All the signs have been pointing to the Cubs spending serious money on player personnel this offseason, and now we have a report about them increasing their investment in baseball operations as a whole. As skeptical as some fans have been about talk of a return to pre-pandemic budgetary levels, ownership has little other choice at this point. It’s clear that people aren’t willing to pay premium prices to fill Wrigley Field when the team, which creates a problem for an organization that relies so heavily on gameday activity.
Their paid attendance figure of 2.6 million means they saw about half a million fewer attendees than in 2016-19. At an average ticket price of around $60, we’re looking at $30 million in lost revenue. And if we figure that the paid figure is inflated to the tune of maybe 300,000-500,000 — only around 3,700-6,200 fans per game — we get another $10-20 million less in concessions and so forth.
Factor in the lack of postseason gate and subsequent spending around Rickettsville and you can see how fielding a less competitive team doesn’t necessarily provide a path to wealth. Some fans will keep showing up no matter what, but it’s been pretty clear for a while now that the Cubs are going to have to be competitive again in short order.
The most obvious way to make that happen is by increasing the baseball operations budget, something Jed Hoyer, Tom Ricketts, and Crane Kenney have all said independently will be the case. As easy as it is to dismiss all of that as lip service, additional news about how the organization is ramping things up across the baseball ops landscape lends a great deal of credence to the notion Hoyer will absolutely have a much bigger balance from which to write checks this winter.
You’ll want to set aside some time to digest the latest piece from Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney for The Athletic, a sprawling — in the best possible way — look inside the Cubs’ ongoing rebuild. Tucked among notes on upgrades and advances in their training facilities, proprietary database, and player development was this very promising information about the team’s spending on baseball ops across the entire organization.
By the end of this winter, the headcount in baseball operations is expected to return to the pre-pandemic-layoffs level, according to a source with knowledge of the team’s staffing outlook. The Cubs are also working on a facilities plan to upgrade both their academy in the Dominican Republic, which opened in 2013, as well as their Arizona complex, which opened in 2014. Those plans envision new pitching and hitting labs at the Dominican academy, investments to mirror the team’s setup in Mesa and streamline approaches in player development. The Cubs recently promoted Dustin Kelly to field coordinator while elevating Pollakov and Rachel Folden to co-hitting coordinators, recognition for their work with a rising group of young hitters.
The Cubs are expanding their innovative offseason-long program for prospects at the Mesa complex, inviting roughly 60 players and covering the costs of housing, transportation and meals. That line item is projected to be north of $1 million, according to a source familiar with the budgeting process. That is, of course, relative pennies for a multibillion-dollar franchise, but also reflective of the ownership group’s willingness to grant latitude to baseball operations and approve expenditures that are outside industry norms.
This may be as clear a sign as any to this point that ownership is indeed willing to invest heavily in making the Cubs competitive again. While many of us don’t believe things had to happen the way they did, the team dialed back spending as a function of both the pandemic — slashing jobs in scouting and player development — and a need to reconfigure myriad internal functions. Once those things were back in order, the money pipeline can be opened once again.
Or so we hope. What’s really promising is that the foundation that is still in the process of curing appears to be much sturdier than the hastily poured version from a few years ago. If things go according to plan this time, we shouldn’t be sitting here a decade from now wondering why the Cubs are repeating the same cycle yet again.