suntimes
BUMP 
Weather Updates

When will Cubs’ business side catch up with baseball side?

Updated: August 28, 2014 6:27PM



CINCINNATI — Theo Epstein and his minions in the Cubs’ front office already have done the math on how this is going to work in the next two years — maybe three — now that the long-touted power prospects have started making their big-league debuts.

But what then? What happened to that business-plan timeline we were told on Opening Day in 2013 was ‘‘timed to sync up’’ with the baseball plan?

Where are the shovels that were supposed to be in the ground by now — the ones promised last year or last month, depending on when and whom you asked? What happened to all that ‘‘sue me’’ bluster this spring, promising that a rooftops lawsuit wouldn’t stop a summer groundbreaking at Wrigley?

When $30 million outfield prospect Jorge Soler used his first swing in the majors to hit a pitch from the Cincinnati Reds’ Mat Latos 423 feet for a home run in his debut Wednesday, he underscored the distance the baseball department has built on business president Crane Kenney’s operation a mere 19 months since the $300 million and $500 million promises of self-financed renovations were rolled out.

Certainly, Soler, Javy Baez and the six other players who have
debuted for the Cubs this season are no locks for long-term big-league careers, much less greatness. But the progress of the Cubs’ touted prospects this season, along with the All-Star bounce-backs of cornerstone big-leaguers Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, have started the clock on the big-league part of Epstein’s rebuild — with at least the promise of big things to come as soon as next season.

Big, as in a possible big-ticket pitcher this winter and the debut a few months later of the top-ranked prospect in baseball (Kris Bryant).

Anticipating the delays in promised new revenues to offset debt-
related spending restrictions in
effect for five more years, baseball-operations executives have socked away close to $20 million in unused 2014 payroll and salary recouped in trades this season.

Tens of millions more will fall off the payroll at the end of the season, giving the Cubs the ability to sign the kind of player(s) they came up short on the last three winters.

‘‘Because we have so many young players who are going to be cost-controlled over the next several seasons, we have tremendous flexibility built into our roster as it is,’’ said Epstein, who has only $25.5 million committed in 2015 to five players before arbitration considerations.

‘‘We’re going to be able to field a pretty good nucleus with a very low payroll associated with that. And that and some of the savings we’ve made over the last offseason, for
example, will allow us more flexibility we need to be very aggressive should the right player or players present themselves to us. Now, that’s on a shorter-term look.’’

And if Baez develops into the player who already has two Waveland Avenue home runs and not the .200 hitter with as many strikeouts as total bases? If Bryant is even better? If the next free-agent signing isn’t the next Edwin Jackson?

If this baseball thing that’s starting to happen now is what they
believe it is, that ‘‘sync up’’ thing better be coming quickly to pay for the next level of it.

‘‘As we get closer to a new TV deal and as we start to realize some of the revenues associated with a renovated Wrigley Field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility and our aggressiveness,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘That’s down the road.

‘‘I’m very confident in our business side — that the right TV deal’s going to be struck at the right time and that we’re going to realize revenues from Wrigley Field.’’

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.