
With a surprise endorsement from local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday approved the Cubs’ $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around it.
So, clearly, the plan was two-thirds higher than the original $300 million estimate.
Ricketts also stated clearly in the Thursday interview that the final cost was $740 million, which, while well over the $500 million budget noted in 2013, is still well short of the $1 billion now stated to be “in jest.”
The Cubs chairman also talked at length about player payroll and why the Cubs aren’t going to spend more this year. He noted that teams pay a penalty by going over various luxury tax levels, but also stated:
CBT is a real factor. It’s not the defining factor of this offseason. What we’re going to do with CBT is not something we discuss publicly.
“CBT” = Competitive Balance Tax, the official name for what we colloquially call “luxury tax.” And right there is a pretty good explanation for why we’ve heard nothing but radio silence from the Cubs front office this winter. But Ricketts also said:
“The way that the baseball model is set up, it lends itself to those boom-and-bust kind of cycles,” Ricketts said to The Athletic on Thursday during a rare media interview in his office. “Teams have a couple great years, then they have a couple terrible years, then they have a couple great years. We’d like to get out of that model. We’d like to crawl out of that lobster pot. We want to be consistent. It’s going to take making good long-term decisions every year to do that.”
This is undoubtedly true. Patrick Mooney mentioned that at the time the Ricketts family bought the Cubs, the Phillies, Giants and Tigers were powerhouse teams. All three have gone through down cycles over the last decade; all three have had seasons of at least 98 losses since their last World Series appearance and the Tigers had a horrific 114-loss season in 2019. We’ve been through something like that as Theo & Co. were rebuilding the organization (101 losses in 2012 and 96 in 2013), and that has to be what Tom Ricketts was referring to. Those seasons are painful. The teams to emulate would be the Yankees (last losing season: 1992) and Cardinals (last losing season: 2007, their only one since 1999).
The thing is, though, that coming off a bad year, does holding the line on spending allow the Cubs to do that? Or does management think this is a “retrenching” season, allowing them to compete in 2021? We haven’t gotten any answers about that.
The Cubs roster as it’s now constituted can probably compete for a division title (or wild card, and Ricketts pointedly mentioned the Nationals won the World Series in 2019 as a wild card team). Remember that most of the players you’re likely going to see on Opening Day were in the driver’s seat for the postseason until significant injuries hit. Remember this? During the last homestand the Cubs were driving for the postseason and this lineup looks like a spring-training split squad affair.
A healthy Cubs team in 2020 with a bit of luck can still make the postseason.
One last note from Mooney’s article:
There is a perception that Ricketts had been ducking the media after the Cubs last year canceled what had been a traditional Q&A with fans on the Saturday morning of Cubs Convention.
Whether fair or not, the perception is valid. They won’t have an ownership panel this year, either, and though Tom Ricketts says “We used to do like a family panel, but toward the end it really wasn’t all that valuable or interesting,” I can imagine it would have been quite interesting a year ago, and would be now. We will hear from Tom and Laura Ricketts this weekend, though:
In the meantime, Laura confirmed she and Tom will make a guest appearance Friday night on Ryan Dempster’s faux late-night talk show, answering questions from the former pitcher and current Cubs employee.
That ought to be interesting, especially since Dempster put out a call for questions on Twitter:
Hey Cubs fans, we got a big night coming up Friday! If you could interview Tom and Laura Ricketts , what would be the one question you want answered? Keep it Ethical, creative, and smart and maybe @OffTheMound can get that answered for ya!— RyanDempster (@Dempster46) January 13, 2020
Most likely, the conversation between Dempster and the Ricketts siblings will be lighthearted, but it’s still must-see TV. If you’re not going to the Convention. the Cubs say they will be streaming this session (along with Friday’s Opening Ceremony, the David Ross/coaching staff session at 10 a.m. CT Saturday, and Cubs Talk at 11 a.m. CT Saturday) on their social media channels.
This Cubs offseason has been dull. It might start to get interesting this weekend.