MESA, Ariz. – There is nothing more refreshing in the baseball world than a chance to start things over, and spring training is what that can sometimes be for a club.
Tom Ricketts is hoping so.
His Cubs missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014 last year, snapping a four-year postseason run, and did so with a rather forgettable collapse at the end of September. It led to the departure of the manager that led the club to their first World Series title in 108 years, and brought a new leader into a locker room full of familiar players.
For that reason, an optimistic Cubs’ owner greeted the media with some enthusiasm on Tuesday during his annual spring training news conference in Mesa.
“I think 2020 is really a fresh start. I look at our team and see the talent that we have, guys that are proven veterans who have won before, or won big games before, and they’re still here and they’re still ready to win. Then I look at the leadership they have,” said Ricketts. “I just watch ‘Rossy’ (Manager David Ross) give his first big team speech and the energy, the passion, his ability to communicate, and he’s a proven winner. I think he’s the right guy for us.”
While this might equate a fresh start for Ricketts, many old questions were brought back to the owner during the media session, and ones that have been on Cubs’ fans minds the last few years. Once again, the team had an extremely quiet offseason which featured no major signings or acquisitions, a fact that has angered some who feel the team is intentionally holding back money to improve the club.
Once again, the owner disputed that thinking.
“Obviously we had the highest baseball budget in the league last year, so we’re putting resources to work. If we find a place that we can put dollars to work that we think will help us get to the World Series, we do it,” said Ricketts. “It’s just that they’re not infinite resources. We have to manage it, and that’s the real challenge.”
Staying under Major League Baseball’s luxury tax is the ultimate goal for Ricketts, but he’s gone over it before in hopes of getting another championship to put alongside the one the franchise got in 2016. Would he be willing to do so if the 2020 Cubs could make an improvement that comes with added expense?
“We have a budget, we try for it, if we find a place where we might stretch the budget a bit to try to get a better team, we’ve done that frequently,” said Ricketts. “So it just goes year-by year.”
Yet Ricketts made clear a few times in his remarks that spending lots of money doesn’t necessarily translate to winning games.
“Where we place our resources is a baseball decision; that’s Jed and Theo. But ultimately we have to look at it from a bigger perspective. First of all, just because you spend a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re going to win. We’ve seen that in our own organization the last couple of years, we saw that in our first year when we had the third-highest payroll and maybe the 22nd-best record. The fact is, it’s not how much you spend, it’s about where you spend it and getting the right guys on board,” said Ricketts. “Secondly, this is been in the media, but some of the guys have referenced it, there are some sanctions and punishments you get from the league for going over the competitive balance tax, and those aren’t defining the decisions in the front office but they’re always a consideration in the front office.
“The third thing is our goal is to win the World Series and the strategy to get there is to put a team on the field that can compete for the division title every year. What you’ve seen the last few years, particularly last year, is you have the second Wild Card going all the way and winning the World Series. The goal for us is to be consistent and have a team that can win every year. So you think about putting your resources to work and you have to put it through those filters. I think our guys are as good as anyone in baseball at putting teams together and I trust that they’ll put our resources in a way that gets us back to the World Series.”
Even with few changes, Ricketts threw his support behind Ross and his team as they are currently assembled, claiming they are the best of a five-team National League Central.
“I think we have a really dynamic, exciting new manager. I think the players are going to play very hard for David Ross,” said Ricketts. “Barring some kind of crazy injuries, I think we should win our division and get back in the playoffs, and when you’re in the playoffs, there’s no reason to think you won’t go all the way.”
Others may beg to differ, but for now, the owner’s behind his team and their offseason strategy.