ORLANDO, Fla. – Cubs fans can dream about Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, but don’t expect a franchise on hold to give out any megadeals anytime soon.
As the Cubs try to plow ahead with the delayed Wrigley Field renovations and negotiate new television deals, sources say they might not even have the financial flexibility to add one big-name free agent this winter.
Insiders predict they will keep listening to offers for Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija and doubt they have the resources to win a bidding war for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
“In Chicago, it’s funny,” agent Scott Boras said Wednesday at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. “The family has bought the team, but it’s kind of like ‘Meet the Parents.’ You know, I haven’t met them yet.”
Surrounded by reporters, Boras ripped The Plan and zinged the Ricketts ownership group while holding court in the lobby during Day 3 of the GM meetings.
In October 2009, the family finalized a highly leveraged $845 million purchase of the team (as well as a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago), beginning a conservative path that focused on building the farm system while freezing payroll levels from the Tribune Co.’s win-one-for-the-Tower days.
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Boras was asked if he was talking about Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch who’s a shadow presence around the franchise. During the 2012 presidential race, Ricketts’ anti-Obama Super PAC damaged the club’s relationship with City Hall at a sensitive point in the Wrigley Field negotiations.
“I’m talking about – if this is a family-owned team – where is the (major-market approach)?” Boras said. “This is Chicago. You’re developing the infrastructure. But fans don’t come to see seats, grass, cement. They come to see players.
“They’ve done a great job in the draft and development and they’ve got a really good core of young players coming. But it’s just not what’s expected when you buy a major-market club.”
Boras clearly has an agenda as the game’s most powerful agent. He needs the Cubs to be all-in on clients like Ellsbury and Choo – or at least create that illusion – to drive up their prices. He also represents Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, two first-round picks who are supposed to be foundation pieces at a renovated Wrigley Field.
There’s no doubt Boras would like a way around president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. If Boras can’t get an audience, chairman Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney were spotted at this resort hotel on Wednesday for the ownership/GM meetings.
Multiple executives here credited the Cubs for assembling an elite group of prospects that also includes potential ace C.J. Edwards and $30 million Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.
So it certainly makes sense to avoid the nine-figure contracts that can cripple an organization (see Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels). But with Almora, Bryant and Javier Baez on the fast track, do you have a sense of when the Cubs are going to start augmenting?
“I don’t know,” Boras said. “That’s why I said ‘Meet the Parents.’ I haven’t met them yet, so I don’t know what the plans are for the family. I don’t know what their scaling is. I only know that their general managers tell us that their budget only allows them to do certain things.”
The Cubs have been operating like a mid-market team, with a major-league payroll north of $100 million last season, waiting for the $500 million Wrigleyville project to come together. There are promises the business/baseball plans will line up and new stadium/broadcasting revenues will eventually fuel the economic engine.
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After four straight fifth-place finishes and 197 losses across the past two seasons, Boras is wondering where the money is going. A restrictive collective bargaining agreement has limited how much the Cubs can spend in the draft and international marketplace.
Cubs fans should get used to the rhetoric. Almora and Bryant are on the rise and the Epstein administration figures to be drafting Boras clients near the top of the first round for a few more years.
Boras was an infielder in the Cubs system in the late 1970s and practiced law in Chicago – before he started playing hardball.
“It’s a story yet to be told,” Boras said. “We’re wondering. What was anticipated was that the Cubs would immediately respond in the way that the Cubs had in the past – and that is they’re a major-market team. They’re responding with a very polite development structure which (is) minimized by new major-league rules.
“(They’re) in a very dormant stage for a major-market team.”