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MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts is an owner you can often find walking around Wrigley Field on a game day. It’s not often, though, that the Cubs’ chairman approaches a group of media willing to be grilled with questions.
However, following a team meeting before the first full-squad workout officially got underway Monday afternoon, Ricketts did just that. Among the topics of conversation with the team’s expectations and spending, potential sources of revenue his faith in the team’s leaders.
Here are some notable takeaways from Ricketts’ interview:
Cubs being mindful of CBT
With an estimated luxury tax payroll of just under $225 million (according to RosterResource) heading into 2023, the Cubs are clearly striking a balance between signing spending money and staying under the competitive balance tax threshold for the year ($233 million).
It makes sense if you’re of the mind that this isn’t the time to go over the threshold. But what happens if the team is in a position to add players at the trade deadline? Will the front office be allowed to do so? Or will they be restricted by that number?
“We always have the ability to add resources at the deadline,” Ricketts said. “We’ll make that decision as it gets closer. Obviously, you want to be careful going over the CBT, because there are penalties. Some of the penalties are merely financial, but over time, they become draft pick slots and those kinds of things. So, you want to be thoughtful about it, and you want to just be alert and manage around it if you can. If we’re mid-season and we need a player, we’ll do what we have to do then.”
Ricketts pointed out the penalties that are levied for going over the threshold. That includes, obviously, an increasing tax rate both for number of years over the threshold and for how much they spend over the threshold. In addition, a team that spends $40 million or more over will lose draft position in the next year’s draft.
Despite acknowledging the penalties, he did make it seem that when the time is right, he’s willing to cover the tax.
“We’ve talked about being around the CBT,” Ricketts said. “If we see an opportunity or it’s the right time to go over for a year or two, we’ll have the ability to do that. But we’ll manage that year to year. I’m not going to promise top five or anything like that, but we will definitely put the resources we have on the field.”
“A year or two”? “Not going to promise top five”? It doesn’t feel like Ricketts isn’t keen on the idea of spending to the level the Mets ($373 million-plus luxury tax payroll), the Yankees ($292 million-plus), the Padres ($272 million-plus) and the Phillies ($259 million-plus) are in 2023, or at least not for a long period of time.
The Cubs have a plan they think will get that back to contention, and they’re not going to veer from that. What exactly that means for future payrolls remains to be seen.
“We’re focusing on what we do here,” Ricketts said. “What other teams do isn’t really something that I’m going to comment on or worry too much about. The key is that we like what we have, and I think we have a good strategy for putting a consistent winner on the field.”
Vote of confidence for head honchos
Ricketts said toward the end of the 2022 season that president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer would have the resources needed to improve the team over the winter. That led to the signings of players such as Dansby Swanson (seven years, $177 million), Jameson Taillon (four years, $68 million), Trey Mancini (two years, $14 million) and Cody Bellinger (one year, $17.5 million).
Even though the Cubs didn’t have as big of an off season as they theoretically could’ve, Ricketts was still encouraged by what Hoyer was able to do to upgrade with the roster.
“I think Jed had a great offseason. I think that he brought in a lot of talent and filled some places where we could get better. He’s given [Cubs manager David Ross] a lot of talented guys to work with and put together lineups to win games. I mean, you look at everything that manager has to work with this year compared to last year or the year before, this is a team that should compete for the division. I think we have the right manager and we have the right guys, and I think Jed did a great job putting it together.”
Speaking of Ross, it’s now going on a year since the Cubs extended his contract through the 2024 season (with a club option for 2025). Ross’ three years at the helm have been affected by a pandemic, a sell-off, a lockout and another sell-off, which hasn’t really allowed him to completely display his managerial chops.
Still, Ricketts certainly thinks the Cubs have the right man for the job.
“I think what Ross has is he just has a communication style that he can relate to every single player in the clubhouse,” Ricketts said. “I think strategically, he’s been pretty solid. He understands how to manage a game. But really, it’s a long season, and your manager has to keep a lot of guys focused. There’s always going to be little dramas, and he has to be able to be there for his guys when those happen. I think everyone on the team respects him and looks forward to playing for him. So, I think he’s got the ability to be one of the best managers of all time. We just have to keep giving him the right players.”
Sportsbook, streaming and patches
Ricketts also provided some updates on some potential extra sources of revenue:
- According to Ricketts, the DraftKings Sportsbook outside of Wrigley Field will not be ready for Opening Day. He estimates it will open in late spring or early summer. It should generate extra revenue for the club.
“What we primarily get out of that is DraftKings as a sponsor,” Ricketts said, “and all the sponsorship revenue goes back through through the team to the baseball guys to spend, more or less.”
- A direct-to-consumer streaming option for Cubs games on Marquee Sports Network will also likely not be ready for the start of the season. The club is still looking into that possibility, but nothing has been finalized.
“I think that the most important thing with our direct-to-consumer [product] is we just want to do it right the first time,” Ricketts said. “We want to make sure that when we do have it out there, it’s a good value to fans. We realize that the way people consume the game is changing. We want to make sure we accommodate that, but it’s kind of like a measure-twice, cut-once thing for us. We want to make sure we do it right, and that may mean it’s not 100 percent ready to go Opening Day. But we’ll see where it goes.”
- With Major League Baseball allowing teams to advertise a company with a patch on their jerseys for the first time, it’s reasonable to wonder which company the Cubs might put on theirs. As of Monday, they haven’t reached a deal with a sponsor.
“We’ve had some conversations with some really great companies about being our jersey sponsor,” Ricketts said. “We’ll have to wait for the right one at the right moment. Another one of those things where you want to measure twice, cut once, because it’s on your jersey. You want to make sure you get the right partner.”
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