Assuming the Tribune company and Ricketts family finally complete the sale of the Chicago Cubs, the next question becomes what will the Cubs future look like?
Most Cub fans are happy their team will finally have an owner they can identify by name and face. Rather than staring up at the ivory Tribune tower wondering which businessmen are deciding payroll and future ticket prices, they can look for their owner to write some big checks and and go on TV proclaiming “this is the year” rather than “maybe next year”. The Ricketts family has successful businesses including TD Ameritrade and Cub fans may expect some of those earnings to be put into the team. Though Tom Ricketts appears to be a Cub fan through and through (met his wife in the bleachers, had an apartment in Wrigleyville), he is primarily a businessman. He was educated at the University of Chicago and has learned alot from his succesful father, the founder of Ameritrade. His main concern is to evaluate the state of the Cubs after the sale is final and determine the best way to make it a solid investment return, despite what he might say at his first press conference. As Wrigley itself needs a structural overhaul, will there be money left to add top-shelf hitters and pitchers in the coming years? Or rather than increasing or maintaining the current 135 million dollar payroll, would the Ricketts family slash payroll and revert the Cubs back to being just an outdoor beer garden?
If Tom Ricketts knows the fans will keep coming out to Wrigley (and you know they will), he may consider continuing to increase ticket prices but start lowering yearly payroll. In 5 years the Cubs likely won’t resemble the Marlins (not good enough scouting) but might have a payroll in the middle of the pack. Teams like the Braves, Cardinals or Twins can compete with a lower payroll because of solid drafting, scouting and coaching but the Cubs haven’t shown much talent in those departments (Felix Pie, Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi, Mark Prior). Even home grown talent like Soto or Theriot can’t compare to stars brought up on other, lower payroll teams like the Rays (Evan Longoria).
We can hope Ricketts opens his wallet and brings in more top level talent but it is more important to focus on building an organizational structure from within. Getting better at drafting, scouting and managing is vital for all team because those teams can compete even with a small payroll. Signings like Soriano, Fukedome and Bradley are not proving out as wise financial moves and we need to expect that big-money contracts are handed out with more care in the future. Along with that, recent draftees like Vitters need to start panning out so big money free agents are not needed as often. The Ricketts family might spend like the Yankees or dump payroll like the Marlins but they’ll become the best owners in Cubs history if they finally win the Series (or get there as a start).