Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations, during a panel discussion on the second day of the 29th Annual Cubs Convention on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media
CUBS AT PIRATES
The facts: 6:05 p.m., CSN+, 720-AM.
The pitchers: Edwin Jackson (8-18, 4.98 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26).
Updated: April 1, 2014 9:00PM
PITTSBURGH — How important the Cubs’ business plan is to everything they hope to do on the field was spotlighted again in recent days. And it was only indirectly related to the $23 million lineup they fielded for their Opening Day loss to the Pirates on Monday.
When the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and the Angels’ Mike Trout signed extensions last week worth a combined $392.5 million over 14 years, it continued a run of big-spending that saw salaries jump again across the game — and offered another reminder of how much more new revenue is pouring into major-league baseball at the local and national levels.
What does it mean for the Cubs, who have dealt with decreased baseball budgets in recent years as ownership operates under the game’s highest debt load (as a requirement of the franchise purchase) while waiting for the promise of new stadium and TV revenues?
It means the cost of doing business just went up, again, and that Crane Kenney’s business department is under increasing pressure to deliver on its promises.
“I think every team has to make its own decisions,” team president Theo Epstein said when asked about the impact of the recent megadeals. “Obviously, all contracts collectively form a market, and you have to be aware of the market, and you have to operate in the market when you’re in free agency. And it affects everything that you do to a certain extent.
“But ultimately we have to make smart decisions for our situation, for the situation we’re in now, and then the situation we’re going to be in, in a few years. We take it all into account and try to chart the path that makes the most sense for us.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Cubs can outsmart the rising cost of big-league impact players, or that it’s just certain clubs giving out these contracts.
The Tigers’ Dave Dombrowski is considered one of the best and shrewdest executives in the game. The Twins ($184 million to Joe Mauer) and Reds ($225 million extension for Joey Votto) aren’t on anyone’s list of big spenders.
It’s simply the rising cost of doing business in an industry that commissioner Bud Selig said could top $9 billion in revenue this year.
“Overall, it’s a good thing, right?” Epstein said. “It means the industry’s doing well as a whole. You look around, there’s money to go around to the players and owners both.”
It also means that if Epstein’s front office has stocked the farm system with as much star power as many believe it has, the business side better catch up. The cost of keeping those players through their primes will be even higher in a few years.
Never mind trying to sign the occasional impact free agent.
“Look, we’re just trying to win as many games as we can and pay players appropriately to that end,” Epstein said, “and I think the fact that there’s money to go around right now is a good thing overall.”
Better, still, for him when he starts to see it.
Twenty players across 10 teams make at least $20 million this year, including six who were originally drafted, or signed as amateurs, and developed by their current club.
Isn’t the idea of the Big Rebuild that Kris Bryant or Javy Baez or C.J. Edwards turns into the next Mike Trout or Ryan Howard or Justin Verlander?
“We’re a long way from that right now,” Epstein said. “Right now we’re a young club, and we have some players on multiyear deals, some signed in free agency. We have players who are in arbitration, we have pre-arb players, we have a lot of players who are pre-prime or moving into their prime. It’ll all be handled appropriately.”
NOTE: The Cubs agreed to a minor-league contract with Joel Pineiro, who won 104 games from 2000 to ’11 with the Mariners, Cardinals and Angels, including 16 with the Mariners in 2003. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 with the Angels.