With Cubs’ renovation in forefront, on-field budget expected to suffer
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org April 8, 2013 8:21PM
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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:38AM
Barely a week into the new — and already faded — Cubs season, a significant and potentially costly tension appears to be rising within the organization.
It has nothing to do with closer controversies and only a little to do with rooftop politics.
It’s a business-vs.-baseball issue that threatens to prolong a rebuilding process already testing the patience of many fans, with ownership admitting Monday that its baseball-spending timeline hasn’t been its focus during efforts to secure an agreement for Wrigley renovations.
How fast can baseball-operations bosses Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer expect to have their baseball budgets ramped back up to big-market levels once the five-year project is under way?
‘‘Well, a lot of the stuff we’re doing with the park is non-revenue-generating,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “I’m not sure when all of it comes online. We’d have to think about sequencing, and, frankly, I haven’t been focusing on that lately.”
Not focusing on when a baseball department that has had budgets siphoned for much of the last four years will get its promised injection of new revenues? Isn’t that what this was supposed to be about?
Settle in for more openers like the 7-4, highlight-challenged loss Monday to the Milwaukee Brewers and a long rebuilding process.
And you thought these first three losing seasons of Ricketts family ownership have been tough to swallow.
No doubt that the expansive new clubhouse and weight room the team has planned will be first-class, and the Jumbotron expected for left field will be spectacular to many, even if it draws attention from the iconic scoreboard.
But it’s hard to imagine that for all the years and details of planning that went into the Ricketts/Crane Kenney vision for a new Wrigley Field, the baseball timeline wasn’t a constant front-and-center piece of the process.
You can be sure it’s on Epstein’s mind. It might be the difference-maker in whether he accomplishes what he was hired to do here. He said as much last week in Pittsburgh.
“I think it’s fundamentally important to get us to the next level as an organization,” he said of getting necessary approval for the renovation. “We have a baseball plan and we have a business plan, and they’re timed to sync up with one another.
“They’re interdependent, and if we don’t get our Wrigley renovation done in a timely manner and done the right way, then we can’t accomplish our business objectives, and that will certainly get in the way of us ultimately accomplishing our baseball objectives.”
The baseball-operations budget crunches, created in large part by the MLB-high debt the club carries from the highly leveraged 2009 purchase — as outlined in a Sun-Times report last week — aren’t especially damaging to the rebuilding process in these early stages.
But some insiders suggest it might have influenced failed posting bids for Asian free agents Yu Darvish and Hyun-jin Ryu.
“It’s something that needs to get right that will impact our club down the road,” Epstein said Monday. “But as far as bearing on the 2013 season, it’s not something [to think about].”
But exactly when?
Even manager Dale Sveum
knows patience is far less a virtue than a luxury in any big-league rebuilding process, much less one that involves long-suffering fans paying premium ticket prices while they wait.
“You can only have so much patience,” Sveum said. “Obviously, [the fans] were great with us through hard times last year and understanding the processes with what’s going on in the organization.
“But there’s only so much you can take, especially when you have some of the best fans in the country. It’s not just Chicago. We have a following throughout the whole country.
“The patience has to give way sometime. That’s just the nature of the beast.”