Tom Ricketts Discusses the Cubs, WGN and Provides Updates on Wrigley Field

After his annual meeting with the team prior to the first full squad workout, Tom Ricketts met with the media for his Spring State of the Cubs Address.

The Cubs’ Chairman talked about the upcoming season, the team on the field and the minor league system. Tom Ricketts also discussed the team’s television and radio contracts as well as the team’s payroll.

Tom Ricketts talked about the negotiations with the Rooftop Club Owners and said the team plans on having the Budweiser sign in right field installed by Opening Day. Bruce Levine reported the deal with Anheuser Busch will pay the Cubs $10 million a year for the next 14 years ($140 million total).

The terms of the sale of the team was also briefly discussed and Ricketts admitted Sam Zell’s terms, that any potential buyer would have been restricted by, does affect what can be spent in certain areas.

The 2014 Chicago Cubs

When asked about his team’s chances to contend in 2014, Tom Ricketts gave the only answer he could, “Absolutely.” Ricketts likes the young nucleus of players but acknowledged “some of the players are going to have to improve on last season.” Ricketts likes the new leadership and thinks his team has taken “another step in the right direction.”

On what he can tell the fans on how long he thinks the Cubs will have a team that can make the playoffs

Ricketts said, “I think we have a team right now that can make the playoffs. We have a good young nucleus. We have to have guys step up, but we’ve got depth in our system. And like I’ve always said you have to build a championship team and we are doing that.” Ricketts added, “Every year we are going to keep getting better and better and we are going to be consistent contenders.” Ricketts feels that if the players step up the Cubs will be fine this year.

On the possibility of a different vibe around the Cubs

Ricketts said, “I think the whole organization has a great vibe right now from top to bottom. Everybody knows that we have a lot of talent coming up and everyone knows we’ve got some young guys that are going to step up and perform.” Ricketts added “there is just a great energy across the entire organization.” And he is sure Ricky (Rick Renteria) will not allow any of the players to get comfortable and he will make them work.

On how much he’s changed over the last five years since becoming the owner of the Cubs

Ricketts doesn’t think he’s changed. “The nice part about the last couple of years, Ricketts said. Is that you see all of the pieces starting to fall into place. You can talk about the personnel. You can talk about bringing in Theo and Jed and Jason and everyone they’ve brought in. You can talk about the player personnel. You can talk about getting a minor league system that has a lot of depth and a lot of potential starts coming up. And you can talk about facilities. Crane started this project (Cubs Park) before we bought the team, but this took five years and now it is falling into place. You look at the Dominican and it’s falling into place. You see the steps and the pieces and it just gives you confidence that we have a great future.”

Wrigley Field and the Rooftops

Ricketts said there is not an update on the negotiations with the rooftops. “We are talking on an ongoing basis, Ricketts said. Like I’ve always said I think we have a lot of incentive to get it done. Everybody has incentive to get something done. Hopefully all of those incentives add up to getting something that works and we are just working through it.”

When asked if the negotiations were down to the video board in left, Ricketts responded, “There are a few issues left that we are still working on. I don’t want to get too detailed on it because we are still talking. But I’m still pretty optimistic that we’ll get to the finish line on this.”

As for a timetable, “Obviously we are hoping to get things rolling at the end of the season. We hope that nothing that happens in the negotiations would slow that down, Ricketts said. But, I can’t control everything and we’re just going to do our best to get that done.”

On the negotiating differences between Wrigley Field and Mesa

“There are a lot of differences between our Spring Training facility and Wrigley Field, Ricketts explained. For one there is 100 years of history at Wrigley and we have to respect that. Obviously all along it has been our goal to preserve and improve Wrigley because it does mean so much to our fans. It means so much to baseball. We are still working on that premise that we are going to try to get that accomplished. This is the 100th anniversary this year and we have a lot of exciting things planned at the park and we want to build a second century at Wrigley.”

Ricketts is really proud of the facility in Mesa and is really glad it is done. But admitted they now have to get Wrigley taken care of in Chicago.

Timetable on Wrigley Restoration

“It is our goal to get the project started at the end of the season, Ricketts said. I am not sure there is a hard date that goes with that but we want to get it behind us.”

The Ricketts family is planning on getting another 50 years out of Wrigley, with the renovations. “The renovations will pull the park together for the next generation of fans or the next two generations of fans,” Ricketts explained.

Ricketts said the team cannot pretend Wrigley is any other park and added, “The truth is we still have to get this done and we are not quite there yet. If we can’t grind it out, these last few steps, I don’t know what is going to happen. But the key is we are committed to renovating and improving the park and saving it for the next generation.”

Ricketts was asked if the remaining hurdles are too big to concede in order to move on and begin the project. Ricketts responded, “I’ve said this before too. Ultimately you have to have control of your own outfield. We can’t live for the next 100 years with this kind of situation and we have to know it is going to be over if we are going to invest in the park. That’s, that’s the full story.”

On why the project cannot begin yet, not even on the dugouts and the clubhouse

“We’ve put a lot of money into it already. We’ve really stepped up the amount of maintenance.”

The Right Field Sign

Ricketts said the Cubs intention is to have the see-through sign in right field up by Opening Day. The Cubs have a partnership agreement in place with Budweiser. Ricketts said Anheuser is a “great partner” and the team is “looking forward to a long relationship with them.”

Status with WGN TV and 720 WGN

“This will be a year that we have a lot of discussions of the future of at least the games on WGN. It is still too early to predict or anticipate what is going to happen with those games, Ricketts said. But we have some options and we are going to explore them and do what is right for the team.”

Ricketts clarified that was the case with both radio and television.

The Big League Team’s Payroll

Ricketts was asked why they are not investing in the big league team and it was pointed out to him that the payroll has dropped while the team did not appear to have the money to go after players they seemingly wanted to sign because they were outbid. Ricketts said, “First of all when we look at baseball investments we don’t just look at payroll. We’ve put a lot of money into, not only the facilities in certain places, but we’ve spent more than any other team in signing amateur free agents in the last few years.”

Ricketts acknowledged that some of that is because spending limits are capped but pointed out the team “blew past their Dominican cap this year.” Ricketts explained the team has invested more in coaches, development staff and in their minor league coaches and programs.

When asked about “profit taking,” Ricketts said, “Absolutely not.” And added he is not even sure what that means.

Ricketts added later that he and the team will get past Sam Zell’s terms of the sell, terms that any potential buyer were aware of, and the team is doing the right thing now by building the future of the organization. Ricketts also admitted there are other restraints to the sell that he cannot discuss.

Theo Epstein and Baseball Operations

Ricketts was asked to comment on the job Theo Epstein and his staff has done since they took over baseball operations for the team. And if he still has complete confidence in Epstein’s plan.

Ricketts said he is 100 percent behind Theo Epstein and his plan. Ricketts added, “You’ve guys seen it. It is an organization that has a good team on the field now but an incredible future in front of us. We’ve gone from being an also-ran to being the second best system in baseball. We’ve got coaches that are coordinated and working together to help the players improve.”

Tom Ricketts said, “I think our organization is in a great spot and I think those guys are doing a brilliant job.”

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