Tom Ricketts spent time Thursday morning on the Mully and Hanley (670 The Score) and talked about his team’s new manager, the Cubs payroll, television rights, the rooftops and Theo Epstein’s contract.
The Cubs goal for next season is to win the National League Central Division. But obviously Tom Ricketts would like to see the Cubs win the Series. That’s the reason the games are played and why you show up for work. The only goal for the organization moving forward is winning games at the big league level.
“We feel like a lot of the process of retooling and rebuilding the baseball organization is starting to pay off and a lot of it is behind us,” Ricketts said. “We are excited about looking forward. We are excited about having a great new manager.”
There is a lot of positive momentum for the team right now. The Wrigley Field restoration project is underway and everything aligned for the Cubs to hire Joe Maddon, the same way things fell in place for Tom Ricketts to hire Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer three years ago. The Cubs have transitioned into a new phase. And the hiring of Joe Maddon has shown the Cubs are focused on winning.
“After a few years I’ll take a break here or there. Obviously it’s a big step for the organization to bring in a manger we think is one of the best in the game,” Ricketts said. “We have a lot of good young players and we have a good system. We want to have one of the better managers. I think it shows that we are committed to winning. I think we have a pretty exciting few years ahead of us.”
“Obviously we are very happy. If you went back a couple of years ago and said at the end of the ’14 season you will have in your front office Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] and Jason McLeod and you’ll have as your manager Joe Maddon and you’ll have the number one farm system in baseball, I think you take it. I think that you would want to have those cards to play,” Ricketts said.
“I think a manager is just one piece of a large puzzle and it doesn’t prove anything. We have to get on the field and win games, but it’s important. I think it’s something that will definitely help us win those games in the future and become the championship team that we are striving to be.”
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said the Cubs will be aggressive in adding talent to the roster this winter and over the next 15 months. The front office is expected to allocate funds available to them on players that would put the team in a better position to compete next season and beyond.
“First of all I don’t consider it my money, that’s Theo’s money. Basically what we do is we take all of the revenue the team gets, we set aside enough to cover our expenses and then the rest goes to baseball,” Ricketts said. “At that point it becomes the decision of Theo and Jed, they decide where those dollars are allocated. He does have some flexibility this off-season. If there is a free agent that comes up that makes sense I’m sure he’ll be aggressive in trying to get there. Obviously the problem is there are 29 other teams that would like to have new starting pitchers. There’s always that factor and you have to be rational while you are being aggressive.”
“Certainly feels a lot better than it did three years ago. We had to pay our dues to get to this position. We do have a lot of good things going for us.”
“It really adds up to nothing until we start winning on the field,” Ricketts said. “We have a good young team. We have a great manager. We have great leadership in our baseball organization. We do have some payroll flexibility. Those are all things teams want to have. We’ve got them. Let’s see if we can put them to work and build a competitive team.”
The Cubs have not announced which outlet will carry the games previously aired on WGN and WCIU. Crane Kenney and his team are working on the Cubs’ media rights deal, and conversations with potential partners are ongoing.
“The next big financial change to the Cubs will be the new television contract,” Ricketts said. “What you’ve seen in baseball over the past handful of years that the teams that are the most aggressive in signing free agents or teams that are spending more are teams that have recently renewed their television deals. It kind of became the biggest factor in whether or not a team would be in the market for talent.”
“From our standpoint we kind of have two issues we have to look at, what’s best for the team on the short run while we continue to work toward what’s best for the long run.”
“We have a lot of good conversations going and a lot of flexibility and a lot of potential partners on the television front. There are just active discussions. The Cubs, despite the ratings dip that occurred through the last few years because our teams haven’t been competitive, are a very desirable programming asset. We have a lot of partners that are anxious to work with us. I am also confident we have the right in-house people and consultants to decide what’s really the best for the organization over the long run. We will hopefully have some answers on that soon.”
A recent report from Crain’s Chicago Business pointed to the Cubs being worth being more than double what the Ricketts family paid for the franchise, and Wrigley Field, in 2009. But the value of all sports franchises has increased significantly over the last few years and the main reason is the explosion of media rights. The increased value of the Cubs doesn’t mean much, for Tom Ricketts it’s about winning The World Series. He is happy to see the increase, but that’s not what it’s all about.
“Those are imaginary dollars. It’s on paper. It’s not in a drawer somewhere,” Ricketts said. “You want to feel like you made a rational financial investment. But that’s not the most important thing. We are trying to win The World Series. We are happy the value goes up.”
Tom Ricketts acknowledged the team is talking to investors about selling a minor stake in the Cubs.
“There is some talk bringing in a third party, outside investors. We’ve kind of talked about that for a few months,” Ricketts said. “That’s not atypical, that’s pretty normal actually to have limited investors in a team. What’s really atypical or abnormal is that the dollars coming into the team are going straight into the park and being invested in the organization as opposed to being taken out or redirected.”
Multiple reports have indicated the Ricketts family is negotiating with handful of the rooftop owners to purchase their buildings. And the relationship between the Cubs and the rooftops has reportedly improved in recent months.
“At this point I’m not sure I would not characterize it as a fight,” Ricketts said. “We have from the city the flexibility to do what we think is the right thing for the team with respect to what we do in the outfield. We worked with the city and the Landmarks Commission and the federal landmarks people. We have a plan that works for everybody on that front.”
“With respect to what’s best for the rooftops, we are talking to those guys all of the time. We are always looking for what’s the best answer for everybody. We’re having discussions with a handful of them on what happens to their future and we’ll just see where it shakes out,” Ricketts said. “It’s a process. It’s not going to end overnight. It’s just a process that has to play out.”
Tom Ricketts is expected to extend Theo Epstein’s contract this winter. Epstein has two years remaining on the five-year deal he signed to take over baseball operations for the team. Ricketts extended Crane Kenney’s contract last year and Jason McLeod received an extension to his contract during the summer. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are working on their original contracts, but that could change in the near future. Epstein has said the delay has been on his end because there have been more important things for him to address and he’s not concerned with his contract right now.
“The baseball organization in my mind has done a tremendous job,” Ricketts said. “They are willing to make the right, but hard decisions and assessed our organization in a way that was honest and have basically done what we have to do to make our baseball organization a team that is going to be reckoned with in the future. Obviously I think the world of Theo and his team. He’s got a couple of years left on his contract, when he’s ready to talk about an extension, we’ll be ready to talk about an extension.”