Tom Ricketts sort of made The Guarantee.
The Cubs chairman stood at a podium on Monday in the middle of the drafty Wrigley Field concourse, in between the men’s restroom and the ramp for club box aisles 15-17, hoping the framework for this $500 million project will hold up and transform the franchise.
“If this plan is approved,” Ricketts said, “we will win the World Series.”
It didn’t quite make the TV shot, but over Ricketts’ right shoulder hung a banner for Rule 5 guy Hector Rondon. That’s one backdrop while wondering when Clark and Addison will again be a destination for big-time free agents.
Again, there were no guarantees when Ricketts was asked how fast president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer would be able to pour the projected new revenues back into the on-field product.
Ricketts pointed out the “first element” is to preserve Wrigley Field for the next 50 years with all that concrete and steel and plumbing and electrical work (which won’t generate revenue). The chairman did acknowledge that baseball operations should be able to tap into these funds sometime before the renovation is complete. The stadium’s facelift is scheduled to take place across five offseasons.
"The second element is to make it more economically efficient,” Ricketts said, “so that we can take those dollars and put them back to work on the field. It’s a significant amount of dollars that can be generated. Hopefully, over the next few years, some of those will (come) in sooner rather than later.
“I’m not sure exactly which dollars will come in which years. We haven’t finalized all the processes yet. But it absolutely increases Theo’s ability to put dollars to work on the field.”
Epstein has acknowledged the natural tension inside any professional sports franchise. He’s also admitted that he thought he’d be able to capitalize on these big-market advantages faster.
After feeding the monster for almost a decade, Epstein learned from his experience at Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox preserved an iconic stadium, built two World Series winners and became obsessed with marketing.
Ricketts denied there’s a disconnect between the business and baseball sides on Clark Street.
“It’s absolutely untrue,” Ricketts said. “There is not a proposal or a plan that we haven’t worked on with the baseball side. Everyone knows the projections. Everyone knows what we’re going through and we’re working very closely with them.”
The Cubs have essentially become a mid-market team, with a payroll under $110 million. And it’s not like they can splurge on amateur talent anymore, because the collective bargaining agreement severely limits how much they can spend in the draft and on the international market.
There were some big misses, but the Cubs also cut corners in the draft during the final years of Tribune Co. ownership. Ricketts has aligned himself with president of business operations Crane Kenney – who’s in his 20th season with the Cubs – while giving Epstein a direct report to ownership.
The Cubs are playing for the future and trying to shrink that talent deficit. That’s why they can carry someone like Rondon, who underwent Tommy John surgery and has missed most of the last three seasons (after the Cleveland Indians named him their 2009 minor league pitcher of the year).
No one is arguing the Cubs should have given Albert Pujols $200-plus million and locked him up past his 40th birthday.
But as the Texas Rangers begin a three-game series on the North Side Tuesday night, you wonder how Yu Darvish would look in another uniform – if only the Cubs had the flexibility to put together the more than $110 million it would have taken to pay the posting fee and sign the Japanese star to a long-term deal.
The expectation on the baseball side has been that the first phase of the renovation – a new clubhouse, batting tunnel and training facilities – would be ready by Opening Day 2014.
Ricketts is still in wait-and-see mode, signaling that starting construction as soon as the 2013 season ends will depend on the public hearings and the responses from the city and neighborhood.
“The key for us – in (terms of) what we can and can’t do this offseason – will be how quickly the process moves forward,” Ricketts said. “With that kind of financial commitment, we need a level of certainty, and hopefully we can move that forward and then we’ll be able to plan a little more.”
The Cubs are 76 games under .500 since the Ricketts family finalized their $845 million purchase of the team – and a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago – in October 2009.
Instead of making headlines for talking about the World Series, it’s time to invest in the on-field product.
“If you look at the business side of baseball and what happens on the field, they’re really just two sides of the same coin,” Ricketts said. “It’s my responsibility to generate as much revenue as I can to give to the guys in the baseball organization, so they can put that back on the field to make us more competitive. And this is a big step in that direction.”