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.
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."