Tom Ricketts joined Mully and Hanley (670 The Score) on Monday morning to talk about his team and the recent signings of John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.
There has not been any progress on a contract extension for Theo Epstein yet. Ricketts said they have not had a chance to sit down since the end of the season. Ricketts thinks he will talk to Epstein soon and get it done.
The players and fan base are buzzing with the moves the Cubs made, especially with signing Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward picking the Cubs over the Cardinals. Ricketts sounded upbeat about last season and the changes that have been made this winter. And both optimistic and excited about next year with the roster Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have built.
The interview started with Tom Ricketts saying it is okay to congratulate a guy, at least on the front end, that just committed $216 million to two players.
On the importance of having the cost certainty of the young players and the future earnings the Cubs are projecting in order for the team to sign John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward
“Obviously that’s a big factor. We treat Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] like we’re real partners and we show them all the numbers and we’re completely transparent on what kind of financial flexibility we can have going into the future. And then just really trust them to kind of put the dollars into the years that make the most sense and obviously right now we have a very good young team with a lot of guys who are in a good position from a cost standpoint and we have a window here we think that we can really be competitive. It made a lot of sense to put some money on the table and round out the lineup and come into 2016 with a team that should be very, very good.”
On Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward leaving money on the table to play with the Cubs because they feel there is a chance to win with this team
“In our six years, I guess, in general the guys you talk to who are free agents are looking for the best contract. What we have seen over the last couple of years, and nobody doesn’t want to come to Chicago. I mean from a quality of life standpoint it’s the best place to play, particularly if you are a married player that has kids, you can live a few blocks from the stadium, you play more day games. So people like that in general. But then when you throw in the momentum that the organization has on the field you get, you can maybe convince a Jon Lester, who wants to be a winner, and he comes over. Then you throw Joe Maddon on top of it. And Joe was rated by, Sports Illustrated did a poll of the players, and some ridiculous number of players named him as the manager they would most want to play for. We have a lot of tailwinds when it comes to recruiting these guys. And obviously there is always that, ‘Let’s be the first team since 1908.’ Thing is everybody buys into that, too. It all plays to our advantage and we’re just really happy with the way it worked out so far this year.”
On how involved he is with the recruiting of players or does he leave it up to the baseball operations department
“We are in contact pretty frequently when it gets close. We’re for the most part, during the Winter Meetings, there are a lot of days where the guys are working on six or seven things that probably won’t happen. I don’t get the hourly update on anything. As we get closer to larger transactions, I am on the phone with Theo a lot, just offering him support in any way I can. With respect to bringing in new free agents, in the past obviously I was involved when Jon Lester came to Chicago last year and I got on the road and went and saw a couple of other guys who we were recruiting at one point. This year, not so much, I think the story tells itself. The players are coming here to win with a team that’s good and young and a great manager on a real quest.”
On the impact the new facilities at Wrigley has had on free agents deciding to play for the Cubs
“It does help. It really goes through the entire organization on the facility side going all the way back to a few years ago when we rebuilt the Dominican [Cubs player facility in the Dominican Republic] and obviously we have the best Spring Training facility. This year we are going to put out the best clubhouse. Players know each other. Players’ wives know each other and when you talk about having a good family room that helps, too. But I think it just adds to that quality of life argument that we have whenever we go out and talk to a free agent.”
On sitting down at the organizational meetings, did the 97 wins and the success last year change anything? Is there now a sense of urgency because of a possible two- or three-year window within the window?
“Maybe in some respects, but the fact it that we are trying to win every year at this point. It’s a team that’s trying to win our division every season. Obviously we look at the nice setup we have of a lot of good young players who are playing very well early in their careers, which gives us financial flexibility to bring in some veterans. You look at you have a couple of more years of Jake Arrieta. If he continues to pitch at an elite level that’s a big factor in whether or not these next couple of years will be years that we can that championship. There are a lot of factors but we’re always looking to win. I mean to the extent that we are in a little better position for 2016 and that’s definitely a factor but once again it’s always looking to make the team better, always looking to challenge for the division.”
On Theo Epstein’s contract and future with the organization
“We’ve talked a couple of times over the summer. We haven’t sat down for like the final time. I think we’re basically on the same page. I think that will go fine.”
Is that [Epstein’s contract extension] something you want to get done before camp or is there any sense of urgency on either side to do something sooner than later?
“No, there really hasn’t been much sense of urgency. Like I said, I think we are kind of on the same page. At some point we need to address it and get it behind us.”
On the Wrigley Field restoration project, is there any part that might not be completed by Opening Day?
“Well, I hope all of the walls are back. [Laughs] No, I don’t have any concerns at the moment. I mean frankly this off-season I think our biggest deliverable that we have is making sure that the new players’ clubhouse is ready to go on Opening Day. Fortunately, that’s an underground job at the moment so it’s protected from the elements. That’s off to a good start. Secondly, we’ve had pretty good weather as you might imagine, today it’s a little wet, but generally speaking it’s been pretty productive. I think at this point last year we had already lost seven or eight days to cold and we’ve only lost one day this year so far. I think in general we should be ahead but once again it’s a long-term project. I don’t want to give people the impression that when they show up on Opening Day, Wrigley’s done, we have a couple of more years of heavy lifting to get the park rebuilt.”
On if the free agent signings the Cubs have made so far are interwoven
“Going into the post-season, I mean right after the season, Theo and Jed and all the guys, they have a lot of different scenarios. I think they would probably call this their ‘A-plan’ because it’s what they wanted to do more than any but things change and you have to be ready to adapt to changing circumstances. I think that they were aggressive and wanted to make sure they could execute against what they thought was in our best interest for next season and they went ahead and did it. If something in that puzzle moved, there would be 10 other things they would think of differently. It’s a pretty dynamic process and I give the guys a lot of credit for thinking as hard and planning as well as they do to be ready to go for it when the Meetings opened.”
On the Cubs playoff run and how did he come out of the disappointing loss to the Mets in the National League Championship Series?
“For me personally, Game 3 against the Mets was pretty, pretty rough. It just wasn’t the kind of baseball we were playing all year and that was pretty tough. I came home and felt sorry for myself a little bit that night. But came back Game 4 and said, look whatever happens tonight, whatever happens the next few days we’ve just got to be positive about what happened in the season as a whole. Obviously it ended the next night. For us it was really about, okay we have a good, young team. We can’t assume that everyone is going to perform to a level of last year. We have to make sure we get better and we’ve also got a really, really tough division. The Pirates and Cardinals are both young teams that obviously won more games than we did last year. We’ve really got to make sure that if we’re going to stay in this conversation for next year we get better. Everyone talks about the Cardinals. They lost a pitcher. They lost Heyward now, but they won 100 games last year with a series of pretty significant injuries and they have a really good, young core. The Pirates, obviously the Pirates have already made some moves this off-season to make themselves better. It’s teeing up to be a great season with three great teams really battling for the division.”
On the reaction from the Cardinals media and fan base after Jason Heyward decided to sign with the Cubs
“Obviously the Cubs and Cardinals have had a great rivalry for 100 years or whatever. But obviously they’ve gotten the best of it for most of that period. I think it would be fun for us to hold up our end of that rivalry for the next century.”
On if he’s told the front office to stop this off-season or does he want them to keep going
“I don’t tell them to stop working. I let those guys decide what they think is the best lineup to bring in to Spring Training. You guys know Theo, he never really stops. I mean there is always conversation. There are always things that are going on. As opposed to maybe a week ago, two weeks ago, they would say if Spring Training was beginning today they would be pretty positive.”
“Obviously the contract for Heyward was large, but I don’t know if it’s about money at this point. We just have to make sure the guys … we have the pieces in the right places and everyone comes back and is ready to play and is healthy for next season. I mean, we just have to be healthy and execute and I think we’ll be right in the mix.”