Boras says major-market Cubs should be retooling rapidly
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter December 11, 2013 10:37PM
Updated: December 12, 2013 10:01AM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cubs’ inactivity during a winter of new money in the industry is not lost on officials throughout the game or the agents who work with them.
And not even Cubs officials are willing or able to offer a projection for when the franchise’s malaise —on the field and on the books — will abate.
“It appears that we’re looking at the all-day sucker,” agent Scott Boras said, leaving the interpretation to linger until he was eventually asked to clarify.
“All-day sucker meaning that it takes a long time [like a lollipop] to dissolve.’’
The comments Wednesday during the winter meetings at the Swan and Dolphin Resort came almost a month to the day after Boras criticized ownership’s wherewithal to operate a big-market franchise —and 8½ months after Forbes listed the Cubs as the most profitable team in the majors.
“The real thing is it has nothing to do with the baseball people or how the organization’s run,” Boras said. “It’s just the fact that you have a major-market team that has dramatically more revenues than most clubs that do take this type of approach.”
Team president Theo Epstein said talk like that from an agent is “not a surprise.” And while he declined to respond in detail, he did not specifically deny Boras’ premise.
“We’re not going to get into a war of words with Scott other than to say the folks who work for the Cubs probably have a better understanding of our situation than he does,” Epstein said.
That situation involves ramifications from the Ricketts family’s highly leveraged purchase of the club that four years later still limits the ability to spend through covenants tied to the financing — first reported by the Sun-Times in April and confirmed by another industry source again Wednesday.
It’s not expected to be resolved until the Cubs open up wider flows of revenue through a new local TV deal and stadium renovations that still do not have a starting date, even after the city council approved many of the details on Wednesday.
“You can’t pinpoint it,” Epstein said of when Crane Kenney’s business operation will start delivering the promised revenues — and baseball resources. “It depends on how quickly we get these obstacles [mostly the rooftops dispute] removed with the Wrigley situation, how the TV situation resolves itself.
“We have a rough idea when it’s coming, but, no, I can’t pinpoint it for you. I don’t think fans really want to hear about this. But I also don’t think they want to sit here and watch us do nothing.”
The Cubs are using what limited payroll flexibility they have to fill needs on both ends of the pitching staff and with the lineup, while waiting to see if touted Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka becomes available.
The front office has anticipated its slow-moving winter since its flurry of trades in July and subsequent managerial change. And it remains focused on stockpiling talent in the farm system — possibly involving a trade of Jeff Samardzija — while waiting for the business plan to kick in.
Epstein said he has offers out to a free-agent starter and a free-agent reliever and a trade offer on the table to acquire a hitter. None is viewed as significant.
“They’re the Chicago Cubs,’’ Boras said. ‘‘Revenue-wise, they’re one of the top teams in the game, and I think their baseball-ops people and their ownership have to sit down and decide when the time is. I mean, it’s disappointing that a market like that does not retool in a very rapid way.”
The Cubs met with Samardzija’s agent Wednesday, but no negotiating was involved. “There’s no trade imminent. We’ll see what happens,” Epstein said. “We hope he’s here for a long time.”
◆ Among the pitchers the Cubs have expressed interest in are Jason Hammel and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona).