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August 2009

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There's a new sheriff in town

Written by , Posted in General

Today the Chicago Cubs’ sale to the Ricketts family was made official. The Ricketts family will own a 95% interest in the team, Wrigley Field and the Tribune’s share of Comcast Sports Net Chicago. Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan raised some pertinent questions about where Tom Ricketts will want things to go now that he’s the new sheriff. I would like to add a few more of my own and somewhat restate a couple of Paul’s questions:

  • It is estimated that the Ricketts family spent upwards of $800 million on this sale, how will their outlay impact their spending on baseball salaries? Most entrepreneurs want to know what kind of return on investment they are earning; I can only imagine that the ROI the Trib had was ungodly compared to what similar numbers will be with the new regime.
  • Another question of a financial nature, how much did the Ricketts have to leverage their purchase? We all saw the kind of trouble Zell got into playing that game – he had to sell off the Cubs (a profitable investment) to raise cold hard cash to fulfill his debt obligations for the Trib (a very unprofitable investment.)  This is a cash flow consideration and I wonder how much that will play into the ownership equation.
  • How important will winning be to the Ricketts family? There are many rich owners around baseball and other pro sports, some are very focused on winning (e.g. the Steinbrenners) where others are more concerned on the bottom line (witness former Twins owner Carl Pohlad.)  I personally hated it when the Wrigleys owned the Cubs and was horrified when it was reported that they were possibly interested in re-purchasing the team.
  • What will Tom Ricketts decide to do about Piniella? Lou looks tired to me, I think it’s time for him to retire.  I really like the guy but he’s looking an awful lot like Dusty now.  Gone is the edge, playing the hot hand in terms of player substitutions and generally good instincts in terms of tactical situations.  I’d like to see the Cubs give Trammel the job on a one year contract with a nice salary and have the Cubs bring up Sandberg as bench coach.  Will Ricketts want to give Piniella another year?  Will Lou even want to stay?
  • Regardless of what decisions are made about Piniella, what should be done about the some of the big contracts the Cubs currently own? Hendry appears to have belly-flopped on several choices but I would also hold some of those guys equally accountable for turning in bad performances, most notably Zambrano, Soriano and Milton Bradley.  All of those guys are capable of better play – Z could do a better job of personal conditioning and situational pitching, he might even learn to think a little more thoroughly before opening his pie-hole.  Soriano needs to get a baseball bat and quit buying trees, he looks comical like Todd Hundley swinging that big piece of lumber.  To paraphrase former VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen:  ‘Mr. Soriano, I saw Henry Aaron and you are no Hank Aaron.’  Get a lighter, shorter bat, get closer to the plate, quit swinging at outside and high pitches and focus on more singles and doubles Alfonso.  Hit line drives and the homeruns will happen some too.  As for Bradley, he’s shown some improvement in recent games.  Keep this trend going and remember who your worst enemy is Milton – you see him every morning when you shave.  And what do you do with Rich Harden?  I’d like to see the Cubs make a bonafide offer to keep him but I’d let him go places if the asking price is too high.  He’s bound to earn a decent draft pick in the compensatory portion of the amateur draft.
  • What will Tom Ricketts do about the Cubs management infrastructure? The biggest question in many fans’ minds is what to do about Cubs GM Jim Hendry, my advice would be to have some serious heart-to-hearts between Ricketts and Hendry and make sure they are on the same page.  Assuming they are, I think you have to give Hendry a chance to work his way out of the jam he’s put himself in.  I’d give him a season and a half or so to turn the ship around before demoting him to a corner office in the headquarters to read the daily newspapers.  I definitely think that it’s time for Larry Rothschild to go, we need somebody that can work with young pitchers like Marmol and Samardzija.  Both of these guys are better than their performances indicate and there might be some technical issues that can be resolved with both of these players.  I don’t think that that kind of coaching is in Larry’s skillset, he’d be better off in another organization as a bench coach.  Onieri Fleita is a keeper and I like Mike Quade at third base.
  • Finally what will happen with WGN and their Cubs broadcasts? Correct me if I’m wrong but the Cubs and WGN will no longer share the same owner – I can recall when all Cubs games were on WGN but each year it seems that fewer Cubs games appear on the former Cubs flagship station.  Will WGN follow TBS’ lead when it comes to showing only a third or so of their local franchise’s games?  If they do how will this impact the popularity (and branding) of the Cubs for future generations?

Feel free to add your comments and concerns now that the sale has been consummated.

  • cap’n obvious

    I might be all by myself on this, but my hope is that Mr. Ricketts has a very short meeting with Hendry and the dialogue consists of a bye, and a bye. Much of what we see on the field is Hendry’s doing, and if that isn’t hideous enough, the contracts he has written and approved seem to guarantee the same product for years to come. Time for a change.

  • sherm

    Hendry has certainly done some good things in his tenure with the Cubs. I have to say that before I say this. It’s time for a new regime.

    But Ricketts isn’t a baseball guy, so (rightfully) I think he’ll have to defer to the existing management for at least another year or two. We don’t want another Fred Claire on our hands.

  • MJ

    I’m pretty sure we’ll end up with our thrid winning season in a row. When was the last time you could say that about the Cubs in your lifetimes?

    In first twenty years of my life the Cubs went to the playoffs twice. In the last fourteen, four. I’ll take that.

  • Yes, four playoffs in 14 years sounds like a dream to a 60-something Cub fan like me. But that dream has not been a good one. Nine straight postseason games lost, nine. A ridiculous run of October incompetence. Truly, I do not believe that in any of those 4 post-seasons that we were much closer to winning a World Series than any other season. Both 2003 and 1969, which I still like to tell myself we “should” have won, ended in heartbreaking disaster. The big difference in a year like this? The heartbreak is earlier, lasts a lot longer, but is not worse. Not worse than Prior and Wood unable to turn things around after the Bartman game. Not worse than the four errors that handed the Dodgers an awful game last season. By October we will be looking forward to next year.
    A real dream would be actually, you know, playing in a World Series and then actually winning one. A deeply-flawed White Sox team with a volatile manager and 7 DHs managed to win one in 2005. Do we any of us see real evidence that such a season is in our future?

  • rob

    While winning seasons are a lot different than the way things used to be I am not happy with just a winning season. Teams play to win championships. That is what it is all about.

  • Teams play to win championships. That is what it is all about.

    So you wouldn’t have been happy with the Braves’ run of 14 straight playoff appearances?

    The playoffs are a crap shoot, especially in baseball. Good teams get to the playoffs. And then the lucky ones win championships.

  • Seymour Butts

    And here I was thinking this ha something to do with Cleavon Little.