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Cubs awaiting arrival of big bucks from TV deals

Had Cubs acquired Dan Haren their payroll would have increased significantly albeit temporarily. | Getty Images

Had the Cubs acquired Dan Haren, their payroll would have increased significantly, albeit temporarily. | Getty Images

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:49AM

The Cubs’ failed bid to trade for pitcher Dan Haren on Friday night was in part a look at their plans for not only the next two or three months, but the next two or three years.

The Cubs will continue their organizational rebuilding project this week at the general managers meetings, which start Tuesday in Palm Spring, Calif.

But just as important as their plan is a changing economic landscape that could make one of the highest-revenue teams in baseball an even bigger giant by the time new national-TV money starts flowing in a year, with a potentially even bigger local-TV contract kicking in a year after that.

Especially, if they keep the payroll clear of high-end, long-term contracts.

Short-term, creative acquisitions such as Haren — even at a potential net payroll increase of nearly $6 million if they had been able to send Carlos Marmol to the Los Angeles Angels — fit the Cubs’ new model as a one-year asset they might be able to flip for prospects in July and as a transitory asset that won’t burden the books later.

“The macroeconomics of baseball are interesting right now with some of these cable deals,” general manager Jed Hoyer said last week. “It’s created some very big markets from what used to be just kind of large markets, and it’s propped up some teams that used to flood the trade market and used to flood the free-agent market. Some of those teams are now holding on to their own players.”

Big local-TV deals have turbo-boosted the revenues of both Los Angeles teams (which took on hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll commitment in the last 11 months) and pushed the small-market San Diego Padres a significant distance from the bottom of baseball’s revenue earners.

Between generous revenue sharing and a doubling in value of the three equally distributed national-TV contracts starting in 2014, even the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds recently committed to long-term contracts for such star players as Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto, respectively.

On the one hand, that’s likely to make the Cubs’ competition in the coming years even stronger. But the team plans to maintain enough payroll flexibility and develop enough prospects ahead of the coming big money to be in position to become a combination of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox of the National League Central.

Of course, that assumes that they’re better at working some of the new rules than other teams, that they scout and develop better than other teams and that they’re not making a big mistake by sacrificing two or more seasons along the way for an uncertain future.

“It’s hard to predict exactly what we’re going to be staring at in 2015,” Hoyer said. “But what we’re looking at right now, it is a change in what the dynamic has been over the last five to seven years.

“It’s certainly an interesting time. The macroeconomics of baseball are at an interesting point.”

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