The Wrigley Field renovation proposal that was agreed to by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Tom Tunney does not address how soon the baseball department headed by Theo Epstein will be able to add significant free agents.
During Tom Ricketts press conference at Wrigley on Monday morning the question of how quickly the team can spend as freely as other big-market clubs was asked.
"What we are doing to the park has two elements," Ricketts said. "The first element is to preserve and improve Wrigley. We need to add a lot of steel, electricity and plumbing just to make sure the park is here for the next 50 years. The second element is to make the park more economically efficient. To make it more financially efficient so we can take those dollars and put them back to work on the field."
Ricketts said extra dollars would be generated for the baseball department but did not clarify when. He said the entire renovation will take five offseasons to complete.
"We anticipate it will be helpful to get financial flexibility to the baseball team before the end of the five-year term and process," Ricketts said. "We will see that sooner I am sure."
Epstein and his baseball people may want to know how soon. Certainly the fan base could waver if it takes five years to put a championship product on the field . A report in the Sun-Times last week reported a disconnect between the baseball and business departments of the Cubs . Ricketts vehemently denied that allegation.
"I think that is absolutely untrue," he said. "There is not a (business) proposal or plan that we have not worked with the baseball side. Everyone knows the projections and everyone knows what we are going through. We are working very closely with them."
The Cubs payroll has dropped $40 million since 2008, the last season the team was in the playoffs. Although many small market teams like Tampa and Oakland stay competitive with small payrolls, that type of process takes many years of losing to develop top farm system players. Those small market clubs do not charge $125 for their best box seats or average $53 a ticket sold.
The Cubs may be strapped for cash only for a few short years. The renovation of the ballpark will cost $300 million as a Ricketts LLC will pay $200 million for the new hotel with separate funds. A new television deal will be negotiated in the next six years that should add $4 billion or $5 billion over 20 years. The new electronic scoreboard could generate upwards of $20 million in revenue each year. A former top Cub official confirmed that the Red Sox were bringing in $25 million in scoreboard advertising revenue after they won the World Series in 2004. Another baseball source said that the Cubs must pay $40 million a year over 15 years in debt service for their purchase of the Cubs in 2009.
As to when the Cubs baseball plan will be ready to compete and win every season, it will depend on Epstein and company’s talent evaluation and Ricketts eventual willingness to spend freely for top talent.