Cubs ownership could be open to Pujols deal

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Cubs ownership could be open to Pujols deal

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011
Posted 11:39 a.m. Updated 6:53 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. More than 2,000 miles away, Albert Pujols casts his shadow over this entire camp. It is the baseball story that will not go away until he signs his next contract.

The Cubs hadnt gone through their first full-squad workout yet and wont play a meaningful game for another six weeks but there was chairman Tom Ricketts on Saturday morning at Fitch Park, deflecting questions about the best player of this generation.

All I know is what I read in the paper," Ricketts said before addressing the team. "I guess it just has to sit until the end of the season.

Pujols broke off extension talks this week as soon as he reported to Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla. Though his representation has said that theyll revisit negotiations once the season ends, it looks increasingly likely that he will hit free agency.

Ricketts once again voiced confidence in general manager Jim Hendry, but theres a belief that approval for the type of deal Pujols seeks would have to come from the ownership level. The Cubs chairman has also specifically mentioned that he would like the front office to become smarter in how it structures contracts.

Im not sure there are parameters that are officially set, Ricketts said. But well be open-minded to what we think is best for the team when that comes up.

In listening to Ricketts across the 16 months since his family purchased the team from Tribune Co., its clear that he believes in statistical analysis and the player-development system. The philosophy isnt unique to Ricketts, but he believes a contracts length is more troubling than its average annual value.

Anyone in baseball would say the length of the deal is often a bigger problem than the amount of dollars, Ricketts said. You have to be very careful if youre going to sign one of those longer deals. If youre going to take a guy on for seven, eight, nine years, you better make sure thats the guy you want.

The Cardinals reportedly discussed a Pujols deal that would be around 200 million for eight years and include a potential ownership stake in the club.

After this season, the Cubs will be shedding several big contracts worth approximately 40 million. First baseman Carlos Pena is using this as a platform year to launch himself back into the free-agent market. The noise wont be turned down any time soon.

How many major-leaguers are there? Like 300? Aramis Ramirez said. If you ask all of them, everybody wants Pujols on their team. But at the same time you got to respect we got Carlos Pena here.

Pujols could retire tomorrow and still be a certain Hall of Famer. But he will be 32 next season and its fair to wonder how his body will hold up through 2020. One freak injury could be crippling to a franchise.

This is just all just speculation. It will be a guessing game right to the moment Pujols holds up his jersey at a press conference in November or December, announcing what might be the biggest deal in baseball history.

Theres going to be a little more financial flexibility at the end of the season than weve had in years past, Ricketts said. Well have to assess the situation when we get there and see whats available.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

CINCINNATI – From top to bottom, the Cubs now have all the pieces in place to make October baseball at Wrigley Field a reality, year after year, with family ownership, rock-star executives and blue-chip players.

“It’s nice to keep the band together,” manager Joe Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s announcement that general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod had finalized contract extensions, matching up their timelines with team president Theo Epstein’s new monster deal through the 2021 season.

Those architects constructed what’s already a 102-win team, a division champion and the National League’s No. 1 seed, making the Cubs right now the biggest story in baseball, if not professional sports.

The lineup for a 7-3 win over the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds featured two MVP candidates (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and marquee free agents (Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler). The last two games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park will feature Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks making their final cases for the Cy Young Award. 

“It always starts with ownership and then it goes into the front office and eventually gets to us when you have that kind of stability,” said Maddon, who led a stunning turnaround with the Tampa Bay Rays despite all the uncertainty that came with small-market payrolls, a charmless domed stadium (Tropicana Field) and speculation about relocation and contraction.

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“We have a great product on the field,” Maddon said. “We have the best ballpark in the world. Our fans are spectacular. The city itself – there’s no more interesting place to live than Chicago. All those factors play into the success.

“I know in the past the Cubs haven’t been as successful as they wanted to be. But I don’t know that all the different ingredients have been put into place this well.

“So looking ahead, you just want to build off what you’ve done. Last year was a good building block coming into this year. And we want to keep moving forward. Of course, our goal is to play the final game of the year and win it. Under these circumstances, I think it becomes more believable on an annual basis.”

Since Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod reunited in the fall of 2011 – updating their World Series blueprints with the Boston Red Sox – the Cubs are just the third team in major-league history to win at least 100 games within four years of a 100-loss season. The Cubs have now qualified for postseason play in consecutive seasons for only the third time in franchise history.

“We had some good pieces,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “But the organization itself was not in a position where you could believe that there was sustainability and consistency and success on the field. Obviously, Theo and the guys that he brought with him five years ago kind of took the organization down to the studs and started rebuilding.

“The time and energy to do it the right way has paid off with a team that should be successful for years to come.”

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