by Kent Sterling
The Chicago Cubs are supposedly putting their best foot and checkbook forward in trying to lure Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka to ply his wares on Chicago’s North Side, but there is no chance at all that he accepts – and the Cubs know it.
On its face, the bidding is idiotic. The Cubs have no chance to win in 2014 and 2015 – zero. Why would the Cubs spend $20+ million per year for a pitcher who might help them win 73 games instead of 64?
After purging tens of millions from a payroll loaded with expensive mediocrity, the Cubs now boast a roster filled with cheap mediocrity, and that’s the way owner Tom Ricketts likes it.
With 2,642,682 fans willing to spend the third highest average ticket price to watch a team incapable of winning 70 games for the third straight season in 2013, Ricketts has no disincentive for continuing to avoid meaningful investments.
But he doesn’t want fans to see him as a greed-driven profiteer trying to milk the Chicago baseball fan’s discretionary dollar teet dry, so he loudly and publicly engages in the charade of bidding for this Japanese wunderkind who posted an incredible 24-0 record last season.
Not only does that give Ricketts a platform to claim he’s willing to pay for excellence, even more nefariously it allows him a plausible excuse for a lack of movement elsewhere. The Cubs have done nothing at all to improve their roster as rivals like the Cardinals have spent big on free agents like Jhonny Peralta, and they can justify their inactivity by claiming they reserved the resources needed to bid against the Dodgers and Yankees for Tanaka.
If nothing else, Ricketts is a shrewd businessman.
Cubs fans would like to believe that the Cubs have an owner as committed to winning as they would be given the opportunity, but families like the Ricketts don’t make billions by suppressing profits in order to achieve a goal non-stakeholders embrace.
The Ricketts bought the Cubs for one reason – to make money, lots of money. There is nothing wrong with that. Business owners don’t play a zero-sum game. They want to find the magic formula for building value while extracting cash, and if nothing else, Ricketts has proved adept at that.
The Cubs haven’t won a championship in 105 years while they have continued to build its fan base, so winning needn’t be part of the equation. The most valuable employee for the Cubs from 1982-1998, and arguably beyond his death, was Harry Caray, who gave Cubs fans something to look forward to regardless of whether the team was in the playoff hunt or sucked.
It’s the Wrigley Field experience that fans pay for – not the quality of the baseball product.
Tanaka will sign with a team that consistently demonstrates a desire to win, and the Cubs take a backseat to no one in their aversion to onfield success. The Cubs will publicly lament their loss, but privately celebrate another offseason of reducing payroll under the guise of building the farm system.
Fans will pay outrageous ticket prices to drink beer at Wrigley Field, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and then roll out to the Cubby Bear or Harry Caray’s for more beer. The Cubs will lose many more games than they win, but no one will care because Javy Baez and Kris Bryant are only a year or two away, and are tearing the cover off the ball for the West Tennessee Smokies.
Hope sells in Chicago.
Brighter days are ahead for the Cubs, or so Rickett and Cubs president Theo Epstein say. How could they not be?
The brightest days belong to the vastly overpaid Epstein and Ricketts, who will host 81 great parties that occur simultaneous to a bad baseball game being played.