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How are small-market Reds better than big-market Cubs?

Carlos Villanueva

Carlos Villanueva

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ROLE REVERSAL

For the first time since 1997 — when the highest payroll in baseball was $62 million — the small-market Cincinnati Reds have a bigger Opening Day payroll than the big-market Cubs. Year-by-year since 2003:

CUBS REDS

2013 $106.8M 106.9M

2012 109.3M 87.8M*

2011 134.0M 80.8M

2010 144.4M 76.2M*

2009 134.8M 73.6M

2008 118.3M* 74.1M

2007 99.7M* 68.9M

2006 94.4M 60.9M

2005 87.0M 61.9M

2004 90.6M 46.6M

2003 79.9M* 59.4M

* - Won division

Updated: April 24, 2013 10:58AM



CINCINNATI — To get a good look at just how far the Cubs have backpedaled from a long-held position of strength in the National League Central, look no farther than across the field at the Cincinnati Reds.

Not only are the talent-loaded Reds staring down at the Cubs from the top of the standings again, but for the first time in 16 years — since before the age of $100 million payrolls — the small-market Reds have a bigger payroll than the big-market Cubs.

“It’s surprising that our payroll is essentially the same or higher,” said Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, whose teams in St. Louis and Cincinnati have outperformed the Cubs for the last two decades, despite being outspent annually.

Since the Ricketts family bought the Cubs in 2009, they have taken a lot of failure, cost cutting in the name of rebuilding, and siphoning of baseball money to service baseball’s biggest debt burden to put the Cubs in this position.

It also has taken strict amateur-spending limits imposed by MLB, increased national TV revenues that enriched all teams, and shrewd use of that relative bounty by Jocketty to put the Reds in a position to field a potential contender for the next several years – maybe even through the six-year, $72.5-million deal Brandon Phillips signed a year ago.

“I was surprised that the Reds even offered me that, especially after giving Joey [Votto] all that money,” said Phillips, whose deal came less than a week after the Reds signed their MVP to a 10-year, $225 million deal. “I really didn’t think I had a chance to come back.”

The bottom line for the high-profit Cubs, who have abdicated their role as the NL Central’s financial bullies until some untold future date when new JumboTron and street-vendor revenues start kicking in:

The new world order of baseball, in which every team has more money to keep its good players off the market, has created a much greater challenge for teams trying to rebuild.

The bottom line for Cub fans: Get used to it. This could be a very long process, especially with ownership unwilling to commit to a timeline when it will boost spending.

“Everybody’s still surprised about Joey getting all that damn money,” Phillips said. “But you’ve got to spend a little bit to win a little bit. And I think [owner Bob] Castellini and [manager] Dusty [Baker] and Walt Jocketty, they understood that and tried to keep everybody together. It’s fun.”

Maybe from his dugout.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said he thinks parity is good for baseball.

But he also expects increased revenues from Wrigley Field renovations, a local-TV rights package due for renewal next year and maybe even higher attendance as the team improves.

“I certainly hope so,” he said. “That three-legged stool should help our payroll grow significantly.”

Then the Cubs can outspend the rest of the small- and mid-market division again. And maybe even close the talent gap those teams now have on the Cubs.

“Look at [the Reds]. It’s a fully formed, mature team that’s been built through the draft and through trades,” Hoyer said. “That’s what we’re looking to become. … It’s good for us to look at the Cardinals and Reds and think they’re homegrown teams that are really talented. We’re looking to get to that point.’’



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