The Rundown: Cubs Fans Give Ricketts Cold Shoulder, ‘The Cubs Way’ May Lead Political Culture Change, MLB to Honor Jackie Robinson All Year

I find great humor in the fact that the Weather Channel names snowstorms, but when we get a blast of cold air over a 48-hour period that is genuinely life-threatening, or at least cold enough to send year-round-cargo-shorts-guys into hibernation, those events are unworthy of receiving a name. Let’s call the oncoming winter event Tom Ricketts. That should make some of you happy.

I don’t have a problem with the Ricketts family. The Cubs will have the second-highest payroll in all of baseball this summer and that figure has increased every year since they bought the team. To say they are cheap is 100 percent inaccurate.

If you don’t like the Cubs’ first family because of their political affiliation, their ongoing war with Ald. Tom Tunney, or their landscape-changing efforts in the Wrigleyville community, that’s a completely separate argument.

But when Ricketts says the notion that he is stingy with regard to the Cubs payroll is slightly misguided, I actually have to side with him if I confine that statement to baseball’s ecosystem. Sure, the Cubs could afford to buy the most expensive team on the planet, but we all know that’s never going to happen. So to say that the Cubs owners and front office are cheap because they won’t spend another $300 million to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, or $100 million to sign Craig Kimbrel, really is kind of misguided.

Reader gator13 made a good point in the comments section of yesterday’s Rundown. “If the Cubs payroll was sitting at $190-$195 mil, then I think a more valid complaint by fans can be made.”

All that being said, there are moves to be made and I still don’t believe the Cubs are out on Harper. If his price comes down far enough, you’d have to think Theo Epstein would use the penny wise/pound foolish argument to sway his boss and I think he’d get the approval on that expenditure. I can’t count the Cubs out on Machado for the same reason. If, by many accounts, Machado’s highest offer has been $175 million, I’d think Epstein is at the very least paying close attention.

There are two things that I believe are driving the market (or lack thereof):

  • The last two $150M+ million contracts in baseball belong to Jason Heyward and Chris Davis. Statistically speaking, those have been better values for the players than the teams with which they signed.
  • Based on what are now archaic spending models, there is still nearly a billion dollars worth of talent available in free agency that may find its way to the end-of-season sales racks and there just isn’t that much payroll space available in major league baseball right now.

It will be interesting to see which players are still looking for a job when spring training begins. Remember, other than J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta, players that signed after the start of spring training last year had mediocre years for the most part. And Arrieta was barely worth the $25 million he earned last year.

For those of you who keep asking me if the Cubs will sign Harper since I seem to be one of the few who believe they will, I’ll state this for the last time and then let it rest until the free agent outfielder signs somewhere:

  1. I believe Harper met with Ricketts, Epstein, and Jed Hoyer.
  2. I believe Harper wants to sign with the Cubs but is torn on a decision that would require him leaving a lot of dollars on the table.
  3. I believe Ricketts has approved the expenditure to sign Harper on the Cubs’ terms.
  4. I believe the Cubs offer will not exceed the Nationals’ offer in total dollars.
  5. I believe the Cubs have seriously tried to move payroll to sign Harper, and have obviously failed.

You may now feel free to stop sending me DMs asking if I think the perfectly-coiffed right fielder will sign with the Cubs.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Epstein may be indirectly impacting the 2020 presidential race. Elizabeth Warren is attempting to model a culture change within the Democratic Party similar to Epstein’s paradigm-changing efforts with the Cubs, as detailed in Tom Verducci’s post-World Series book, The Cubs Way.
  • The Cubs re-signed relief pitcher Allen Webster yesterday. Not sure how many quarters are left in Theo’s piggy bank, but the team really needs at least one more bullpen addition that is actually injury-free and capable of getting major league hitters out.
  • I said it yesterday and Brendan Miller confirmed it with his expert analysis. Brad Brach is a sneaky good addition to the team’s bullpen.
  • Former Cubs third baseman Mike Olt has signed with the Twins.
  • Though Justin Wilson signed with the Mets last week, he believes teams would rather make money than win. “I think for the role that I pitch in, late in the game and high-leverage situations, there are only certain teams that are willing to spend money to compete,” said Wilson.
  • If you find it tough to stomach what Wilson said after his season and a half of barely league-average pitching in those, ahem, high-leverage situations, I think you’ll find this quote from Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle more palatable: “I don’t get why fans are yelling these things at players while clubs use tax dollars to fund a stadium only to put a losing team in it and rely on league revenues for profit. What happened to the integrity of the game? Trying to win every year?”

Tuesday Stove

Reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich is anxious to get the season started. “Life has changed a little bit, but I’m taking it all in stride and learning along the way,” Yelich said. “I’m just really excited to getting back to playing baseball and picking up where we left off as a team and seeing if we can make that next step.”

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has retired from baseball. Rosenthal posted Saltalamacchia’s statement on Facebook. So happy I don’t have to spell the catcher’s last name any longer.

The Reds have Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto in their sights and are said to be serious pursuers.

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson would love to play with Machado, even if it means surrendering starts to the prized free agent.

Former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti thinks the idea that Los Angeles needs to sign Machado is absurd.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts all but confirmed speculation that the Dodgers do not intend to sign Harper on MLB Network Radio on Monday, and called the A.J. Pollock signing a “big win.”

MLB The Show, the popular baseball video game, sent out a vague tweet featuring Harper, who’s on the cover of this year’s edition of the game, teasing some kind of announcement and instructing the masses to “get hyped.”

Extra Innings

MLB has announced a partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) to create a year-long schedule of events aimed at honoring Jackie’s legacy in baseball and throughout society.  Everything begins Thursday, which would have been Robinson’s 100th birthday, and will include Play Ball events tied to Robinson’s baseball journey, a traveling museum exhibit, efforts from all 30 MLB teams plus fund-raising and awareness efforts throughout the year.

This Weeks New Spins

  1. Slow Turning by John Hiatt – Back in 1988 this was my go-to cassette for late night cruising on Lake Shore Drive in my 1983 Grand Prix. Picked it up for a buck and I love dropping the needle on this LP in the comfort of my living room just as much.
  2. In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin – I found an unplayed copy of this incredibly underrated long player by Zeppelin, and I’m conflicted as to whether I should break the seal and give it a few spins. Help a brother out here.
  3. Abandoned Luncheonette by Hall & Oates – If you were born in the mid-to-late 1970’s, you probably owe a great deal of gratitude to Hall & Oates. I’l leave it at that.

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Skinny Love by Bon Iver. The Walk Up theme for February will be hauntingly beautiful songs. This is an example. I met Justin Vernon at a sushi joint in Tulsa, my favorite underrated music city in the country by the way, a few years back. I think I was the only one in the restaurant who identified him, so he asked me to join him for some vegan sushi. Such a cool afternoon.


    1. Saw him around 98 with the Goners
      (Inc. Sonny Landreth) at the Riviera.
      One of my favorite all time shows.

  1. Michael
    Much as I love Zep, do not break the seal on that album. Its worth more unopened. In a nutshell, this is not their best work nor is it the worst. Problem is , I cant hear John Bonham enough nor does Robert Plant sing with much enthusiasm.
    Best song in here is In the Evening.
    Worthy of love 4 old Zeppelin, sounds like a song to play after Kashmir. Another good song is
    All of my Love.
    Thats about it for this album
    2 of 7 are decent.
    .286 avg ok in baseball, not necessarily music

  2. As much as I like Bon Iver’s first couple of albums, I don’t think I would have recognized him either! Good recommendation for those unfamiliar with Justin Vernon’s music.

  3. These lines cracked me up, as a truly drily stated understatement: “The last two $150M+ million contracts in baseball belong to Jason Heyward and Chris Davis. Statistically speaking, those have been better values for the players than the teams with which they signed.” And I bet someone could come up with a colorable argument that Arrieta was not “worth the $25 million he earned last year.” It has become a grim trope that baseball players often have a career year in their walk year, then fall apart when their new mega-contract begins. I call it the Wayne Garland Syndrome, which dates me as a fan, I know, but I’ve been watching the phenomena for decades now.

    1. Is there a named syndrome for the opposite, and does that inverted effect hold as well? (i.e. if great walk year = puke next year, then does puke walk year = great next year?) Teams looking to sign Harper may be very interested in this.

      1. Interesting! I’m racking my brains to think of a player who fits that description and just can’t think of one yet. There must be one though! Concerning Harper, it’s an odd time in baseball when an injury-prone player like Harper, who hit just .249 last year, is roundly called “a generational talent.” Or that a player with a checkered reputation like Machado, with a lifetime .282/.335/.487 slash and just a year removed from a .259/.310/.471 slash, is also roundly called “a generation talent.” And that some folks are apparently outraged and shocked that teams aren’t just falling over themselves offering either player 10 year/$300+ million contracts. I have not seen a real statistical analysis (Moshe Wilensky, are you listening?), but I would guess that less than half of the big bucks free agent contracts of the last 40 years have worked out to the teams’ benefit. Whereas, 100% of the contracts, being guaranteed, have worked out for the players. All that said, I can’t wait ’til spring training and go Cubs go!

        1. Couldn’t agree more. Mike Trout is a generational talent. Clayton Kershaw is a generational talent. Wade boggs was a generational talent.
          Harper is lifetime .275 hitter with many sub 2 WAR seasons. How is that “generational”? He’s good, has flair, is charismatic, has big power, but is streaky, injury prone, and not generational. That word is getting abused and watered down. And I too would love to see an in-depth analysis on big, say all 9 figure salaries, just going back past 20 years, and see how many worked out. I did a rudimentary examination and figured 10-20% worked out for the Team. Unless you are a team owner that doesn’t mind flushing profit down the toilet, Why do them?

  4. If folks are lambasting Ricketts, then you absolutely have to lambast the Yanks and Dodgers (2 biggest markets) for not hitting the tax threshold and spending LESS than the Cubs (while Cubs are in a smaller market). Ricketts aren’t cheap, but they aren’t getting great returns/value on most of their big FA contracts. Why wouldn’t Ricketts be gun shy w/ the recent track record? The results are in: 9 figure salaries usually don’t work out, so why do them? Players basically want owners to ignore the facts: 80-90% of 9 figure deals don’t work in the favor of ownership or the team (dollars spent elsewhere). Players are upset owners and GM’s aren’t taking huge statistically illogical risks and gamble the money. Ah, no, clearly FA guys (going back to the 90’s) were being overpaid (while pre and arb guys are usually underpaid) and those days are dwindling. The “inequality” in baseball salaries needs to get fixed (more money earlier, less later).

    1. Folks really don’t have to engage in what-about arguments when it’s their team and their market. Cubs fans don’t have to look at what another team is doing to justify their thoughts on what the Cubs are doing, though I understand that having a bigger concept of the industry as a whole is helpful. At the same time, the industry as a whole has realized massive revenue gains while watching player salaries as a percentage of that revenue decline.

      1. I really enjoy your blog and your writing, Evan. I’ve heard a lot about baseball’s rising revenue and why that should translate into bigger player contracts. Certainly, as a relatively low income family man, I’ve winced at the high ticket prices. But the important analysis is profit. Are team profits actually rising along with revenues? That, I do now know. And as a die hard, true blue, ride or die Cubs fan, count me as who has enjoyed this Cubs offseason, just as I have loved the last four Cubs seasons, the best run in my 50 years of fandom. As some wit on one of the Big Three Cubs blog wrote a while back, the ’18 Cubs just need a spark plug change, not an engine overhaul. Finally, right or wrong, and I realize I’m in the minority here, I have just about run out of patience with players (Arrieta, Doolittle, etc) griping about their low salaries. To me, these multi-millionaire players come off as tone deaf and classless. My two cents! Keep up the great work on the blog, I read it every day!

        1. Thanks for reading, Chris, definitely appreciate it. But wait, does that mean we’re not one of the “Big Three”?

        2. Me too. Arrieta is clearly upset that a new team didn’t compensate him for those 2-3 great years on the Cubs. He was clearly underpaid on the Cubs, but that’s the system. I’m all for players trying to improve pre FA years with better, fairer compensation. But I’m tire of players, like Arrieta, Doolittle, and even KB gripping about teams not overpaying for declining FA years.

      2. I will go out on a limb and say most Cubs fan, like myself, do compare our team/payroll with other big market teams, and that comparison is driving our slight frustration. Not with inactivity this winter, but with how the money was spent, or the trade was made, and the low value we’ve received. We have similar payrolls to LA, BOS, NYY, HOU (larger in most cases), but with less talent (by most experts opinions).
        Re: the revenue gains lower player salary %…..unless MLB decides to make teams “not for profit” or entirely socialize the sport (legally tying salaries to revenue), it doesn’t really matter what the % is. If fans don’t think players are making enough (relative to revenue), boycott the team, don’t spend another dime. But it’s crystal clear that individuals are buying teams to 1. Make money, and 2. Hopefully win while making money.

  5. Hmmm…do I owe more thanks to Hall & Oates, or Air Supply?

    It does seem that the players are singing the butt-hurt-song over the owners not readily throwing around money anymore. Good call out on the warranted going away of the $100 million / mega deal. It’s difficult to conjure one from memory that was a GOOD deal for the team. Heck, some of the most seemingly sure-fire good deals have gone bad; remember Griffey Jr going home to Cincy in 2000? Even that went south, mostly due to injuries.

    The multi-year rebound contracts have also dried up (deals for players coming back from injury or down years). Go back 10 years or more, and a former star like Josh Donaldson would get at least a 3 year deal. Now the 1-year “prove it” is becoming the norm.

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