With Tom Ricketts now entering the second full year as owner of the Chicago Cubs, the fans are ready to start passing judgment. As a matter of fact, they started passing judgment on Ricketts during and after his very first year as the owner of the team. How fair or unfair this is, boils down to each and every person and their own personal opinions. However, allow me to go on the record here and now and tell you just how unfair the fans are being for calling him out already in response to the Cubs and their failure to be a competent team in 2010, and having less than stellar expectations for 2011.
In the mind of some fans, they expected immediate results and a complete turn around as soon as Ricketts officially became the owner of the team. They wanted him to immediately fire Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, start releasing various players and to spend millions of dollars to bring some top players to the club and turn them into a contender. They expected him to turn the Cubs into the New York Yankees of the National League. Unfortunately, that was not a realistic demand. To be honest, that is still not a realistic demand for the fans to make of him.
Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry screwed over the financial books for the Cubs for a few years with his mad spending in 2007 and 2008. He left them with a king sized payroll which tied the financial hands of the Cubs and whoever would have would up owning them for a few years until the contracts all expired. While fans all blame Hendry for signing all these players to the contracts that were handed out like candy, there is one thing you need to keep in mind. For one, the Tribune Company, which was owned by Sam Zell at the time, told Hendry to spend like there was no tomorrow in order to pump up the team’s value in order to sell at a higher price. If he had not done so, he would have been fired and someone else would have done what Zell wanted. Blame Hendry all you want, but when your boss tells you to do something, you follow orders if you want to keep your job.
Actually, if you want to dig a little deeper, Hendry is not completely to blame for the Alfonso Soriano deal either. Current Chicago Legend, John McDonough was the man who pulled the trigger and actually finished working on that deal for Soriano. Being the new president of the Cubs, he wanted to make a big splash with the team. That is exactly what he did when he signed the over paid slugger.
Regardless of who is to blame for the money problems the Cubs are in, I fully believe that the fans criticism of Ricketts is coming in far too early. He is not a miracle worker and can not make immediate changes over night, or even in a year or two. His first year asking for massive changes was just completely unreasonable. The man just spent $900 Million on the Cubs, and in my mind over paid for the team, and fans wanted more. They were hoping he would clean house of the overpaid and over rated talent that was festering on the roster and bring in bigger and better super stars. That was not a reasonable request when you sit down and think rationally about things.
On the other hand, he has also made a questionable moves which does paint him in a bad light. Trading for Matt Garza goes completely against his “build from within” philosophy. With that trade, our farm system turned from one that has a number of young and promising up and coming talent, to one that is very bare. The Cubs still have a few good prospects, but they lost their best ones in the over paying for Garza, who according to all the advanced statistical analysis is almost the same pitcher as Randy Wells. This trade is not a good way to go about building from within if that was your mindset. At the moment, he seems far more interested in promoting the product instead of trying to win ball games. Which means, if that is the case, the Cub fans are in for a world of hurt for a long period of time. If this continues, the Cubs will be returning to what life was like under the Pre-Zell Tribune company.
In my honest opinion, you can not really start to judge the job that Ricketts is doing until at least the start of the 2012 season. The reason I say that season, is because the financial handcuffs get loosened quite a bit on Ricketts. Over $40 Million will be coming off the books and he will have some money to work with. Granted, he will still have a few more years of Carlos Zambrano and Soriano to deal with, but there will be plenty of money that he will be able to play with. Right now, he has very little money and roster space to play around with. He has not been able to do much of anything other than figure out how to upgrade Wrigley Field and keep the place from falling apart.
If Ricketts is serious about turning this franchise around, he needs to go about business better; and the sooner the better. Year one I can write off and clear him of blame for the disastrous outcome of the season. He said that he wanted to sit back and let the baseball people underneath him take care of the baseball business. I can even accept that he kept Hendry around, as he knows the team and what they need better than anyone else does at the moment. While that was not a very popular move in the minds of the fans, I can at least understand the decision.
With the second year underway, and prospects still not looking too bright, I can still clear him of almost all blame and criticism as he is still buried under the mess that he was left by Zell and his demands to beef up the payroll. He was left with a big bill to pay and he is still suffering from the contractual obligations that were given to him.
However, next year, the excuses for him will come to and end as he will be losing around $57 Million coming off the payroll when the season comes to an end. The following players will most likely be gone: Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, Carlos Pena, John Grabow, Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, Jeff Baker and Koyie Hill. With all these players leaving, the Cubs will have plenty of space for some of their young and up and coming prospects to finally show what they can do. What this also means, is that the Cubs will have plenty of money to play around with, to add the players to fill the voids that the farm system can not fill.
In my books, Ricketts get a complete pass for 2010. He also gets a pass for 2011, though that comes with a suspicious eye. His third season, 2012, is when all the possible excuses come to an end. That is when he will finally be able to take charge and be able to make some serious roster moves.
The Ricketts Era may have stumbled out of the starting gate, but the race is not over.