Where Tom Ricketts sees Cubs payroll going from here


Where Tom Ricketts sees Cubs payroll going from here

It doesn’t sound like Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts will be handing a blank check to Theo Epstein and his baseball-operations department this winter.

Philosophically, Ricketts believes in homegrown talent, long-range vision and Branch Rickey’s farm-system principles. There are also those restrictions from the family’s leveraged partnership with Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. (which included a piece of Comcast SportsNet Chicago). This youth movement has already yielded 91 wins and guaranteed a playoff spot.

But the Cubs will need ownership’s financial muscle to become a monster in the National League Central for years to come. Wrigley Field is under construction and bursting with new revenue streams, drawing 2,959,812 in attendance during this breakthrough season.

Given all these variables – and the potential for a long playoff run – Ricketts hasn’t finalized the parameters of next year’s payroll yet.

“I don’t know what the number is,” Ricketts said before Monday’s 1-0 win over the Kansas City Royals at Wrigley Field. “Obviously, winning on the field helps with that equation. And Theo will have some resources this offseason. But I don’t know how (much). And I’m not sure he’ll find something he wants to do with ‘em. It’s up to him.”

[MORE: Forget Cy Young, Joe Maddon thinks Jake Arrieta could be NL MVP]

Ricketts spoke to reporters in the home dugout, one of several stops with the local media on this post-clinch victory lap. But the chairman has never been a Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks) or a Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) seeking the spotlight or trying to play general manager.

Whatever happens in that wild-card game on Oct. 7 – probably against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park – this season has been an enormous success.

But the Cubs can’t spend on the level of a small-market team like the Royals if they want to keep feeding the beast and not be remembered as a one-and-done team. The David Price Watch began months – if not years – ago.

“Obviously, winning helps the payroll analysis, (but) it’s not about payroll anymore,” Ricketts said. “The fact is, the correlation between the dollars you spend and the wins you get on the field is going down every single year.

“So in order to have sustainable success, you can’t count on money. You have to count on young talent. You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve gone out and built the best facilities in baseball. We’ve scouted well. We’ve drafted well. I think we’re developing well.

“That’s what’s really going to decide whether or not this team has got two good years or 10 or 12 good years. It’s going to be about how strong our foundation is over time.

“With that said, obviously, winning will help on the financial side, too.”

Ricketts is correct on the macro level, but the Cubs are also at a point in their rebuilding curve where each win becomes even more valuable and getting aggressive makes sense.

[RELATED: Jake Arrieta ready for do-or-die format of one-game playoff]

The Cubs might not be so lucky in one-run games next year – Chris Denorfia’s pinch-hit homer in the 11th inning gave them their 13th walk-off win – or fortunate enough to have Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester make 60-plus starts combined.

The Cubs will need insurance policies, especially since that farm system hasn’t produced any significant pitchers yet, with zero frontline starters on the horizon.

Young players can quickly get expensive through the arbitration system. This collective bargaining agreement has also severely limited how teams can spend in the draft and on the international market, making free agency a main road for acquiring premium talent and exploiting big-market advantages.

Epstein still appreciates Ricketts’ overall hands-off style, especially after all the interference that compelled him to leave the Boston Red Sox after the 2011 season.

Epstein is signed through the 2016 season and has called his contract a nonissue, believing he can work out an extension with Ricketts. Andrew Friedman’s reported five-year, $35 million deal to run baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers figures to be a reference point.

“We’ll sit down at some point,” Ricketts said. “Right now, really, we’re just focusing on the postseason. We have a great relationship. Obviously, the results are great.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs postseason gear right here]

“(It’s) not just Theo. Everyone in the baseball organization – we’re on a mission. And we want to keep that mission going forward.”

Epstein keeps pointing to the next TV contract as the real game-changer in terms of payroll, which this year roughly worked out to $100 million plus the $20 million left over from the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes.

President of business operations Crane Kenney is responsible for delivering that megadeal, with CSN holding exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season.

“That’s going to be a very significant part of our finances going forward,” Ricketts said. “We have to make sure we do it right. We got to be very thoughtful about how that comes together. We have good people, good advisors looking at all the different options. And we’ll just see how it all flows.”

It’s unclear whether that means a more traditional broadcasting deal or a new cable network or a perhaps something more innovative involving emerging multimedia platforms. But it’s always easier to sell a winning team.

“Things are changing on the media landscape, certainly,” Ricketts said. “What we do know is content still has value – and we have a lot of great content. And obviously with a team that’s playing better, it’s even more valuable content.”

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason


Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.