Today Forbes released its annual breakdown of value of Major League franchises. The thrust of the article was the general rise in value for franchises and it further broke down all aspects of spending and revenue for each team. Bleacher Nation came out will a well–reasoned thorough look at the Cubs numbers that leaves some unsettling questions about the current owners of the Cubs. This was followed by Paul Sullivan’s less measured piece that focused on the Cubs being the most profitable franchise in baseball. He added the Ricketts quote about the Tribune payroll being unsustainable for good measure.
The bottom line on these figures is that while Forbes has tremendous sources the information is educated guesswork. Major league baseball teams do not open their books to the public, and so we are left with an incomplete at best picture. I’ve tackled some of the reasons why these figures might not accurately reflect the Cubs true financial situation, but I am hardly an expert on the subject. I could very well be wrong, and if I am wrong Tom Ricketts is Scrooge McDuck.
But even if I am wrong I do not care, and honestly you should not either. If we are accepting the Forbes figures as gospel than the Cubs were tied for the ninth most dollars committed to player expenses last year. They were tied with the Dodgers who have gone a historic spending spree in the past half year, and so I will more than willing to move the Cubs to number 10 in baseball. The thing that matters at the end of the day is wins and losses at the major league level, and ultimately championships. Nineteen of the twenty teams that spent less on players than the Cubs finished with more wins.
Somehow spending money has been equated with winning which is simply not the one to one relationship that some have presented. Going by Cots payroll figures, the Cubs were outspent by the Cardinals for the first time in over decade last season on payroll. During that stretch the Cubs won 3 division titles and have managed to win a grand total of 6 playoff games. The Cardinals on the other hand have won 5 division titles and been to World Series 3 times, winning two of them. The difference between the Cardinals and the Cubs has been something MRubio showed when breaking down the rosters of playoff teams in 2012.
The reason the Cardinals are a model franchise and the Cubs are the Cubs is not cheap ownership, at least in the past decade. It has far more to do with the fact that the Cubs developed zero impact position players between Mark Grace and Starlin Castro, unless you want to count two seasons of Geovany Soto or half a season of Corey Patterson. In this millennium, the Cardinals have been able to develop Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Rick Ankiel, Colby Rasmus, David Freese, Allen Craig, and numerous other players that have contributed to quality major league teams. The other main source of talent for the Cardinals has been through trade which is a by-product of having players other teams want. The Cardinals have only used free agency during this stretch to fill in the roster and never to add core pieces to a team.
The usual counter this is that the Cubs should not have to sacrifice the present to build the way other successful franchises have. The Cubs should take the approach of the Los Angeles Dodgers and buy all the free agents. All of those name players that the Dodgers acquired last year resulted in the Dodgers playing the same number of playoff games as the Cubs did. Their season was more exciting, but it also came at a cost to the future. The Cubs have the opportunity to land an impact level talent at the second pick of the draft that the Dodgers don’t have. The Cubs have far more money to play with to sign international amateurs. Spending money and not trading away veterans might have nudged the Cubs win total well above a franchise low point of 61. But it would have had a noticeable and appreciable effect on the effort to build a franchise in the model of the Cardinals.
Ultimately you have a choice. You can choose to believe the numbers Forbes has put out, and imagine Tom Ricketts swimming in a pool of gold coins. You can get upset by this, and take to posting #RickettsCheap as frequently as possible. You can ponder how much better the Cubs would have been by spending on all of those quality free agents available. But the Cubs are going to spend what they are going to spend. And many successful franchises have won with similar or fewer financial resources than the Cubs. Until the Cubs payroll costs them the chance to keep an important player, I simply don’t care.