Tom Ricketts on Cubs payroll situation: 'We don't have any more' money

Tom Ricketts on Cubs payroll situation: 'We don't have any more' money

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs payroll has been a hot-button issue all winter. 

The team spent big last winter on a free agent class led by Yu Darvish, then went out and won 95 games. But the Cubs were caught from behind by the Milwaukee Brewers and wound up at home on their couches — or barbecuing, as Anthony Rizzo said Monday — in the first week of October.

As a follow up to the way 2018 ended, the Cubs have had a very quiet offseason. They picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option (but also had to trade away Drew Smyly's $7 million deal to Texas to create room) and then have added only utility guy Daniel Descalso, reliever Brad Brach and a few other bullpen arms on minor deals as the market depressed closer to spring training.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts gave his state of address to the team Monday ahead of the first full-squad workout and later met with the media, where he was asked about the organization's finances and why they didn't spend more money this winter.

"That's a pretty easy question to answer — we don't have any more," Ricketts said. "We've been in the Top 5 in spending in baseball the last 5 or 6 years. We were in the top couple last year. We've put our money back on the field. Unfortunately, you just can't have a high-profile free agent every single year. 

"Part of that is how much it costs — the $25-$30 million it's gonna cost. Plus, it's a 10-year committment. You gotta pay all those dollars. We like the team we have, we made the best we have over the last few years. I think that we're well-positioned to win the division again.

"As much as I would love to have a great, new, exciting player every single season, it just can't happen every year."

Ricketts did not have his usual panel at Cubs Convention last month, but spoke to radio stations leading up to that event about the blowback from fans for the lack of spending this winter. 

He echoed similar sentiments Monday, pointing to Hamels' option, the escalating salaries of arbitration-eligible players like Kris Bryant and the need to earmark money for down the line to retain their own players (like Bryant or Javy Baez).

"We have to have the financial flexibility to keep the players we want to keep for the long run," Ricketts said. "We could try to sign a couple new players this year, but you can't spend that same dollar twice."

Ricketts continually pointed out the importance of looking long-term with regards to the budget and payroll and said Theo Epstein's front office is able to project the budget for the next couple years.

With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still unsigned with March right around the corner, there's been a buzz that either player might sign a short-term, high-value deal and re-enter the free agent market in a year or two.

When asked if the Cubs have limitations preventing the club from entering into one of those short-term, big-money contracts with a superstar player, Ricketts said:

"I don't think there's any limitation in baseball in how much money you want to lose. I think there's some guys that have tested that. The most important thing you can do is think about not just this year, but the future. I think one of the biggest mistakes the previous ownership made is they considered every year a discrete of that. 

"As if: What do we have to do this year to sell our season tickets? What do we have to do to sell the suites? What do we have to do to get our sponsors back? You have to think of every year as part of a continuum and you have to think of it in terms of where you're gonna be 2, 3, 4, 5 years down the line. In those kinda go-for-it scenarios, a lot of times they don't work. 

"The correlation between your payroll and your wins is positive, but it's not dispositive. It doesn't decide how you're gonna do. The fact is that the correlation's been going down over time. More younger players are becoming more impactful earlier in their career and so you can't buy victories like you could maybe 20 years ago. You have to be thoughtful about where you put your resources and think long term."

The Cubs are currently projected for an Opening Day payroll north of $212 million (according to Roster Resource), which would represent a $30 million increase from last year's $182 million mark (which was the highest Opening Day payroll in franchise history).

But it's understandable fans are feeling impatient, especially given the minor additions to the Cubs roster while the rest of the division has been active and aggressive in improving their team on paper this offseason.

The Cubs were aggressive last winter, spending money to augment the pitching staff by bringing in Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek and Tyler Chatwood. That obviously didn't work out in their favor, as only Cishek was able to make an impact throughout the entire season. 

That certainly has a carry-over effect and even with the new Cubs TV deal beginning a year from now, Ricketts balked at the notion a big-time free agent could help the club in its marketing endeavors for a new network.

"Yeah, possibly. The fact is that we don't think of it that way," Ricketts said. "We think we have a very, very good team. We think we'll win our division. We don't think that will be our issue.

"I think the issue is if we're to add even more dollars, I think we'd end up with some more problems down the line. The fact is we have one of the top baseball budgets, we have top baseball guys who allocate those dollars and that should get us great results."

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'Yogi' and his hat-balancing act steal the show at Monday's Cubs game

'Yogi' and his hat-balancing act steal the show at Monday's Cubs game

You never know what you are going to find on Authentic Fan Night, including die-hard baseball fans with impressive tricks up their sleeve! 

'Yogi' is the name of the one particular Cubs fan who stole the show on Monday night, and developed his signature tricks in 2005 in a circus show at Bloom High School called "Under the Big Tap".

In 2017 Yogi started doing the hat trick more often and perfected it through much trial and error. 

In our clips, you can hear the Cubs faithful cheer Yogi and our own Kelly Crull on, even she gets in on the fun, trying out Yogi's hat trick for herself!

Hopefully, Yogi's antics bring some good luck to the Cubs, who are in the midst of a fight for a playoff spot in the NL. You can stream Cubs baseball here

The aftermath of the Anthony Rizzo injury and where Cubs go from here

The aftermath of the Anthony Rizzo injury and where Cubs go from here

One of the most surreal moments of this crazy Cubs season has to be watching Anthony Rizzo scoot away from his locker Monday afternoon, unable to put any weight on his right ankle.

This is the face of the franchise, the guy who spoke to the millions in attendance at the post-World Series rally three falls ago. Rizzo is the heart and soul of this team in so many ways and has really only dealt with minor back injuries throughout his nine-year career.

Now, he's wearing a boot that makes him look more like Robocop and there's no guarantee Cubs fans will see him take the field again in 2019.

But that doesn't mean you should bet against him...

"In my career, I will definitely play another regular season game," Rizzo jokingly responded to a question from a reporter asking if he will suit up again in the final two weeks of this regular season. "My body usually responds well, so certainly not ruling it out. I have every intention of trying to do everything I can with the training staff to get back on the field with the boys.

"I want to play as soon as possible, whether it's now or Game 1 of the World Series."

The results of Monday's MRI absolutely could've been worse, but the lateral sprain to Rizzo's right ankle will keep him in that boot for the next 5-7 days. After that point, he and the Cubs can determine how much movement and stress that joint can take or how much mobility he'll have.

With the Cubs fighting for their playoff lives over these next two weeks and knowing his gutsy nature, don't be shocked if Rizzo forces the issue and tries to make a return of some sort before October, even if it's just in a small pinch-hitting role.

"There's a minimum amount of time when you have to just prioritize healing and let the inflammation die down and let things heal for a little bit," Theo Epstein said. "And then once we get past that period of time, then we can see if there are ways to manage the discomfort and if there are ways through taping to create some stability that gives him at least a chance to consider contributing down the road if things go really well. 

"We're not shutting any doors, but we're realistic that this is a legitimate injury that under ideal circumstances would take some time to heal."

Would Epstein be surprised if Rizzo returned before the end of the regular season?

"I'm just comfortable saying that we're not ruling it out," Epstein said. "Shoot, I was there [in Boston] with Curt Schilling in the doctor's office trying to figure out how to staple his ankle ligament back to the bone so he can go out there and pitch. This is not an analogous situation, but I've learned never to rule anything out. 

"But also injuries like this, you just have to give requisite amount of time to let initial healing take place to even have a better idea of what's possible and what's not possible."

Of course the Cubs are going to miss Rizzo while he's out. But they definitely seem to be in good spirits with the situation, all things considered.

There was Rizzo joking about how he wants to pimp out his scooter with a bicycle bell or maybe some streamers. 

There was Joe Maddon laughing about how he's thankful Rizzo can't move around too much in the dugout during games because of that scooter. The Cubs manager is already worried about finding a buffer once Rizzo is off the scooter and more mobile.

There was Jason Heyward joking about how restless Rizzo will be in the dugout, talking nonstop about "random shit" and how the Cubs players will enjoy ragging on Rizzo to keep things loose during this next week.

"[The scooter] is torture for him," Heyward said. "But at the same time, we kinda love seeing him riding around. He's gonna make a bunch of jokes about it. We're gonna make a bunch of jokes about it and just have fun with it that way. That's all we can do."

Maddon believes Rizzo's injury can be a galvanizing moment for the club, rallying around the injured player much like the Brewers have done since Christian Yelich was ruled out for the season with a broken kneecap.

But the Javy Baez injury and subsequent news of his broken thumb didn't have that same effect on this Cubs team and there have been plenty of "turning points" and "seminal moments" that never materialized over the course of this roller coaster season.

"We don't need any extra rallying points," Heyward said. "We got enough of 'em and we have fun with that. He's gonna add to that. That's what he does when he isn't playing. He brings the rallying points, he brings the fun, he brings that competitiveness and just the randomness as well."

Everybody knows the Cubs can't replace all Rizzo does for the club, from his Gold Glove defense to his steadying presence in the lineup to his two-strike approach to his aggressiveness on bunts and turning double plays. 

Ian Happ took over at first base in Sunday's game when Rizzo left with the injury and Victor Caratini got the start there Monday night. Both guys figure to be in the mix moving forward, with Maddon also mentioning Jonathan Lucroy and Willson Contreras as potential options. 

At the moment, Maddon does not want to move Kris Bryant to play first because he likes what he's seeing from Bryant defensively at third base. Ben Zobrist is also not expected to be a part of the first-base mix.

Caratini will still catch Yu Darvish like usual, which includes Tuesday night's start against the Reds.

As for leadoff (where Rizzo had slotted in the last few games before his injury), Maddon will roll with Zobrist up there as often as he can down the stretch. But the 38-year-old veteran won't be able to play every day and Monday already represented his third straight start.

The Belichickian "next man up" principle applies here and the Cubs know they won't get any sympathy from around the rest of the league even as the injuries pile up.

"Just keep playing," Heyward said. "Keep going. Everybody just do your part. Don't try and do too much. Just be realistic. Play the game, let the game come to you and that's it. Nobody's gonna look back and say, 'Oh, they didn't make it because they didn't have so and so' or 'they made it 'cause they had so and so' or whatever at the end of the day. Especially our group right here. No one's gonna do that. Keep having fun, keep competing."

The Cubs' expectations for how the next two weeks go have not changed one bit, even with their two most important players potentially unable to suit up over these final 13 games. 

"If we play up to our capabilities, we can beat anybody," Epstein said. "It all starts over once you get into the postseason. We're looking forward to doing what we need to do to get in there. 

"We'll see what happens, but we're in a dogfight of a pennant race. One day at a time."

Heyward summed up the team's mindset simply:

"Either we make it where we want to get or we don't."