Tom Ricketts Defends Cubs' Quiet Offseason

"We have the highest baseball budget we've ever had," Ricketts says.

Mully & Haugh Show
January 17, 2019 - 8:41 am

(670 The Score) Cubs owner Tom Ricketts on Thursday pushed back at what he called a "misguided" perception that the organization has been cheap this offseason.

"We have one of the largest budgets in baseball," Ricketts said on the Mully & Haugh Show. "We've put that to work. We definitely signed a lot of players over the years. We have a team that we like. We have a team that we think is going to go a long way. We have a team that won 95 games last year without a lot of help from some of the guys we picked up last offseason. All the different things we fought through last year -- the injuries, everyone's having kind of down years, kind of the off-field distractions -- we like our club. And we're among the very top spenders. I just think all that stuff is kind of misguided."

The Cubs are coming off a 95-win season in which they fell in the National League wild-card game, their earliest playoff exit since their rebuild took off in 2015. Their offense cratered in the second half, with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein calling it "broken" at a season-ending press conference.

That coupled with the Cubs' financial might that was flexed in offseasons past led many to believe they'd be a serious suitor for star free agent Bryce Harper this winter. Instead, it appears they've completely sat out of the Harper sweepstakes, with manager Joe Maddon on Tuesday saying any potential signing of Harper is "not happening."

The Cubs had a $199-million payroll in 2018, according to the Associated Press. That trailed only the Red Sox ($230 million) and Giants ($210 million). 

The only notable move the Cubs have made this offseason is signing utility infielder Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $5-million deal. The signing of right-hander Kendall Graveman, who's rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, is the only other free-agent addition to their 40-man roster.

The luxury tax threshold is $206 million for 2019. It's a number the Cubs are already projected to surpass even if they don't add another free agent. Epstein has emphasized that threshold isn't limiting the Cubs in any way this offseason.

What is affecting the Cubs' decisions is their baseball operations budget. While that exact figure remains unclear, Ricketts defended it and cited various other factors that play into the finances of the organization.

"We have the highest baseball budget we've ever had this year," Ricketts said. "Maybe it doesn't feel like it to people because we didn't go out and sign a giant free agent.

"People say, 'You're only the third-biggest spender in baseball? That's outrageous.' It's kind of crazy. The fact is I don't think people fully understand. We work very hard to drive revenue to the team. And when we revenue to the team, it ends up in the baseball budget. But we also have, we have all of our own stadium expenses. We're one of the few teams in baseball that has to cover all our own costs. We have about $20 million or $30 million a year, depending on the year, in local taxes that no one else has. We have to pay a huge amount of money -- people don't realize when you raise revenue at the club, you pay about 40 percent of that to the house, to the league to share with other teams.

Echoing a point Epstein has made all offseason, Ricketts believes the key for the Cubs is internal improvement, and he has faith in the roster that's been built.

"We had a great team last year," Ricketts said. "We got pretty far. No one liked how it ended. But we like what we have, and we think these guys are going to come back and the way it ended is going to bring our guys back even more motivated than ever. We like our guys. We're going to have a good season.

"We've worked really hard to get to the point where we can be one of the top spenders in baseball. We'll never catch the Yankees, because they're the Yankees. And we probably won't catch the Dodgers because of their television contract. But now we're at the point where we can be in those top few spenders on a consistent basis. Then it comes down to you put the money to work and you get the right guys you want."

"We look at our lineup and you look around the horn, who would you switch out? We've got a pretty good team. We've won 97 games on average the last four years. We're still that team if we stay healthy and we get Yu back, who's feeling pretty good right now. And obviously, we'll have (Cole) Hamels for the whole season. 

"We're going to be great, and I think people people should judge us by what happens during the season, not what happens in December."

Ricketts did acknowledge that the Cubs' big spending spree ahead of the 2018 season -- it featured $126-million deal for right-hander Yu Darvish and a $38-million contract for right-hander Tyler Chatwood -- has had an effect on their approach this offseason. The Cubs understood they'd likely be a lower-profile player this offseason once they did that.

"When you make any free-agent signing -- not to pick on Darvish -- but any of them, you know you can't spend that dollar twice, and you have to budget that into the future," Ricketts said. "So that's going to limit what you can do the following year. One of the things this year that we knew going into this offseason was that we weren't going to have as much flexibility as years past. We didn't have big contracts coming off. We didn't have a lot more cash coming in. And then on top of that ... as players kind of get into their arbitration years, I think people forget that the Bryants and Baezs and Kyle Hendricks, they all have these built-in raises. So you have to manage your player budget."