Tom Ricketts threatens to take Cubs and go elsewhere
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org May 1, 2013 2:11PM
Updated: May 1, 2013 10:49PM
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts was no closer Wednesday to offering a timeline for boosting baseball spending than he was before the home opener three weeks ago – when he said he hadn’t “been focusing on that lately.”
“We obviously anticipate increasing baseball spending through the revenue that’s generated by this proposal,” he said after a City Club of Chicago breakfast with local business leaders, during which he outlined a proposal he said the team submitted Wednesday for what promises to be a lengthy approval process.
“I think it’s going to come down to when we know what we can do and when we can do it. And then we can start making those plans more specific.”
Meanwhile, the baseball has taken a backseat to the full-throttle press to get restrictions eased to allow a slew of revenue-producing renovations to Wrigley, including video board in left field and more outfield advertising – to the point Ricketts even threatened Wednesday to consider moving the team from Wrigley if the team isn’t allowed to do what it wants with outfield signage.
The fact is, nobody’s going anywhere.
That means the franchise.
And, unfortunately for Theo Epstein’s front office, that also means a mid-market baseball budget that was scaled down from its natural big-market strength since the Ricketts family’s highly leveraged purchase of the team in the fall of 2009.
New ownership has yet to produce a winning season. And even the prospects for the 2014 turnaround the new front office targeted is looking doubtful with the original five-year timeline for the renovation project no longer firm – much less any of the plan having been formally approved yet.
Even manager Dale Sveum expressed doubt this week about the first phase of the project being done in time – specifically, the new, enlarged clubhouses and workout facilities that were pledged for next Opening Day.
“Obviously, I think we’re all interested in the final vote and what’s going to happen,” Sveum said Monday, “and I’m not going to lie that most of the players are concerned if we’re going to get that new clubhouse.”
Ricketts offered no assurances Wednesday.
When asked if the five-year plan unveiled at Cubs Convention in January still looked like it would be done on time, assuming approval of this proposal, Ricketts said: “We’ll know the timetable better when we get to the end of this process.”
And if the timeline is upset, can some of the revenue-generating elements be put near the front of the line to assure more baseball spending sooner?
“Well, it’s not as simple as that,” Ricketts said. “The work that creates revenue and the work that preserves the park are a lot of times intertwined. Our priority is we want to get the revenue because we need that revenue to compete. But we also have to make sure that as we generate that revenue, we’re doing it in a smart way that preserves the park, so we don’t have to come back and fix something in 10 years.
“Once, again, when we go through this entire process, we’ll know about the timing.”
Meanwhile, the debt-related crunch on the baseball end of the operation already has left the front office short in attempts to win posting bids for Asian free agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the last 18 months and influenced efforts to sign Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes – who eventually signed with Oakland.
Ricketts denied that the highest debt load in the majors is the driving force behind the excessive push for the wide-ranging revenue-building plan.
“The fact is it doesn’t affect the urgency of this process,” he said. “We have to do what we can to generate more revenue for the team. …We’re going to have enough resources to be a competitive team on the field going forward. This will help us.”
When? Who knows?