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.

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