This is one of those topics people are either going to embrace or shun, with the latter response based on the headline alone, but maybe some of you will find something interesting. Or maybe I’m just talking to myself again, which is pretty much how this whole site works anyway. Now that the big managerial fuss has died down a little, it’s time for Jed Hoyer to get down to the real work of the offseason.
He’s like a contractor in that regard, building out a house based on the blueprints he and the rest of his front office have designed. But the thing is, he doesn’t get to set the budget. If the cost of lumber goes up, he needs to get approval to spend more. And if he feels the kitchen really needs Italian marble countertops, he’ll need to convince the owner that it’s the right call.
“Tom has shown over and over that he’s willing to pay for talent,” Hoyer told Patrick Mooney and other reporters. “We have a robust front office. He paid Theo at the top of the scale. He’s paying Craig at the top of the scale. To me, the most important thing is he lets me make decisions. If I bring something to him and I have conviction, he asks a lot of good questions, but he doesn’t say no (to anything within reason). If I bring him something I have conviction on, he’s great about it.”
Wait, did he just sneakily ask for a raise in there? I know it’s more a matter of Hoyer simply not alluding to his own salary, but it is funny that he specifically mentioned Theo Epstein, who was reportedly earning $10 million a year for his role as president of baseball operations before ceding control to his longtime understudy. Though this surely isn’t how he said it, the whole thing reads differently if you put the emphasis on “Theo” there.
In any case, the point is that Hoyer is indicating ownership is indeed willing to spend while also putting the onus for any big offseason moves squarely on his own shoulders. If Tom Ricketts truly stays out of the actual decision-making and it really is just a matter of Hoyer presenting a case with conviction, it stands to reason that the relative lack of more needle-moving deals in this regime’s tenure can’t be blamed on the folks in the ivory tower.
Of course, nothing is that simple and it would be naive to view this as a situation in which Ricketts is ready to rubber-stamp anything Hoyer is excited about. The truth of the matter is that the front office is given a budget each season, within which Hoyer can basically do whatever he wants. When it comes to exceeding that budget, particularly if it means pushing into tax penalty territory, there’d better be a damn strong case for why it makes sense.
The good thing about the new manager is that his salary, while still the responsibility of baseball operations, doesn’t count toward the competitive balance tax level. Just because I’ve seen it more than once, the money the Cubs are paying Counsell has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to re-sign Cody Bellinger or pursue any other free agent targets.
“Jed gave me a call at the end of the month and just said, ‘Hey, we might have a chance to talk to Counsell,'” Ricketts explained. “I said, ‘Well, that’s your call. Whatever you think is right for the team.’ And it came together pretty quick after that.
“We’re going into my 15th season. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s you just do everything you can to take opportunities to try to get better. ”
I’m gonna go ahead and call bullshit on that last line because it’s simply not true, and even the most devoted members of the bucket brigade carrying water for ownership would have a hard time defending it. Maybe if he’d added some qualifiers like cost and revenue streams, it would ring a bit less hollow. To that end, I do think the Cubs are in a better place financially than they were three years ago when the seams were starting to pull apart.
Marquee Sports Network launched during 2020 spring training and then promptly became an afterthought as programming went from live broadcasts to nostalgia porn when the league shut down. Disputes with providers prevented the carriage shortages they’d vowed to avoid starting more than five years before Marquee launched, leaving millions in the Chicagoland area without access.
By the time the biggest of those issues were resolved, many had found they didn’t miss the games quite as much as they thought they would. Or maybe it’s more fair to say they didn’t miss Cubs broadcasts enough to switch cable providers or pay for a higher service tier. It didn’t help that the Cubs weren’t playing a very exciting brand of baseball, plus Marquee’s app was clunky and inconsistent. Thankfully, the Bears and White Sox have been there the whole time to prevent the Cubs from looking quite so bad.
Marquee now has a better app and a direct-to-consumer streaming service that allows cord-cutters or those without the channel on their cable/satellite package to watch games. With all the Bally RSNs crumbling across the country due to bloated debt and a laughable business model, the Cubs are looking better every day. Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney and Marquee GM Mike McCarthy are basically Forrest Gump Lieutenant Dan after the hurricane knocked out every other shrimpin’ boat in Bayou La Batre.
The real windfall is on the horizon as MLB continues to evolve in its blackout and streaming restrictions, the removal of which could see Marquee turn into the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s why we can’t view the recent past as being predictive of the future. Hell, it doesn’t even need to be recent. The Cubs have never guaranteed a player more than $184 million, yet two of the free agents they’re connected to are expected to exceed that amount easily.
You can’t just look at the Cubs’ estimated value and say they should be spending like the Mets because net worth isn’t nearly the same thing as available cash. Remember the whole thing about the Padres having to take out a $50 million loan to make payroll? Ricketts has been handcuffed to an extent by those same issues, though the potential to generate massive revenues by putting a megastar on their flagship streaming service might convince Papa Joe to open the vault.
Of course, it’s entirely possible the Cubs miss out on the biggest free agents this winter for one reason or another. Maybe their unwillingness to spend what it takes really will be a factor. Lord knows it’ll be a common refrain in the comments section. I guess I’m just gullible enough to remain open to the possibility that shifting circumstances may yield an unprecedented move.