Tom Ricketts defends Cubs' financial situation: 'Money doesn't win championships'

Tom Ricketts defends Cubs' financial situation: 'Money doesn't win championships'

Cubs fans upset with the team's spending habits this winter won't get an opportunity to ask ownership directly at the organization's annual convention this weekend.

The Ricketts typically hold a panel each year at Cubs Convention where they field questions for more than a half hour — which promised to be must-see viewing this winter with the angst the fanbase is feeling after the way the 2018 season ended and the quiet offseason to date.

That's not happening anymore, though the Ricketts will instead make an appearance on Ryan Dempster's show Friday night after Opening Ceremonies (though it's not yet known if they will take fan questions during their appearance):

Tom Ricketts did a Chicago radio tour Thursday morning and told David Kaplan on ESPN 1000 his family canceled their panel at the fan convention months ago because it was the lowest-rated panel at last year's event and was "boring." But Ricketts insisted on 670 The Score he's "the most accessible owner in sports" and promised that wouldn't change this weekend or in 2019 at Wrigley Field, so fans will get their opportunity to ask him about the payroll them.

As for the pursuit of Bryce Harper or any other big free agents this winter, Ricketts defended the Cubs' lack of spending to Kaplan:

"We didn't have the flexibility this year to go sign a huge free agent and I'm not sure we would have anyway, to be honest. We like the team we have. We have strong, young guys at most positions. We have a pretty good lineup. We won 95 games. Obviously it ended the wrong way, but I think everyone feels like the team we're gonna put back out there will be good. Obviously last year's offseason moves, none of them really worked out like we hoped. Whether it was injury problems or other issues. We feel pretty good about the team we're bringing in. Other than that, it's not like we didn't do anything — we signed Cole Hamels and that was a $20 million contract, we brought in Descalso and there's still a little bit more money left.

"...The money got eaten up in a lot of ways by the guys that were just coming through the system and it wasn't like we had a big contract roll-off. We knew before last year we were likely to limit our flexibility in this offseason and we made that bet then and we're still in the top couple spenders in the league. We'll never catch the Yankees and the Dodgers for a couple reasons. But we're right up there with the top spenders and we have all the resources to win and we have a great team. It's nice to throw a great, new, sexy free agent on top of everything, but this wasn't the year for it.

"...I think people also need to realize that money doesn't win championships — players do. Five of the Top 10 spenders last year didn't even make the playoffs. It's not just about how many dollars you spend; it really comes down to — are you building the right team and are you putting the dollars in the right place?

After being handed an early exit from the postseason last fall, the Cubs have added only two guys to their 40-man roster this winter: utility man Daniel Descalso with $5 million guaranteed over two years (and an option for a third year) and pitcher Kendall Graveman, who is rehabbing from Tommy John and not expected to pitch at all in 2019.

However, like Ricketts pointed out, the Cubs began the offseason by picking up Hamels' $20 million option and they are on track for the highest payroll in franchise history by a wide margin.

[MORE: Revisiting the Hamels Decision in light of Cubs' budget issues]

After reaching agreements last week with all seven players eligible for abritration, the Cubs' estimated Luxury Tax Payroll is more than $225 million (the luxury tax threshold is $206 million for 2019).

For comparison, the highest payroll the Cubs have ever had came in 2018, when they spent more than $183 million on Opening Day. So regardless of any other deals that may come before spring training, the Cubs have devoted a huge increase to the payroll thanks in large part to the Hamels deal and increasing salaries for players like Kris Bryant and Javy Baez. On ESPN 1000, Ricketts promised the Cubs would be amongst the top spenders in the league going forward "forever."

The Cubs are also limited by the moves they made last offseason that did not pan out in 2018. Yu Darvish ($20 million), Tyler Chatwood ($12.5 million) and Brandon Morrow ($9 million) are owed more than $41 million in 2019 after spending most of last season either injured or ineffective. Darvish threw only 40 innings, Chatwood currently doesn't have a spot in the rotation and Morrow is slated to miss at least the first couple weeks of the year after offseason surgery to clean up his elbow after a forearm bone bruise that limited the reliever to just 30.2 innings.

Ricketts actually acknowledged Thursday morning those moves are hamstringing the Cubs right now and said Theo Epstein's front office knew they would be limited this offseason when they signed the trio last winter:

"Yes. I mean, that's true. We have pretty good visibility going out a few years in terms of revenues and available resources. When you sign a player to a 6-year contract or sign a free agent to a 7- or 8-year contract, you budget in that you're gonna use that incremental flexibility in the future years. You make those decisions. Honestly, you look back at last season — 95 wins and it ended in a horribly disappointing way and everybody feels down, but the three big offseason moves all had issues, whether it was injuries or otherwise. Had any of those guys been able to hang in there for a season, it would've been a different story. Those guys are all coming back and Darvish feels great, then you throw in Hamels for a full year, we got a good team.  ... But you can't spend the same dollar twice so you have to make resource allocation decisions. No team has infinite resources."

As for if the Cubs have enough money to help add to the bullpen (an area that has faded late in the season two years in a row), Ricketts said Epstein's front office has resources to work with there:

"Obviously that's a Theo decision and that will be up to them what they decide to do, if they want to round out the bullpen between now and Opening Day. I do think their intent is to do more."

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With Machado in San Diego, the Cubs are adjusting to the new normal in NL

With Machado in San Diego, the Cubs are adjusting to the new normal in NL

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs didn't spend the winter hanging out at the top of the market for free agents or trades, but they're about the only National League team that can claim that.

The NL was already pretty good a year ago and it looks to be even better in 2019, with maybe only 3 teams (the Marlins, Giants and Diamondbacks) who aren't trying to be competitive. (Then again, the Giants have been rumored to be a player for Bryce Harper, so it's entirely possible that list dwindles to just 2 teams by Opening Day.)

Manny Machado's record contract Tuesday morning helped solidfy the San Diego Padres as a serious player — if not in 2019, then in the very near future. 

That throws another team into the mix, joining the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, Dodgers and Rockies as serious contenders in addition to a few teams on the upswing even if they may not be playoff squads this year (Pirates, Reds, Mets).

With tanking and "rebuilding" popular trends in the game today, it's been a while since one league was as competitive as this.

"There are a lot of things about the game that we're doing right or people are disgruntled about," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "but as a fan, when you can look at a lot of different markets and feel like your team has a chance to compete for a division, I don't recall any other time where it's been like this. This is a good thing for where this game is at right now."

While the Cubs have been surprisingly quiet this winter, the rest of the NL had loaded up, with the talent changing leads very unequal. 

Here's the list of notable players moving from the American League to the NL this year:

Josh Donaldson
Robinson Cano
Edwin Diaz
Jeurys Familia
Andrew McCutchen
Jean Segura
David Robertson
Andrew Miller
Yan Gomes
Brian McCann
Sonny Gray
Russell Martin
Joe Kelly
Jed Lowrie
Ian Kinsler

Meanwhile, the list of talent going from the NL to the AL is basically D.J. LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Matt Harvey and a bunch of role players.

On top of that, many free agents chose to stay in the NL, led by Machado. There's still a bunch of talent on the open market (Harper, Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, etc.) that could wind up in the NL, too.

All that points to a tough road for the Cubs, a team that spent much of last year with the best record in the NL. The talent gap on paper has certainly shrunk.

But the Cubs still have plenty to focus on what's happening under their own roof, with a refocused mission and renewed sense of urgency.

"Things are cyclical — the American League was like that 3, 4, 5 years ago and they've had a number of teams that hit a different part of their cycle at this point in the AL," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "But now that's what we have in the National League — where there's a cycle that it's hard to find a team that's not competitive, that doesn't have a chance.

"It means some lower win totals will probably win the division and be in the Wild-Card race. It means you just have to grind through every series. You're not gonna just look at your schedule and know you got some easy runs. It's changed.

"In '15 and '16, for example, in the National League, you could look at the schedule and you'd have some stretches where you felt like we gotta go 11-3 in those two weeks to feel good about it. That's not gonna be the case anymore and there's nothing wrong with that. You just gotta kinda readjust your sights a little bit."

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Cubs Talk Podcast: What does Manny Machado to the Padres mean for the Cubs?


Cubs Talk Podcast: What does Manny Machado to the Padres mean for the Cubs?

Luke, Kap and Chris Kamka react to the Manny Machado deal and the impact it has on the National League and the Cubs. Javy Baez talks about hustling and being accountable, and possible contract extension numbers for Baez and Kris Bryant are discussed.

00:00 - Welcome - Manny Machado signing and what it means for the National League. How many legitimate contenders are there in the N.L. with Bryce Harper likely to sign with a N.L. team as well?

2:20 - Are we really surprised Machado got his $300 million dollars? What we have learned from the Machado saga? Family did not matter. Location did not matter. Position did not matter. It was all about the money.

5:08 - What does this deal do to the "collusion" argument? Brad Brach's quotes about getting the same exact contract offer from multiple teams is discussed.

7:00 - Where does the Cubs / White Sox rivalry stand now that the Sox did not sign Machado?

7:54 - Javy Baez talks about being held accountable and how last season the team lacked that type of leadership and accountability at times.

9:45 - Chris Kamka delivers some clutch Cubs "hustle" stats.

11:20 - Kap says he talked to Jon Lester in Arizona, and that Lester knows the Cubs front office wants him to be more of a vocal leader in 2019. But Lester knows there are inherent difficulties for pitchers to try to motivate every-day players.

12:17 - MLB Network's list of the top shortstops in baseball is out. Where does Baez come in on that list?

13:15 - Machado gets $300 million - so what does that mean for guys like Kris Bryant and Javy Baez?

18:44 - Kap talks about the feeling among the players at Cubs camp. He says players are pissed off about the early exit and that some of the experts are picking them to lose more games than they win in 2019.

20:00 - When the Crosstown series rolls around, what are some realistic expectations for a pair of former Cubs prospects: Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: