Money is no object for the Los Angeles Dodgers and their $270 million payroll underwritten by Guggenheim Partners and a multibillion-dollar TV megadeal.
Will the Cubs have the ability to take on salary at the July 31 trade deadline? What sort of resources will be available to Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department?
“I don’t ever talk about payroll,” Epstein said, “because it just gives other teams a feel for maybe things we can and can’t do. I just try to plan accordingly, and execute on that plan, if you can.”
Money isn’t everything. The Cubs beat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on a Monday night where tornado warnings hit the Chicago area, the sky turned ominous shades of yellowish orange and a power surge knocked out parts of the Wrigley Field light towers.
But this 4-2 victory brought out another good crowd (35,147) to Wrigleyville and left the Cubs with a 38-30 record that should make them buyers. Centerfielder Dexter Fowler getting X-rays on a sprained left ankle and left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada leaving the game with cramping in his deltoid muscle only reinforced the idea the Cubs need more help.
Epstein doesn’t have a blank check here, rolling over the $20 million saved from losing the Masahiro Tanaka bidding war and inflating the payroll to around $120 million this season. That creative accounting nudged the big-market Cubs past teams like the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals and into the middle of the pack.
Do you have the financial flexibility to do what you think you want to do leading up to the trade deadline?
“Every situation’s unique,” Epstein said. “So I think like most teams, we have some financial flexibility, and not unlimited financial flexibility.”
The Cubs don’t have a whatever-it-takes attitude. The restrictions imposed by Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. — a condition the Ricketts family accepted when purchasing the team (and a piece of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago) and entering into an $845 million leveraged partnership — run through the 2019 season.
But the Ricketts family and Crane Kenney’s business operations department have pushed forward with the Wrigley Field renovations, selling minority ownership shares to six investors and raising capital — believed to be more than $150 million — to help cover some of the construction costs.
“I don’t think that’s related,” Epstein said. “I think that went to the project.”
Now you can see what the future might look like at Clark and Addison, with two big video boards, new advertising signage and the remodeled bleachers, though those business-side breakthroughs won’t necessarily free up more money this summer.
[MORE CUBS: The education of Kyle Schwarber behind the plate]
“There’s a budget at the start of the year,” Epstein said, “anticipating some of the new revenue streams, and new revenues, and expenses as well. When the organization as a whole sits down to budget at the start of the year, you try to anticipate those things.
“So it would only be things that weren’t forecast in the budget that would be either new liabilities or new windfalls.”
Whether or not the Cubs are willing to pay the price in terms of dollars and prospects to land someone like Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, Epstein will be looking to upgrade the rotation.
Epstein made that clear even before Wada left the game in the third inning, giving him one quality start in seven chances. Wada hoped to make his next start — and the Cubs seemed to think it was just cramping — but this shoulder problem again highlighted the organization’s depth issues.
[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]
“I’m really happy with the starting-pitching staff,” Epstein said. “We’ve performed really well as a group, but it usually takes nine or 10 to get through a season. We’ve had some injuries at (Triple-A) Iowa. We’ve had some guys who haven’t quite taken that leap yet to get them into positions where they can be guys who — right now — deserve an opportunity to step into a pennant race.
“We’re working on that next tier that might represent someone who has to step right into a pennant race. You don’t get warning when that need arises. You have to think in advance and plan in advance. Every team does that.
“Over the course of the season, sometimes you’re left short. We’re not hiding the ball — that’s one area right now where we kind of have a little bit of a short stack. And if there are ways to address it — before it becomes a real problem — we’d like to do that.”
The Cubs should be getting some answers from within. Reliever Neil Ramirez (shoulder) and third baseman Mike Olt (wrist) are supposed to continue their rehab assignments on Tuesday with Iowa. Epstein wouldn’t rule out the idea of Ramirez returning before the All-Star break.
Manager Joe Maddon hoped outfielder Jorge Soler (ankle) would be able to start playing in minor-league games about a week from now. Rafael Soriano, the one-time All-Star closer, is said to be still working out in the Dominican Republic.
“We do have some nice parts coming along the way,” Maddon said. “These guys are going to be able to come back and augment what we got going on right now. And they fit perfectly, so I’m not worried about who we may acquire. I think we have a lot of the parts right here.”