Why Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts feels 'really great' about 58-81 team

·6 min read

Why Tom Ricketts feels 'really great' about 58-81 Cubs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Two years after “biblical” financial losses led him to make organizational-wide cuts and mandate a big-league payroll purge, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said he’s “comfortable” how the club’s second multiyear rebuild in a decade is progressing.

“Sitting here today I feel really great, honestly,” Ricketts said during a 10-minute chat with a few reporters on a Wrigley Field concourse before the Cubs’ 81st loss of the season Saturday.

It was a rare meeting with media this year for Ricketts, who last month issued prepared statements for two outlets seeking comment on the state of the team and its latest rebuild.

He rattled off several reasons for that “great” feeling about the team, including young big-leaguers establishing themselves, the look of promising minor-leaguers and getting results, finally, from a “pitching infrastructure” that has been overhauled multiple times since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer first took over baseball operations in the fall of 2011.

On the other hand, he offered precious few details on what recent promises about an “aggressive” offseason might look like this winter, about mistakes that might have been made along the way in that effort last time around to build “sustained success,” how long this second rebuild might take or even how much patience he has — at a time some of the fan base has made it clear they’re already running out of patience (see: Thursday’s attendance).

“Well, once you understand what you have to do, it’s not about patience or impatience; it’s really about just doing things the right way to build that core of players that will be part of the next great team and then supplementing them with the right free agents at the right time,” he said.

“So I’m extremely confident in our guys that we’re doing smart things, that we’ll build a great team in the future, and we just have to stay with it.”

Except for the part about a second straight losing season that’s on pace for an even worse, 94-loss finish than last year?

How big does that make this offseason, heading into next year? Is this the crossroads winter some of us think it is?

“Look, we’re starting to build that good young core,” Ricketts said in response to those exact questions. “I feel great about our team next year. I’ll led Jed decide how to put resources to work to get us back on top.”

Of course, major league baseball is a bottom-line, results-based business, so any process — no matter how brilliant — is only as good as how many games are won compared to the other teams.

In other words, Ricketts was asked, how much longer should we expect the losing to last and how much patience does he have for that?

“I’m not sure I really understand the question,” he said. “The fact is we have to follow through on how you build a consistent winner. And the way to build a consistent winner is to find a good young core, supplement them with the right guys at the right time. And I have confidence that Jed knows what he’s doing.”

One writer persisted with another question about how the wins and losses will ultimately determine whether this new core of young players is good or not?

“I’m not sure what else I can say,” Ricketts said. “The fact is you can’t buy a championship team in baseball. You have to build it. And that’s what we’re doing.

“And in order to build it,” he added, you’ve got to take years where you let young guys get at-bats, give them a chance to prove themselves and find out who you actually have to build around.

“And that’s what this year’s all about. And it’s been a success.”

And that’s where a lot of the disconnect comes in — not only when it comes to the fact that this massive-revenue ballclub doesn’t come close to the year-over-year commitment to payroll spending that others in it its top-revenue tier do; but also in the suggestion that complete teardowns/rebuilds are acceptable for a franchise like the Cubs that charges among the top prices in the sport.

No matter how little creativity and ingenuity is actually involved in such models. No matter how lazy that method is from financial, intellectual and risk-reward perspectives.

Ultimately, Ricketts put the results of process and the eventual timeline at Hoyer’s feet — down to the definition of that “aggressive” offseason he and Hoyer have promised.

“The ball’s in Jed’s court when it comes to how and where he puts financial resources to work. He’s got a lot of flexibility,” Ricketts said. “So you let him do it. You let him decide what he wants to do.”

And if Hoyer wants to go big on, say, a free agent starting pitcher and maybe one of those big-name, big-money shortstops in free agency to turn things around right away in 2023?

“Jed has the resources to add people,” Ricketts said. “If he feels like it’s the right person at the right time he has 100 percent support from me. And I’ll leave it to him.”

Whether the Cubs can pull off anything close to the kind of results they did the last time they did this tanking/rebuild thing, this wasn’t supposed to happen again, certainly not this soon — at least that was the promise of “sustained success” that Epstein and Hoyer made on the way in more than a decade ago.

So what about any lessons or mistakes along the way the organization might have learned in that process?

“Obviously, following a similar process or strategy as we did 10 years ago, having done it once — and particularly largely with the same people — gives me a lot of confidence that we’ll do it the right way again,” Ricketts said. “So I’m very comfortable with where we’re at and pretty excited about our future.”

Based on some of this year’s attendance figures, the viewership on the shaky third-year in-house network and Cubs Twitter, that’s far from a view universally shared by Cubs fans.

Ricketts said Cubs fans he talks to are “happy.”

“They’re happy about a team that cares about winning. They’re happy about a team that plays hard. They’re happy with a lot of our younger talent and seeing the future, and I think they all think we have a great manager as well,” he said. “So I think people understand that we have a good future.”

At which point, Ricketts was asked if he has Twitter. Because that’s not what a lot of fans are saying there.

He does not have Twitter, he said.

“People don’t put nice things on social media,” he said.

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