Tom Ricketts has been relatively quiet over the last few weeks, understandably so. His family hasn’t exactly been making the headlines for all the right reasons and he knows as well as anyone that it’s probably best to keep as low a profile as possible to avoid any ripples. But the Cubs chairman joined the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score Monday morning to talk about a number of topics ahead of the home opener.
“It’s been a tough way to start the season,” Ricketts said. “You don’t want to stumble out of the gate like we have, but you also have to remind yourself it’s a very, very long season and we got good people.
“To the extent that we need to juggle personnel to make sure that we have the right 25 guys ready to go every night, there’s no one in the world I’d trust more than Theo and Jed to do that. I think those guys will make sure that as issues pop now and throughout the year, they’ll make sure we get the right lineup.”
Ricketts also expressed faith in Joe Maddon, which is exactly what you’d expect him to do. The guy’s not going to go out and throw anyone under the bus, especially after Theo Epstein already wore the blame for what’s happened so far. But Ricketts did put the onus on the front office, coaching staff, and, most importantly, the players.
Without room in the baseball budget for any big-ticket additions right now, the improvement really is going to have to come from within.
“There’s always a little bit of flex in every year’s budget, but typically we don’t think about that until you get toward the middle of the season,” Ricketts admitted. “I don’t know about Craig Kimbrel. That may just be a bigger ticket than what we can swing.
“Honestly, it’s about performance. We’ve got the resources. We’ve allocated those resources to the people we think are going to give us the best chance to win the division. And now we have to let them do their jobs and hopefully everyone who’s off to a slow start will kind of get back, revert to mean here a little bit and be the players we know that they can be.”
This echoes Epstein’s comments about the early performance not being a resource issue, which is to say it’s not a matter that can be fixed by simply spending more money. Or, perhaps more accurately, that it’s not a matter of the Cubs spending too little money. Exactly how accurate that assessment is I’ll leave you to decide on your own, but suffice to say spending money on a lock-down reliever would probably help.
Then again, the bullpen that led to much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth through the first several games has suddenly looked good again. Good as in 12 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to Saturday night in Milwaukee. And while that’s owing to the fickle nature of relief units as much as anything, it’s a sign that water may indeed be finding its level.
Ricketts made very clear that he has the utmost confidence in Epstein to assemble the right talent and in Maddon to deploy it, though that kind of has to be the case at this point. Rather than turning it into a referendum on spending, the owner was talking more about his hands-off approach to the baseball decisions. He stays out of that aspect of the team, which had better be the case.
His job is to open the floodgates on revenue streams that make luxury tax penalties even more irrelevant than they already should be.
“Look, I regret talking about money every single time it comes up, ’cause there’s no way I can win,” Ricketts joked. “Even if we have the second-highest budget in baseball, it’s not enough. The fact is that what we do is we’ve worked very, very hard to generate more revenue for the club and it almost all goes right back into the team on the field.
“Hopefully you put those dollars in the right places and the players that make those dollars perform, but the fact is that the correlation between how much you spend and how much you win is much lower than people imagine it to be.”
Thing is, how much you win is all that matters and all fans really care about. Whether it comes with a payroll of $50 million or $250 million should be of no consequence to anyone parting with their own time and money to support the team. And on that front, Ricketts believes he’s got his fingers firmly on the fans’ collective pulse.
“I think that real fans, ones that come to the games and ones that follow the team closely, know that I’m at every game walking around,” Ricketts said. “They know that myself and the rest of my family really care and this is a passion for us and we’re committed to seeing championships here on the North Side.”
Even with a little semantic leeway, the whole “real” fans thing is pretty cringe-worthy. One could go so far as to say it’s condescending or even an attempt to paint those who question Ricketts’ passion for winning as somehow less interested or insightful. Which, whether he meant it that way or not, is very obviously not true.
“One of the the things I have that I think a lot of other owners don’t is that I have a lot of individual contact with people at games or at restaurants or in the airport,” Ricketts continued. “And despite the dialogue around this pressure to win kind of stuff, people, they know that we’re doing our best.
“And the people I talk to still…I think the regular fan who really follows the team knows that we’ve delivered and will continue to deliver.”
Yeah, about that. There’s no way to argue that the Cubs under Ricketts have delivered the long-awaited world championship many never allowed themselves to truly believe would ever come. In the time since, however, ownership has said and done a lot to erode much of that goodwill. And on that front, Ricketts is either very selective about which fans he speaks to or which conversations he remembers.
The Cubs certainly do have talent and they’ve got more resources than nearly any other team Major League Baseball. If they do put that all together again, Ricketts may actually be able to put his old man’s emails and other non-baseball issues behind him. But if the Cubs fall short of expectations after passing on several opportunities to improve the team for nothing other than money, you can bet those conversations around the ballpark are gonna get a lot more real.