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State of the Cubs: Tom Ricketts talks Ross, Bellinger, offseason decisions & more

Ryan Herrera Avatar
October 2, 2023

The Cubs’ regular season — and heart-breaking September — officially came to an end following a 4-0 loss to the Brewers on Sunday. The result was meaningless, as they had officially been eliminated from playoff contention Saturday night, but where the team goes from here isn’t. And in the press dining room at American Family Field, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts met with the media to discuss just that.

Topics ranged from his own perception of the team’s September collapse to the manager’s performance to offseason decisions and more.

Here’s Ricketts’ chat with the media, lightly edited for length and clarity.

How do you view this season?

I’m pretty much, like every other fan is, a little disappointed. We set out a goal to make the playoffs, and we didn’t get there, so we didn’t achieve our objective. And that’s disappointing.

How would you describe the dichotomy from going 10 games under .500 in June to getting back into it, and then obviously, how the last three weeks played out?

It kind of felt like it was four different seasons. I mean, we got off to an OK start and then we slumped and then rallied back, and then of course, September has been so rough. But just like everyone else, it’s tough to not achieve your goal. It’s tough when you’re just a couple games away from making the playoffs. And it’s extra tough that, for a while there, it looked like it was pretty likely. So, it feels like something got taken away, and all I can really say at this point is that I hope that the guys all take it to heart and come back in the spring ready to go.

Can this be considered a good season if you don’t make it to the playoffs?

I don’t think that we want to start calling seasons we don’t make the playoffs good seasons. I think that’s a consolation prize, and we don’t play for consolation prizes. That said, there were some great moments, some great performances. There was a lot of excitement, and the organizational health is as strong as it’s been in a long, long time. So, with all the disappointment that we have, there’s a lot of optimism as well.

What do you think of the job David Ross did navigating through the “four seasons,” as you put it?

I think Rossy did a great job. He creates a great clubhouse culture. The players love playing for him. He keeps a steady, balanced approach game in and game out that you need over the course of 162 games. I talked to him before the game today. He’s as disappointed as anyone that we just couldn’t quite pull it over the finish line, but I think he did a good job.

You’ve talked about it in the past, Jed Hoyer has talked about it in the past: There are times to really push in financially. Do you believe this winter is one of those times when you can really be aggressive?

Well, I mean, we were aggressive this year. And I think we’ll stay in those levels. I’ll let Jed decide where the dollars go. That’s his job. But the nice part is that we do have a fair number of people coming through the system right now that could be real producers for us over the next few years. And on top of that, we have a core — something we couldn’t say two years ago. We have a handful of guys that are going to be here for the next few years, and we’ve got five or six positions locked down for next year with guys who are well above major league average players. That’s a great start. It’ll be up to Jed to figure out where to go from here to supplement those guys, to put a winning team on the field, but I think we’re going to come into spring training optimistic and ready to go.

Are you prepared to go into the luxury tax if that’s what it takes to get you guys there?

Yeah, we’ll see where that shakes out.

You saw how Cody Bellinger thrived in this hitting the group. How big of a priority is it for you to try and see what you can do to keep up in Chicago?

Obviously, Cody had a great summer. He’s a great teammate. I mean, any team would love to have him, including us. But the free-agent markets, we’ll see where that goes, and that’ll be up to Jed on how he puts those resources to work.

Can you see it from the distanced point of view of a fan? You’ve got a guy in Bellinger in his prime years who was the best player on the team this season. Now, all you’ve got to do is just re-sign him.

I don’t have to be a distanced view of a fan. I am one, and I’ve talked to 1,000s of them. I get it. I mean, I get it. We’d love to have him back. That’s something that’ll be up to the baseball guys and the free-agent markets.

As a matter of philosophy, do you think the Cubs should be a team that keeps its best players, even when it means paying for someone who’s at an MVP level?

In general, I think that there’s something to keeping your best players, right? I mean, obviously, we extended Ian, we extended Nico this year. We’ve got six more years of Dansby, so we’ve got a good core that we’re definitely holding on to. It’d be nice. It’s a Jed decision, and it’ll be up to Jed, Cody and the free-agent markets.

How far are you willing to go to wait for Scott Boras [Bellinger’s agent] and how much money he might want?

Once again, we’ll just have to see. I can’t speculate on any of that right now.

Is it still more years than dollars, organizationally, in terms of your long-term concern? It’s not what you pay the player in a particular year, just kind of a longer-term [contract] is what kind of concerns you.

Obviously, the free-agent market, the dollars that you spend per year is one thing, but you’ve seen contracts go 9, 10, 11 years. You just have to be very careful when that’s the market standard, because obviously, players typically decline over those years pretty substantially. Other teams are paying the price for some of those contracts. I think Jed has done a very good job of making sure our contracts are rational, and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing this offseason.

What do you think this team and organization needs to do to take that next step forward off of this season and getting into the postseason and beyond?

Obviously, with our core, we have a handful of positions that are taken care of for next year. We’ve got to find the pieces to put with them, and hopefully, some of those pieces come internally. I mean, we’ve got a lot of good, young players, and hopefully, some will be ready to go next year so that we can bring homegrown talent to supplement the guys that we have out there. That’s the ultimate way you maintain consistency and try to stay in the playoff hunt for years to come.

What did you think of Dansby Swanson’s first season?

I thought Dansby had a very successful first season with us. I think it was the right signing for us. The infield defense and chemistry with Nico was pretty remarkable. You didn’t have to worry about… any play that was makeable was made, for the most part. Also a great teammate and a great leader, so I think that was a win-win for everybody.

Is your expectation going into next year that’s that on paper, it’ll look like a team that should be able to compete for the World Series?

The way we look at it is we want to be able to have a team that can make the playoffs every year. As you guys know, baseball playoffs, there’s a lot more upsets and a lot more surprises in the baseball playoffs. And the key to consistency, it’s not to build a one-year super team, but to try to get to the playoff as often as possible. We do that by finding guys that you like, giving them extensions, solidifying your core, and then trying to supplement them with guys from your system and the occasional free agent. And that’s going to be our strategy going forward.

What’re you most proud of from this season?

I would say that the thing that I’ve been most proud of this season is the way the players responded to adversity that they faced in June. We had a bad west coast road trip, and I think a lot of players and a lot of teams, being 10-12 games under [.500], decide that the season was over and just mail it in. Instead, the guys came back and pushed really hard, particularly after the All-Star break, and made their case to add as supposed to subtract. I think the way they responded to that adversity is something anyone can be proud of.

There was a likability and accountability to this team that fans responded to. What do you think of that?

I think it starts with a manager that everyone respects, all the players respect. Rossy is just a great guy and a great manager. And then just getting the right kind of character guys. The Dansby’s and the Nico’s and the Ian’s, they’re accountable guys and they’re good teammates to each other. I think that’s how you build winning teams now, with that kind of character in the clubhouse.

Do you view Ross as the manager for this team when the time is right to win?

I think Rossy had a great season, and the players play hard for him. He’s our guy. I like him a lot. He had a good year. I mean, once again, going back to what you’re proud of, when the team got down way below .500 and it looked like the season was over, he didn’t let it go. Got the guys back and played hard, and we got to here. He was a big part of that. I think he’s a great manager.

Are you optimistic that Kyle Hendricks (team option) has a future here beyond this season?

Obviously, we have a team option on Kyle, and I think one of the great stories of the summer was his return to being as effective as a starting pitcher as, not quite 2016 Kyle Hendricks, but still very effective. It’ll be Jed’s decision on what to do with Kyle’s contract, but at this point, I would see him coming back.

Have you had any conversations with Marcus Stroman (player option) about next season?

I said hi to him this morning in the clubhouse, but I haven’t talked to him. And that wouldn’t be for me to talk to him, anyway. That would be something that he and Jed and maybe agent talk about.

On a general note, is baseball back to where it needs to be?

I think baseball had a very good year. Attendance is up 8 percent or something like that, which is solid. [World Baseball Classic] was a big success. And then we also have some new teams in the mix, the Orioles and the Reds. Even the Pirates had a good first half. I think attendance is good, I think competitive balance is in a great place right now. I think this was a great year for baseball in general — just needed us in the playoffs to make it perfect.

How would you describe Hoyer’s style as the No. 1 executive and how he’s executed the plan?

Jed’s style is very thoughtful. He wants to talk to anybody, he collects information, he comes into decisions open-minded. I think he’s one of the best presidents of baseball or GMs, whatever you want to call it. He really does a great job of seeing the full battlefield, the full picture, and I really enjoy working with him. I think he had a great year, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this offseason.

How have you seen him grow since he took the job?

He already was a GM before, so he didn’t really have to grow that much. But I always knew that, in all the years I worked with him as he was kind of junior to Theo, I knew that he was ready to be a general manager at any point. There were a lot of teams that tried to grab him over those years. I’m just glad he stayed with us.

The manager takes a lot of heat from the fans. What else is it about Ross that you think makes him a great manager?

You think about what makes a great manager, and part of it is you just have to create a clubhouse culture that can stand 162 days of intense scrutiny. I think that in terms of getting players comfortable and getting them motivated, I don’t know if there’s anyone better in the league.

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