I’ve not wanted to say anything because I didn’t want to jinx anything, but I’m starting to get a little bit more optimistic about the future of the Cubs under Tom Ricketts and Co. Believe me, I am not ready to go and start wearing an “I *heart* Ricketts” sandwich board and ringing a bell, but there have been a few things lately that make me wonder if Tom has finally decided to start pulling up on the stick of this flaming 747 of a team headed straight into the ground.
Of course, they need to show me more. A few recent actions like jettisoning a long-time upper management type like Jim Hendry isn’t going to wipe out the nearly two years of steady decline of my optimism about the team. For those of you who like graphs, I made a little graph to illustrate my point:
But still, we have a nice little potential beginning of a trend going at the end there. It is really the first time since the Ricketts took over that there have been consecutive good things to happen to the team. Every now and again, they would throw a Fan Appreciation day at us, or manage to raise a bit of revenue that didn’t come from ticket sales, but usually those glimmers were strewn amongst reality show embarassments, obsessing about urinal troughs, and more corporate double-speak than should be legal.
But lately, they have dedicated money to building a state-of-the-art training facility in the Dominican Republic, they had a pretty darn good draft by throwing a lot of of money at guys that most teams didn’t think would ever sign, and they have finally moved on from the Jim Hendry “…See what happens” school of building a contending team. The cherry on top of all of that is, of course, the complete hornswoggling of the local media as Hendry worked almost a month after getting kicked to the curb and nobody except Dave Kaplan seemed to know about it. And if Crane Kenney had anything to do with that, then I also like him a little more now too.
Then yesterday this little tidbit came out via Bruce Levine:
Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts hired Stephen J.K. Walters to be a top consultant on all expenditures for the organization.
Walters — a professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland — was hired in March to help analyze and make recommendations on the budget for every department in the organization, including baseball operations, according to MLB sources.
First, it is hard not to notice tthat Bruce is breaking a story about something that happened in March, but we’ll just applaud the fact that the media found out about it and reported it at all. I’m guessing after almost six months, Ricketts finally had to call in a tip as an anonymous source himself to get anybody to write about it.
But this is a potential huge step forward in how the Cubs manage their revenues and spending. For as long as I can remember, the Cubs have concentrated almost solely on the season in front of them. They might have had some forward-looking moments in the draft, or in adding a revenue stream here and there, but usually it seemed that whatever they were doing focused mostly on the current season. Thus the constant state of patch and repair that pretty much has defined all of our lives as Cubs fans.
Tom Ricketts seems to have grasped that there is a finite amount of money he will have and he wants assistance in how to split up that money amongst the different departments to maximize efficiency in growing value from within. This could be a guy that helps determine what levels of spending on the international market, in the amateur draft, and yes, even in the upkeep and renovation of the park itself can translate most efficiently into future value.
So take it how you will. Some may write it off as being “cheap” if they then end up not throwing $200 million at Pujols or Fielder, but perhaps that money is better spent in the long run by getting guys like Dillon Maples to forego college and become part of the organization.
I like that there are at least the seedlings of a plan, and his hiring in March makes me wonder if the sudden reversal in philosophy between this year’s draft and last year’s draft weren’t based, at least partly, on recommendations from Walters. This is conjecture on my part, as he has a non-disclosure agreement with the team, so there is no way for me to know anything conclusively. Maybe someone out there has a source, but I know I don’t. I’m simply connecting dots as logically as I can from the information provided.
But from what I know, and from what I have seen of the Cubs in all my years, there is starting to be a little room for optimism. I’ll just sit here in my mother’s basement and continue to cross my fingers that the trend arrow keeps point up for awhile.