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July 2011

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Playing Devil's Advocate

Written by , Posted in General

by Norm Bothwell

Tom Ricketts has received a lot of animosity since becoming the owner of the Cubs on October 6th, 2009. Maybe it’s warranted. Maybe he should have fired Jim Hendry immediately after taking over and installing a new regime. Or maybe he deserves more than 21 months to right the ship on the aging, expensive, veteran team he purchased. Allow me to use my imagination and make that argument.

The Tribune knew they were selling the team and they figured if the Cubs won a World Series, the value would rise. So they instructed Hendry to go spend money and backload the contracts. They didn’t care how much he spent or how long the deals were, as long as the contracts were backloaded so the Tribune could pass that responsibility to the new owner.

The payroll for the Cubs:

2006: $94,424,499
2007: $99,670,332
2008: $118,345,833
2009: $134,809,000
(Ricketts take over this offseason)
2010: $144,359,000

$50 MILLION was added to the payroll in four seasons. Here we are in 2011 and some of those contracts are finally expiring with approximately $50 million coming off the books and another $40 million after the 2012 season.

It is my opinion, one that I strongly believe, that there was absolutely NOTHING that could have been done in 2010 and 2011 to improve the personnel on the major league roster without spending on more free agents, and that would just continue this same problem in the hopes of adding a handful of wins. The bad contracts needed (still need!) to run their course.

Jim Hendry was given a contract extension one year before Ricketts became owner, a contract due to expire after the 2012 season. Why not fire him immediately? This is where my imagination takes over. Three weeks prior to Hendry’s extension, the New York Yankees signed Brian Cashman to an extension that would run through the 2011 season. Maybe, just maybe, Ricketts was, and is, biding his time to get Mr. Cashman to come over to the Cubs after 2011. So, why would he fire Hendry (but pay him for 2010, 2011, and 2012) hire a new GM that we’ll call Interim GM (pay Interim GM for 2010 and 2011) and then start over again by hiring Cashman at the end of 2011? What could Interim GM accomplish with the roster and contracts they way they were in 2010 and 2011?

I don’t think Ricketts would approve any long term contracts while waiting out the 2010 and 2011 seasons with Hendry. So far, that has been true. But there is more to GM’ing than free agent contracts. You have trades and the draft. I’m not as down on Jim Hendry trades as I am on his free agent signings. I can live with Hendry making trades.

As for the draft, the Cubs have Tim Wilken who has been in the role of scouting director for longer than anyone else currently in the position across all of Major League Baseball and has had as much success as anyone since his days in Toronto and Tampa Bay. There is no better guy to have making your draft picks than Tim Wilken (despite picks like Tyler Colvin and Jeff Samardzija). Bruce Miles at the Daily Herald believes that if Jim Hendry gets fired, Tim Wilken goes with him. That could be another reason not to fire Jim Hendry for Interim GM.

So here is what my imagination believes the Ricketts plan was from the day he purchased:

  • Keep Hendry on tight monetary leash (2011 payroll less than 2010)
  • Let contracts run their course or get close enough to become movable
  • Pay down the $400 million in loans used to purchase team
  • Maximize revenue streams at Wrigley (Triangle building)
  • Put money into draft and scouting
  • Replace Hendry with Brian Cashman after 2011 when $50 million comes off the books and give him carte blanche to build another perennial contender

It’s possible!

I’m willing to give him more than 21 months to find out. This offseason will be telling. I really hope he’s not waiting until after 2012 when Hendry’s contract, Quade’s contract, and another $40 million come off the books, but that is a distinct possibility as well. I don’t know if Cashman is the right man for the job, but if he is the target, I’ll give Ricketts a pass for the last two seasons.

  • I think your “imagination” is spot on, hopefully something along those lines will happen in the upcoming couple of years.

  • (baseball icon) Pretend to be oblivious.

  • mrbaseball2usa

    I’ve often thought of the Cubs pursuing Cashman. I’d love to have him. As for Wilken being lockstep with Hendry, that’s the first I’ve heard of that, but I would DEF. hate to lose Tom. I think he is doing a great job. Overall, great post. Thanks!

  • Jedi

    I doubt Cashman is a target, and I doubt more that he’d want to be a target.

    And if Wilken is what’s keeping Hendry around – those kind of priorities scare me. Even if Wilken is the best draftnik out there, what good is a great draft if your GM is the world’s worst talent evaluator.

    Moreover, the increase in payroll was simply the Tribune Co.’s response to the outcry that the Cubs should be spending on a Yankee/Red Sox/Mets level. Each of those teams doubled (roughly) their payroll in the last decade; if anything, the Cubs were slightly late to the major market spending party.

    Finally, if the reportedly lifelong Cubs fan-turn-owner’s idea of a plan is to suck for 2-3 years and then get serious about winning, I want no part of it. We’d have been better off with Cuban buying the team, than a supposed fan sitting on his hands for 3 years.

  • Norm

    @Jedi – Why do you doubt it, and why WOULDN’T Cashman want it? What could be more rewarding than being the GM that finally brings a World Series back to the North Side?

    I said Wilken could be “another reason” in addition to the holding out for Cashman. Not the only reason.

    Completely disagree with your payroll assertion. They were doing it because they weren’t going to own the team so they didn’t give a dam. Regardless of people’s feelings, they paid for the best team the Cubs ever had in our lifetimes in hopes of winning the WS to raise the value.

    I think your last comment is just short sighted. Again, they couldn’t (and can’t) do anything to improve the product on the field until some of these contracts are gone. Ricketts is in this for LIFE. He’ll own the team for 40-50 years before it’s passed on to another family member. 3 years of waiting is a blip on the screen for him and the family.

  • Jedi

    I don’t care how it’s sugarcoated, the Cubs GM post isn’t a better job than Yankees GM. It’s really not close either.

    It shouldn’t be ANY reason. Hendry is the wrong guy, fire him…if someone else walks, so be it.

    I think we agree about payroll. After our playoff appearances (2003, 2007, 2008) the Tribune Co. increased payroll to the level of other major market playoff contenders in an effort to win a WS. My point is more that our payroll doesn’t need to sink back to $90mil, it just needs to be better spent at $130mil. Again, Hendry’s fault.

    It’s not about necessarily improving the product on the field today. It’s about improving the infrastructure, getting a GM who has a freakin’ clue, restocking the minors, firing our ridiculous manager, making some sort of attempt to dump any/all possible dead payroll weight (the mere fact that we had to “hold a meeting” to determine whether we are buyers or sellers is comical – the rest of the league knew we were sellers by Memorial Day). As I said before, if Ricketts is content to sit on his hands for 2-3 years, that’s incredibly poor leadership.

  • chet

    Your post brings up some valid points, and I too feel that we won’t see many earth shattering moves or deals made until the albatross contracts come off the books.

    However, I think we need to see a top to bottom change in philosophy. I think Cubs fans would like to see an owner with a little more zest for winning.

    My impression of Ricketts is one of a rich kid who drank beers in the bleachers while enjoying the sunshine and managed to tune into the ballgame for a few minutes each visit.

    He does not strike me so much as a baseball fan but more as a fan of Wrigleyville, Wrigley Field and the Cubs experience.

    This is all fine and good, as many owners don’t have knowledge of the game, but he needs a president who is not an accountant and a GM with a fresh start. A GM who isn’t trying to back out of the bad decisions made over the course of the past 5 seasons.

    By the way, just because the Tribune told hendry to spend, did not mean he had to spend it on the players he spent it on. There were other players available not named Soriano and Bradley.

    But you are right, we shouldn’t burn Ricketts at the Cub Alter yet….we should however keep the match at ready because decision time is coming for Mr. “eveyrthing is okay, tomorrow will be a brighter day” and there will be some tough decisions to make.

  • chet

    I also think a little more transparency would be refreshing. Come out and say, “Hey , we got some pricey and bad contracts on the books, we need these to go away and start fresh in 2014. In the meantime, I am going to enhance the atmosphere around the ballpark.”

    Gee, doesn’t that sound great…..on second thought, he should keep the B.S. flowing.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Am I the only one who thinks waiting on Cashman to leave the Yankees would be a frighteningly myopic plan of action? I’d argue that from certain perspectives, Cashman has one of the easier GM jobs in baseball. Who else has that kind of money at their fingertips? And aside from Cliff Lee, which free agents haven’t greeted the Yankees Brinks-truck contracts with open arms? I’m not saying he’s not a talented guy, or a good GM. But expecting he could repeat that same success with the Cubs, or any other team, is perhaps a tad naive.

    But then again, I’m not an expert on GM’s. I’ve heard and read most of the same names you guys have–maybe the guy from the White Sox, maybe a couple guys in the Red Sox organization, maybe Ned Colleti, etc. Right now, I’d take any of them over Hendry.

    I just wish Ricketts felt that same sense of urgency. I’m with you, Norm–I hope he does have a plan in place. Whatever the plan is though, it seems clear that the first step was not to come in and clean house right away, and that is a bit of a let down after so many years of mismanagement by the Tribune Co.

    My guess is that he didn’t want to be the bad guy who came in and fired everyone right off the bat. I understand he could be taking a slow, measured approach to rebuilding the team, and that he’d want some time looking at things from the inside-out before he made any sweeping changes. But as you pointed out, we are twenty-one months into his “plan,” and what do we have to show for it? A fresh coat of paint at best, while the foundation continues to crumble.

    And even if this is all part of the “plan,” Ricketts needs to realize Cubs fans have been waiting for longer than his twenty-one-month ownership, and that even the simplest assurance that there is indeed a plan in place would go a long way to quell our fears. Because the only message that he sends when he affirms Kenney and Hendry and Quade is that he’s in way over his head.

  • Doc Raker

    Much makes sense and is possible. Riding out the Hendry contract while riding our these bad contracts makes sense while keeping payroll on a short leash but $10M for Pena doesn’t signal short leash to me, it signals more of the same over paid contracts, as does John Grabow although I am unclear on Grabow was signed. At least Pena isn’t long term but I don’t trust either Hendry not to make it long term for 2012 and beyond. Cashman as a target? Good fodder but just that, fodder. Why is Cashman such a great GM, because he can sign the top free agent whenever he needs to? Cashman = Bonds era Dusty = Pujols era LaRussa = all over rated.

  • jim

    If Tim Wilken wants to leave with Hendry let him go elsewhere to perform his “so called” magic show. Also, let’s not forget Flieta said the same statement. Let him go to if he requests it. There are other baseball minds out there that are equal & maybe even better than that trio that are pulling a power play on Ricketts. Kenney needs to be let go as well as quade. Hendry stuck out on Girardi & missed a home run with ryno.. I like cashman as GM along with Ryno as Manager as he is a winner plus can handle playing young guys. Yes Mr. Ricketts, its time for change & you are in charge. Don’t run & hide. Do the right thing for Cubs nation. They have supported your team for ages so its time to listen to all the negative chatter to make the Cubs a positive. With change, you will find out the fans will fukky support your new effort. “Out with the old, in with the new.”

  • walterj

    call me stupid , but i think ricketts fires the president , moves hendry in as president , and he hires cashman to be the gm .

  • Norm

    @doc, re: Pena and $10 mil not being a short leash…I don’t think the owner is going to micro-manage like that. He told Hendry his payroll will be lower in 2011 that it was at 2010, here’s that figure, do what you want with it.
    Hendry signed Pena with it, but kept it under the figure Ricketts gave him.

  • Katie

    I hope that Ricketts puts Hendry on a tight spending leash – that way he won’t spend mucho dinero on less-than-stellar players. I just don’t have the confidence in Ricketts. He hasn’t done much so far, given, he’s only had a couple years, but at the rate he’s going, the Cubs are gonna suck as long as he’s around.

  • Doc Raker

    Norm- You are right, Rickets cant think for Hendry, only give him gross guidelines to follow which does not necessarily keep Hendry from misspending. Hendry kept payroll within the RIckets budget but misspends on Pena and Grabow. Just another reason Hendry needs to go sooner than later.

  • Buddy

    Very well done Norm. I think you’re right on the money. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Cashman move on from NY. In fact, I think it’s very likely. That would be a great hire for the Cubs. Fingers crossed.

  • Doc Raker

    Some please explain why Ca$hman (the perfect name for the Yankee’s GM) is such a great GM?

  • Buddy

    Cashman isn’t a one-man show of course, but his team typically (not always) drafts well, trades well, and signs well. Is the free agent portion of his job easier because of a big budget? Certainly. But many teams have big budgets and still drop the ball in free agency. Our beloved Cubbies for instance.

  • Doc Raker

    The Yankee’s farm system is nothing special, a few years ago the Yankee’s had trouble acquiring a trade at the deadline due to a depleted farm system. The biggest budget free agent team has the easiest job. They get the number 1 free agent if they want it, everyone else has to over pay for the rest. In most years the number 1 is significantly better than the rest and can be argued that the bigger contract to the number 1 is a better value than the lower contract to the lesser free agent. And if they make a mistake with a free agent they can hide it with another signing. Didn’t the Yankee’s sign Texiera before the Giambi contract was over?

  • Buddy

    Part of why the Yankees don’t have one of the top farm systems every year is that they often trade prospects to make the big league club better, an approach I happen to like. However, right now they have two outstanding prospects in Montero and Banuelos (some would add Sanchez to that list, but he’s having some issues this year).

  • Buddy

    I had to look up your Giambi/Tex question. Giambi was granted free agency 11/04/08. Tex signed with the Yanks 1/6/09. According to Baseball Reference anyway.

  • Norm

    Cliff Lee is in Philly…meaning they don’t get EVERYONE they want.
    Traded farm players for Granderson and Swisher
    Cano, Gardner, both shortstops, Posada, grew from within
    Rangers won the ARod sweepstakes and the Yanks traded players they grew for him

    Free agent at 1st base.

    Cubs with three homegrown and one from trades…four free agents.

    Just because they have the money to sign free agents and resign players, they still have to make sure they are the right players. Like I said, I don’t know if Cashman is the right guy, but if it is the plan, I don’t see how anyone can complain about it.

  • Buddy

    Cashman also drafted Hughes, Joba, and Robertson. The Swisher and Granderson trades were nice deals by him. Yes he spent bundles on Sabathia and Teixeira, but they’re fabulous players. Cano was an amateur free agent signing. Another great move. I’d be all for Cashman as Cubs GM. His budget would be less than the Yankees, but he’d still have a ton of money to play with.

  • Doc Raker

    I am not drinking the Ca$hman koolaide. The Cubs don’t need a GM with a big spending resume, they need a GM that is focused on development, trading and spending prudently. Prudent spending is not part of the job description for a Yankee GM, in short we need a different kind of GM.