by Kent Sterling
Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts breathed a long sigh of relief this morning when Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka announced his intention to accept the New York Yankees offer of a seven-year, $155 million to hurl a supposedly unhittable splitter in the Bronx.
The Cubs generated a lot of media coverage by engaging in the charade of making their pitch to the most coveted free agent of the offseason. Fans hoped this signing would mark the first major talent acquisition ready to compete at the major league level since Ricketts acquired the team in late 2009, but the Cubs had no intention of spending that kind of cash on a pitcher who might magically turn them into a team capable of winning 75 games in 2014 and 2015.
It wasn’t to be, as the Cubs were aware as soon as they began their engagement in this sham. Playing a rigged game for the unrequited love of Tanaka is a great way to appear aggressive while risking nothing more than the travel cost to Los Angeles to talk to Tanaka. “We are willing to pay what it will take, including the $20 million posting fee!” was a hollow threat from jump street.
The Cubs are determined to reap massive profits to pay off the massive debt load encumbered at the time of Ricketts’ purchase, and stuff millions into the Ricketts Family coffers. Paying pitchers $22 million per season doesn’t fit into that equation.
Incredibly and needlessly loyal Cubs fans are the losers in the Tanaka negotiations. They deserve more than lip service, a quality roster at West Tennessee and Iowa, and the third highest ticket prices in baseball. They deserve an ownership with the resources and commitment to field a team with a chance to win.
For 105 years, Cubs fans have waited. Told that Ricketts was one of them – having famously lived across the street from Wrigley Field with his brother – fans bought into the claptrap of building for the future – a future that is now being defined by those in the Cubs front office as being near the end of the decade.
The Cubs, knowing that their fans can’t be dumb enough to continue to buy tickets in bulk forever with a pitiful – well – everything, told them that Tanaka would be their focus for offseason acquisitions, and that to get him, they would need to marshall all resources toward that cause. That left them off the hook for not going after anyone else. Perfect.
That bought them time, conveniently through the Cubs Convention, which ended 72 hours ago.
Now, fans and the increasingly surly Chicago media will want to know what Ricketts, team president Theo Epstein, and general manager Jed Hoyer plan to do to make the roster more competitive less than a month from the opening of Spring Training. Hope can only be sold for so long. Baseball played by talented men should not be too much to expect for fans who pay big coin for the privilege of watching major league baseball.
As things stand today, fans should have no reason to project any uptick from last year’s 66-96 record, which was a small improvement over 2012’s 61-101 mark, which was a ten-win drop over Mike Quade’s swan song of a 71-91 debacle.
The three best reasons to hop on the Red Line for an afternoon at Wrigley – beer, the seventh inning stretch, and Clark the Mascot. It won’t be long before fans realize they can buy beer cheaper across the street, karaoke is everywhere, and that Clark will be an effective distraction for only so long.
Chicago deserves better than what Ricketts is providing, but until fans vote with their wallets, Ricketts will continue to turn Wrigley Field into Pottersville from “It’s a Wonderful Life”.