A quick take on a popular question

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We get asked a fairly basic question a lot. It ranges in delivery, sometimes people ask it in fairly different ways, but the main question we get:

What has this team done since the Ricketts took over ownership? Payroll dropped, wins went further down…

Goes something like that. I have my answer which is fact mixed with opinion. Your answer may be vastly different depending on what context you are coming from. I am a fan, but this answer was typed as a dispassionate observer of what the front office has done.

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The “out of context” bottom line is that the Major League team has regressed with Ricketts as the owner.

In context the Ricketts ownership started off relatively slow as they seemingly mismanaged a few early moves and made some questionable decisions regarding the end of the Hendry Regime. The Cubs were slow to ditch Hendry in my estimation and made some hires (Oneri being the most well known) without having a GM to consult. Generally this is viewed as a bad move as it “handcuffs” the incoming GM with hires that he wasn’t allowed to make.

Then there were a few PR debacles, the most infamous being Papa Ricketts’ involvement with a group that is aimed at discrediting the Obama administration. Regardless of your political motivations that is a major misstep in Rahm’s Chicago. That news broke right as the Cubs were going to ask for public funding and well the whole thing went to shit.

The hesitation to fire Hendry worked to the Cubs benefit, however, as Theo Epstein was dumped in Boston and suddenly became very available. Ricketts made the hire and gave Theo free run over rebuilding the organization from the ground up. Theo then hired his brain trust and began overhauling the Cubs.

Now here there are a lot of small details that are important according to very smart baseball people whose opinions I sometimes disagree with but respect regardless. The Cubs have begun to build up an infrastructure that will support both player scouting and development while also spending money to renovate Wrigley and creating a floor plan to completely overhaul the stadium to better suit its fans and create extra streams of revenue.

Many of you will ask that the Cubs never rebuild because Chicago is a major market. In my opinion you may be in for a rude awakening. Chicago is the third largest market in the US but it is my belief that the chasm between LA and Chicago is startlingly large. Chicago is a football town anyway, the fact that the Cubs draw so well is a minor miracle that is a function of the neighborhood. Baseball is a distant second in this city when it comes to interest, thus most of that market is sapped by football. LA doesn’t really have that problem and New York is literally big enough to handle the market saturation.

This may sound puzzling to fans who believe that the Cubs operate with a bottomless pit of money to throw at free agents but they don’t. The fact is that while Wrigley is a museum the lack of ads in the ballpark puts a severe cap on how much money can be generated from the park itself. Look at Yankee Stadium, a park with more baseball history than Wrigley. There was no hesitation to fit that historic ballpark with a jumbotron, ads, and any other revenue generating stream the Steinbrenner’s could think of. They even gutted the stadium in the 70′s and rebuilt it. Then they tore that sucker down and built a new one.

If the Cubs were to act like the Yankees or the Dodgers they would need to maximize the revenue they can generate from their park. A particularly popular refrain is that the Cubs charge the highest tickets in the NL. The Cubs also have the 4th lowest seating capacity in the NL and they don’t get the added bonus money that ads bring in, so you are paying the price for having a pristine ballpark and fielding a major league baseball club.

Truth be told we have no idea how much money the Cubs make and any guesses to that number are usually ill informed. So that’s enough about that.

On the scouting and development side the Cubs have increased their scouting department, modernized the front office, invested money in foreign markets like Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Asia (a controversial market because there is some dispute about how good the talent is). Through 1 draft cycle this front office has acquired 5 of the Cubs top ten prospects and 3 of them made the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 list (Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Arodys Vizcaino). The gains the Cubs have made in the Dominican and Venezuela won’t bee seen for a few years but having academies in both areas is certainly a boost.

From the MLB standpoint any gains the Cubs have made are minimal, but there is some general optimism about the roster this year. They won’t make the playoffs but 75-80 wins is not ridiculous. Given the injury to Matt Garza the Cubs made a lot of smart moves especially considering the thin free agent market and their main weakness last year, which was Starting Pitching.

The Cubs did not sign Zack Greinke or Josh Hamilton. They settled for depth with Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman. Hamilton and Greinke present different risks for their own reasons, but the mashing of teeth over the Cubs missing on both players is a bit puzzling to be honest.

Hamilton does not fit where the Cubs aim to be competitive and Greinke got a record contract for a pitcher. It’s certainly not worth getting upset about.

So yes, out of context the Cubs have regressed at the MLB level every year. It’s a different story in context, in my opinion.

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