Good morning, Chicago!
I don’t know about you, but it sure seems like I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. From Christmas gifts to holiday cards to end-of-the-year activities, my credit cards are melting from overuse.
The Cubs and White Sox don’t seem to have that problem, though. If anything, their plastic is covered in cobwebs after last week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.
The offseason activity from both teams so far has been yawn-worthy and their approach to the Hot Stove season has been to handle it with their usual alligator arms.
• The Cubs bought a $17.5 million scratch-off ticket for the Cody Bellinger reclamation project and dropped another $68 million over four years for the services of Jameson Taillon, a 31-year-old right-hander who should be a solid third starter on a good team.
• The White Sox spent $12 million for one year of Mike Clevinger, a 31-year-old right-hander who struggled in 2022 after returning from Tommy John surgery.
And that’s it. Maybe they’ll shock us with a big signing in the weeks ahead, but for now, that’s the total haul for two teams that finished a combined 30 games out of first place in 2022 and will play in front of two non-plussed fanbases in 2023 if things just stay the same.
Luke Stuckmeyer and I talked about the frugality of both franchises on last week’s The Chicago Sports Podcast after reading a great column from Rick Morrissey in the Sun-Times on the topic.
One line, in particular, made me LOL.
“Chicago is a major market, but it has two baseball teams that want you to think you’re living in a dusty town where carneys go to retire,” Rick wrote.
Yup. We live in the nation’s third-largest market yet the Sox rank 10th and the Cubs sit 15th in FanGraphs’ latest projection for 2023 payrolls.
How long can both franchises keep getting away with it?
They’ll have to do so at their own risk. While the quality of the play on the field has gone down, the prices for a day at the ballpark have soared. The Cubs ranked second on the 2022 Fan Cost Index with an average cost of $312 to take a family of four to a game while the Sox were ninth at $214.
Meanwhile, the television market is shifting away from easy money made via passive subscribers on bundled subscriptions to a direct-to-consumer model where every $20 a month subscription must be earned against hard competition.
If both clubs want to win the future against $17 Netflix subscriptions, $60 video games and free TikTok accounts, they must put a compelling product on the field and stop the habit of taking their fans for granted.
Baseball owners had it easy the last 10-15 years as the statistical revolution made rebuilds en vogue and made every prospect seem an untouchable sure thing.
But if we learned anything from the Cubs dynasty that never was and the stalled-out rebuild on the South Side, it’s that building a consistent winner takes both an infusion of young, cheap talent and smart moves made on the free-agent market.
Other markets seemed to have picked up on that and are spending what needs to be spent. Take the Astros for example. They just won their second World Series title in the last six seasons and still wrote a check for Jose Abreu. The Phillies were also in the World Series and yet still delivered a big bag to Trea Turner last week.
Meanwhile, we’re sitting back here in Chicago and wondering why we should spend our own hard-earned money at the ballpark if the owners of both clubs refuse to do the same.
The Week Ahead
• The Bears are back in action on Sunday when they host the 12-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Broncos’ loss to the Chiefs yesterday dropped the Bears to the No. 3 spot in the draft so the expected beatdown to Philly will sting a little less.
• The Bulls suffered a gut-punch loss to the Hawks last night to fall to 11-15 on the year. They’ll host the Knicks for two games on Wednesday and Friday before heading to Minnesota for a Sunday night date. Will Gottlieb believes the next 19 days will decide the trajectory of this franchise.
• The Blackhawks get three of four games at home this week with Washington visiting on Tuesday and Vegas in on Thursday before a Friday night trip to St. Paul. The Rangers arrive on Sunday for an Original Six matchup. The Hawks have lost three straight and are only one point behind Anaheim for the league’s worst record.