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Cubs chairman: No worries about Jim Hendry, Mike Quade, money

Chairman Tom Ricketts says Cubs’ debt won’t be an obstacle adding big-money talent.  |  Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

Chairman Tom Ricketts says the Cubs’ debt won’t be an obstacle in adding big-money talent. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: August 3, 2011 10:09PM

After weeks of conspicuous public silence in the face of rising heat over his management team and team finances, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said today that his general manager’s job is safe and that the team’s debt won’t preclude signing free agents.

He refused to get much more specific than that about the player-spending issue, saying the decision to commit a multiyear free-agent contract at eight figures a year is up to GM Jim Hendry. Ricketts then declined to say whether payroll would be cut for the third consecutive winter.

The clearest message from Ricketts involved his support of Hendry, who has come under intense media and fan fire this year, and first-year manager Mike Quade.

``I have 100 percent confidence in Jim,’’ Ricketts said. ``He’s working very hard to do everything he can to get this season back where we want it to be. And I think Mike’s done a great job. Mike’s got those guys playing hard. You know they’re not giving up, and there’s a good spirit in the clubhouse. So those guys’ [jobs] are fine.’’

Both are also under contract for 2012. And at least in Hendry’s case, Ricketts didn’t rule out revisiting his job evaluation but still sounded firmly in support.

``We’re just going forward right now, and I’ll see what the offseason looks like then,’’ Ricketts said. ``I’m pretty happy. I’m comfortable with Jim. I’m confident in his ability to keep us moving forward.’’

Asked about the recent Sun-Times report that the Cubs’ debt burden will prevent big-money free-agent signings over the next two to three years, Ricketts seemed to allude in his response to a Los Angeles Times report listing the Cubs among nine teams not in compliance with Major League Baseball debt-service rules.

Ricketts called that a ``non-story,’’ saying that the debt-service-rule issue is a function of terms of the sale and that the commissioner’s office is satisfied with the Cubs’ financial condition.

``What every fan should know is that nothing in the capital structure, in the balance sheet or any of the debt will in any way limit our ability to put a good team on the field,’’ he said. ``And the fact is that this year we spent more on baseball operations than any year in the past and we continue to invest in the team. And it’s in no way a limitation on our ability to sign free agents or flexibility to build a better organization. It’s just irrelevant to that.’’

The Sun-Times report had nothing to do with MLB compliance or the debt-service rules. According to a source with direct knowledge of the team’s purchase structure, the annual burden of the Cubs’ debt as a result of the purchase and subsequent commitments all but preclude the ability to spend heavily on free agents.

Asked specifically about the possibility of committing to a multiyear, eight-figure-a-year free-agent signing, Ricketts deferred to Hendry. ``We do have a lot of money coming off the books. Everyone’s aware of that,’’ he said. ``Whether or not that goes back into a large free agent contract will be Jim’s decision.’’

Ricketts said in spring training that a deal such as that — presumably in the Albert Pujols/Prince Fielder neighborhood — would have to go through ownership.

Asked today if his reference to money coming off the books (roughly $50 million) means the payroll will remain the same in 2012 —making that $50 million available to Hendry — Ricketts sidestepped the question.

``Even if we knew where it was going, we wouldn’t talk about it,’’ he said. ``We don’t talk about where we’re heading on payroll. We’ll make that decision at some point later this year when we see what’s all available and we go through all the possible options.’’

Among other topics Ricketts addressed:

◆ The ``F**k the Goat” shirts players wore proudly this week — about 20 months after Ricketts said in his first media address as owner that any player who believes in curses would be traded to ``a less-cursed team:’’ ``I think we’re not going to wear them outside. Kind of the language in it, you’ve got to be careful,’’ he said. ``But I’m not too worked up about it.’’

◆ On Carlos Zambrano’s postgame rant in St. Louis in which he called the team ``embarrassing’’ and singled out closer Carlos Marmol: ``I saw it and frankly where were a couple of things that I didn’t like. Calling out an individual teammate is probably not the way to handle such things. But to be honest, I didn’t think it was that bad.’’

◆ On the often suggested idea he should replace team president Crane Kenney with an experienced ``baseball guy’’ to oversee Hendry’s baseball operations office: ``I’ve never bought into the [idea that] I should have a baseball guy to watch my baseball guy. And then what do you get? A baseball guy to watch the baseball guy who’s watching the baseball guy? … I really haven’t through about an extra baseball guy. I’m not regretting not having an extra baseball guy.’’

◆ On MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons’ declaring Wrigley Field a ``dump:’’ ``Obviously we don’t believe it’s a dump. I know Peter Gammons said that and I respectfully disagree. In fact, Wrigley Field is the third largest tourist attraction in the state, generates $600 million for the business in the area. … It’s not a dump. That said, we knw that it can be improved. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do to preserve it and improve it for the fans.’’

◆ On possible concern that Wrigley might not be viable: ``Not in the near future. Obviously, there’s a lot of things we continue to do to improve the fan experience, a lot of things we need to do to preserve the park. … We’re not talking about it not being viable.’’

◆ On concern over attendance drop: ``There are a couple of factors – obviously the economy and obviously the weather. But the most important thing is I’m not worried about the attendance because if we win, we’ll be full. And everything we’re doing is to win.’’

◆ On why he has declined media interview requests in recent weeks as team issues arose: ``I have been available to fans and season-ticket holders, because I really work for them. … When it comes to more public statements, I like to keep those to what’s happening on the field. I don’t want to be the story. I don’t like to be a distraction from what’s going on. To the extent that we have something that’s important to come out and tell [the media], we will. But if it’s just like checking in on the little things that have happened over the last few weeks, then I think it’s best just to leave it with Jim and Mike and what’s happening on the field.’’

◆ On whether he regrets what he’s gotten into with all the issues and problems the past year or so: ``Not at all. I don’t have any regrets. I still have fun. … Obviously, it’s more fun if you have a better record. But this is still a dream job, and I don’t think it ever won’t be.’’

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