Cubs

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer hopes momentum translates into payroll boost

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Cubs GM Jed Hoyer hopes momentum translates into payroll boost

ST. LOUIS — Crane Kenney explained his relationship with Theo Epstein in an unforgettable quote for Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover story on the Cubs.

“Basically, my job is fill a wheelbarrow with money, take it to Theo’s office and dump it,” Kenney told the magazine before this magical season began.

The business vs. baseball tension between the team’s two presidents won’t go away — because it always exists in professional sports — but both sides clearly need each other.

The Cubs hope to keep riding this tidal wave of momentum and lift the major-league payroll closer to where it should be for a big-market franchise.

A team that relies heavily on box-office sales has already drawn 2,566,057 to Wrigley Field with 10 home games remaining, including two weekend series against the two teams ahead of the Cubs in the National League Central — the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon's Wrigley problem with next year's schedule]

The Cubs haven’t hit the three-million mark in attendance since 2011, or right in the middle of what turned out to be five straight fifth-place finishes.

“I expect that it will (translate),” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday at Busch Stadium. “The lack of success on the field pushed the attendance number down, and I think we’re getting that number way back up.

“It’s been a lot of fun (to) go to the ballpark and know there’s going to be roughly 40,000 people there every day. It’s been a great atmosphere — and that atmosphere should translate into increased revenue.

“I think it will definitely go into the product on the field.”

[MORE CUBS: MLB Power Rankings: NL playoff picture coming into focus]

The rough shorthand for this year’s major-league payroll is $120 million — $100 million plus the $20 million leftover from the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. The Cubs already have internal forecasts for 2016 that would certainly be boosted by a strong playoff push.

“We don’t know exactly yet,” Hoyer said, pointing to a three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks that drew 118,005 before the Labor Day holiday. “Weekends like that against Arizona can’t hurt us going forward.

“It only helps our projections for next year. We have an idea, but the better we play …”

Though the Wrigley Field renovations will also create steady, incremental revenue, Epstein has repeatedly identified the upcoming TV megadeal as the game-changer for the baseball-operations budget (assuming the cable bubble doesn’t burst).

[MORE CUBS: Message sent: In fight for playoffs, Cubs beat up Cardinals]

There are also complications with the leveraged partnership between the Ricketts family and Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. That $845 million deal closed in October 2009 and included a piece of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which holds exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season.

Selling minority non-controlling ownership shares to six investors helped finance the Wrigley Field renovations. Internal valuations of the franchise — including real-estate plays in Wrigleyville and the potential for multimedia growth — are estimated at north of $2 billion.

So are the Cubs going to make a splash again this winter?

Whether or not it’s David Price, Epstein’s front office will be in the market for another frontline starter to join Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in what would be a powerful playoff rotation.

“What you really want is the flexibility to make good decisions,” Hoyer said. “Whether it’s one move or a series of moves, I think that’s what you ultimately want — the ability to continue improving something that we think has a really good future.

“But, obviously, we’re not a finished product. The ability to go out and make some moves to continue improve areas of weakness would be great. And I think we expect that.”

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.