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Well into his third off-season at the helm of the Cubs, we know one thing about chairman Tom Ricketts: He is more concerned with making money than he is with winning. The evidence is overwhelming.
After football seasons crash and burn, the longstanding tradition of fans brushing themselves off and saying something like "six weeks 'til pitchers and catchers report!" kicks in. And oh by the way, there are (a little less than!) six weeks until Cubs pitchers and catchers report to good ol' Mesa for spring training.
So on a brutally cold day in Chicago, we turn our attention to baseball and we dream of sunny skies in temperate Arizona. Before we know it, it will be February 13 and the opening of baseball's extended preseason will occur.
That will be nice, for what, about a day? Then it will be time to start to assess this year's team and that will be ugly. There is certainly a remote chance that in the next month, the Cubs will sign supposed Japanese phenom pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Big money clubs like the Yankees and the Mariners are going to be in on the bidding, however, and others such as the Diamondbacks have been rumored to be willing to spend large to land the potential ace.
And free agent starters like Ubaldo Jiminez and Ervin Santana are still out there for the taking. So is Matt Garza, for that matter, but something tells me he won't be returning to the North Side.
But it now appears as though the Cubs will enter spring training having done virtually nothing to upgrade the part of the team that drove fans crazy last year. As it stands, the team looks like it will have a very similar lineup in the coming season to the one it fielded in 2013. And surely the only sensible explanation is protecting profits.
Way too many local sports commentators have bought the company line regarding the Cubs' finances hook, line and sinker. Without additional revenues from Wrigley Field renovations and whatever else, this story goes, the team can't possibly increase the payroll. Except that is obviously not the case.
We all know the Ricketts family has enough money to significantly increase payroll in the blink of an eye. If Tom Ricketts and his siblings were truly committed to fielding a team that would at least offer fans hope of some improvement at the plate in the coming season, more transactions would have occurred. Currently the Cubs do not have even one player in the projected major league lineup with reasonable expectations of an above-average on-base percentage.
Some have employed the reasoning that if the Cubs sign a free agent or two or bring in a veteran in a trade, those players will potentially impede the progress of one the team's super-prospects. People, surely it is clear that if a young player shows himself to be ready for big-league promotion, the big league team can move the veteran (with a position change, a trade or heck, a release) to make room. It might be costly but hey, it isn't our money!
And oh by the way, the only real advantage the Cubs have over the majority of their competitors is higher revenues. People love to point to team president Theo Epstein's record with the Red Sox, but while Boston had some success in the draft while Theo was there, the best Beantown teams were always a mix of young players and veterans on a payroll that, for the first time, attempted to match that of the Yankees.
Now that the Cubs seem poised to stink for the third straight season in 2014, their precious revenues will probably take a hit. Revenues also clearly fell last year, when hundreds of thousands of fewer tickets were sold. It seems as though the Cubs are caught in a downward spiral but the way to get out is clear - spend some money on some veterans. The best free-agent hitters are gone but come on Theo, surely you can make some sort of move to give up one of your beloved prospects for a player with some sort of record of getting on base consistently.
The fans need that sort of guy but the Cubs need him even more. All of these young players desperately need someone to lead by example at the plate.
The Cubs have plenty of promise in the farm system. They should after holding a two-year sell-off of veterans and drafting high the last couple years with more good picks to come this summer.
The Cubs Convention is scheduled for the weekend after next. Hey self-respecting Cubs fans, you can't really justify attendance at that event, can you? Make a statement that this off-season hasn't been nearly good enough. If the Cubs aren't going to spend, why on earth should you?
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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