From the time word first leaked that they might not be as active this winter as initially expected, the Cubs’ financial situation has underpinned almost every discussion about the 2019 season. It’s fitting that info started to come out on Halloween, since many believed it was just a way for the front office to mask their true intentions in free agency. As things have slogged forward, however, it’s become increasingly clear that the budget restrictions are quite real.
That very likely means no Bryce Harper and no Manny Machado, and could also rule out even mid-tier free agents. And while Theo Epstein has repeatedly stated that nothing is impossible, he’s admitted that “some things are extraordinarily unlikely.” It may even mean having to get really creative just to add pieces to a bullpen that is sorely lacking.
Cubs Convention typically serves as an oasis in the frozen desert of the offseason, a time for fans to get drunk on hope, nostalgia, and maybe overpriced booze while waiting for baseball to return. But with the dearth of impact moves — sorry, Daniel Descalso — and decided unrest among the frustrated faithful, this year’s annual summit figures to be decidedly more tense than its predecessors.
Sure, the Cubs have had disappointing offseasons in the past, but none have created anything like the cognitive dissonance we’re sensing now. That discontent is likely to lead to some more pointed questions from fans than has been the case in the past, which could create uncomfortable situations for the various panelists. Well, when they actually have panels.
As first tweeted by Crawly, a Cubs superfan and quite possibly the world’s foremost CubsCon aficionado, this year’s event will not feature a fan session with the Ricketts family. That rumor was quickly confirmed by the Daily Herald‘s Bruce Miles, who tweeted that ownership would instead take part in the “wildly entertaining” Friday Night with Ryan Dempster.
#CubsCon2019 RUMOR- I told you about Rizzo not attending #CubsCon three days before the list came out, now I am going to tell you what my sources are now telling me. There is a strong possibility that there will be NO session with the Rickett family this year
— crawly's cub kingdom (@crawlyscubs) January 16, 2019
— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) January 16, 2019
“(The) decision was made months ago based on fan feedback and desire to try something different with (Dempster),” Dennis Culloton, spokesman for the Ricketts family, told Miles.
The Ricketts forum had previously opened Saturday’s slate of events, affording ownership the opportunity to tout their three fundamental goals: winning a World Series, protecting and preserving Wrigley Field, and being a good neighbor. The neighbor part probably depends on who you ask and the whole “preserving” thing is up for similar debate among purists, but Wrigley is still standing and the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 (people forget that).
The rampant success of the past few seasons has insulated ownership from the hardest questions, but a confluence of several different events has served to leave them unguarded this year. Not only did the Cubs collapse down the stretch, but it now appears the team doesn’t have the funds to address even its most basic needs. And that comes despite what should be massive revenues across baseball and an influx of capital from various sources for the Cubs in particular.
Throw in the leaked family emails and overt political machinations that could impact the 44th ward and perhaps even the state of Illinois (there have been rumors that Todd Ricketts is eyeing JB Pritzker’s seat). Then you’ve got Addison Russell’s continued employment despite a pattern of domestic abuse that led to a 40-game suspension and a trade for Daniel Murphy and the issues continue to intertwine with the social fabric beyond Wrigleyville.
Because I know a few readers will mention it, no, I’m not forgetting about Aroldis Chapman. But recency bias means his presence on the team in 2016 probably isn’t something most folks at the Convention would be referencing.
Anyway, those factors have all conspired to create a potential situation that ownership must have felt was untenable. Far more worrisome than Winter Storm Harper — God, how perfect is that? — bearing down on Chicago is the PR shitstorm that’s been building these last few months. I suppose it’s possible this change really had been planned the whole time, but it seems much more likely the panel was nixed in order to better control the narrative. In keeping with that idea, Tom Ricketts will be making the rounds on Chicago sports radio Thursday morning.
An appearance on 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh at 7:40 am CST will be followed by a 9:05 am appointment with Kap & Company on ESPN 1000. Again, this could be pure coincidence. Or maybe, just maybe, the team chairman wanted to get out ahead of the inevitable fan backlash by establishing his talking points in a more controlled environment while also providing a plausible cover for the absence of a weekend panel.
Listen, it’s not like the Ricketts family was going to reveal any previously unknown insights in the team’s budget or direction. But failing to address them at all in any meaningful way, particularly in light of what are some very legitimate fan concerns, is disappointing. Some might even call it a cop-out, or worse. It could even serve to turn up the heat on subsequent panels, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I have no doubt a great number of people will see this and simply shrug it off as less than nothing, a waste of time. They might be right. At the very least, it’s a sign that the 34th CubsCon will be markedly less fun than those in recent memory. It could mean more, but we’ll have to wait to hear what Ricketts says Thursday and what happens with free agency and the new TV deal to finalize those thoughts.