The Chicago Cub fans are getting excited, and are looking for good things to come in the 2010 season. One reason they are happy, is with the departure of the Tribune Company and Sam Zell as the owners. With Tom Ricketts now taking control of the ball club, there is a new sense of optimism is overcoming the masses. They believe that with Ricketts as the new owner, a man who has suffered through years of heartbreak like we have, he will stop at nothing to win the World Series with the Cubs. After all, isn’t that the goal of every team in baseball every year? You could argue that the Tribune Company (and Zell for that matter) never tried to win the World Series until the fans had the taste in their mouths after being five outs away in 2003. Since then, they have spent more money then any fan could have imagined their team ever spending. Sure, they made a bad investment or two, but they spent the money fans wanted them to spend.
The very first move that Ricketts made, was signing Rudy Jaramillo to take over the duties of hitting coach. As I stated in my last blog, many people in baseball feel that Jaramillo is the best hitting coach in the game today, his resume speaks volumes. With such a move, some fans believe that this will be the start of a massive upgrade in player personnel, bringing in some off the best talent that money can buy. They figure that if Ricketts is going to go out and get the best hitting instructor, then he must be also determined to sign the best players available. How true that is, remains to be seen, as we are still close to a month away from free agency beginning. However, there are several reasons to believe that there will not be the spending spree that Cub fans have been dreaming of.
First and foremost, the situation with Milton Bradley will hold up the Cubs spending until everything is resolved. Ricketts and Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry need to know exactly how much money they will have to eat of his salary before they start looking at players outside the organization. Much like with what happened at the end of the 2004 season when they were trading declining Cubs megastar Sammy Sosa, the organization will be handcuffed until a move is made. Why do they have to wait you might ask? Simply put, he makes $9 million next season. If Hendry is somehow able to find a team willing to take his whole salary, and lets be honest that wont happen, then he has $9 million more to work with. Knowing how much money you have left to spend is a big advantage when you are negotiating with players and against other teams. In all likelihood, Ricketts will have to eat at least half of Bradley’s remaining salary. That is money he is spending that you wont see on the field of play, and takes away from what can be spent. Hopefully, a trade of Bradley comes at the start of the free agent period, or even before hand. If this goes the same route as the Sosa trade, who was traded just before Spring Training of 2005, then the Cubs will miss out on most of the better free agents. Reports do say that there are several teams interested in trading for Bradley, and Hendry remains confident that he can make a deal without eating a majority of his remaining salary. So we will have to wait and see what happens.
Staying with the Bradley situation, Hendry will have to get a player back in any deal that is made. Add that players salary to whatever you may have to eat on Bradley’s deal, and that takes a good percentage out of the budget that has been set for the 2010 season. Maybe Hendry will get lucky and be able to make a trade for a guy who does not make as much as Bradley, or makes the same amount, and the Cubs just have to eat the difference in salary. Some of the rumors included the Cubs trading Bradley to the Tampa Bay Rays for Pat Burrell who had as bad of a year as Bradley did, and also makes $9 million next year. This would seem like a perfect fit, don’t you think? Both teams want to get rid of a player that didn’t work out and their salaries match for the following year. Maybe the Cubs would just have to eat the remaining $12 Million for the 2011 season. However, some reports stated that the Rays would only take Bradley if the Cubs ate most, if not all, of his contract. Another rumor was a possible swap with the San Francisco Giants for Aaron Rowand, which would benefit both teams. With Rowand owed $36 Million over three years, and Bradley owed $21 over two, a Giants executive said he would approve that deal. Cubs would take on more guaranteed money over a longer period of time, and more per year but they would be rid of Bradley. The Giants on the other hand would be saving $15 million in the end. Whether or not either deal is made, remains to be seen.
If the Cubs are unable to find a deal for Bradley, they may have to ultimately eat the entire contract, especially if they are deadset against bringing him back. Much like with paying a portion of his salary in a deal, that money will be included in the budget, and take away what can be spent on possible free agent candidates. While some may look at cutting him as freeing up $9 million for the 2010 season to spend elsewhere, in all reality you are just giving away that money while keeping every cent on the books. If they have to eat his entire salary, there will need to be other moves made to accommodate losing that amount, and fans may not like what happens in the aftermath of that move. So just be careful what you ask for Cub fans, you may not like the end result.
Enough about Bradley, and on to some other possible reasons why the Cubs will not be able to go on a spending spree to bring in star players. Obviously, there is a lack of open positions. As I have stated a few times, the Cubs really only have one or two open spots that can be filled. The main spot which may be available to upgrade is second base. Depending on what transpires with Bradley, there may be a spot open in the outfield at either Center or Right. Unless you want to ditch some of the younger talent we have on the team, such as Ryan Theriot or Geovany Soto, the moves that can be made are severely limited because of open positions. Don’t start with the “trade Alfonso Soriano” or “trade Kosuke Fukudome” to free up positions and money. That will create more mess like the currently have with Bradley. If you think the Cubs will have to eat a lot of money to get rid of Bradley, imagine what they will have to eat to get rid of Soriano. Do you really want to limit the team financially even more? I would hope not. So the lack of positions is another major roadblock in making massive changes.
A final reason, are the rumors that there are certain clauses in the bankruptcy filing which will significantly limit any and all moves that the Cubs are able to make. Ricketts may very well have his hands tied financially for at least the first year of his ownership tenure in regards to the payroll of the players. If this is in fact truth, then Ricketts may not be able to add anyone to the team to improve them. If people are unaware of these set limitations on Ricketts, they may turn sour on him when they come to see that there hasn’t been much done at all to improve the team. Don’t get confused by the adding of Jaramillo, his contract does not get added into the Cubs overall team budget, and wont effect how much they will, or will not, be able to spend in upgrades. According to Carrie Muskat and her Cubs blog, they expect the budget to remain close to the 2009 version, allowing only for pay increases for current players making up the difference.
Like many fans, there is a list of players who I would love to see the Cubs sign. There are also Cubs who contracts are up that I want to see them resign. But all of these may very well depend on the Bradley deal, and the bankruptcy rulings which might limit upgrade. The offseason is a long one, and hasn’t even officially begun yet. As time goes by, there will be more information coming out as far as how much the Cubs will be able to spend for the upcoming season. After the Cubs have their Organizational meetings, we should learn a bit more about how much money they have to spend. With the General Manager, and Winter Meetings, we will learn more about the direction Hendry and Ricketts will be going for the 2010 season. But for reasons I have just stated, do not expect a lot of moves, or anything real major. If you do, then I am afraid that you will be highly disappointed.