Ricketts spends freely on draft picks

HOUSTON -- It didn’t take Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts long to let the fan base see his commitment to the future.

The Cubs spent $12 million signing draft picks this summer, including a $2.662 million payout to No. 1 pick Javier Baez, an infielder, and $2.5 million to No. 14 pick Dillon Maples, a right-handed pitcher.

Ricketts, who is expected to speak about the near future of the team within the week, is following through on the first speech he made after buying the Cubs. The Cubs owner said then that he would put his future profits back into the team. In this case, Ricketts redirected the bulk of the money that he cut from the 2011 payroll ($144 million in 2010 and $130 in 2011) to the team’s draft picks.

Scouting director Tim Wilken called this year’s draft the best that he’s had since taking the position in 2006.

“Spending-wise, this year we are in the top third of baseball instead of the bottom third like we’ve been in the past,” Wilkens said.

In the past, the Cubs had never spent more than $6 million dollars in one year on any draft, although Mark Prior received $10.8 million over four years in 2000.

Wilkens said that Ricketts has a mandate to the Cubs that begins with scouting and development.

With a new collective bargaining agreement on the table between the Players Association and MLB, baseball people are unclear if a slotting system, in which each player drafted would receive comparable money to the others selected in his round, may be negotiated as part of the deal.

“I think if it’s the same draft or similar, Tom would be (spending a lot of money) because that’s been his stance all along,” Wilkens said. “That’s been his stance all along, to build the organization up. I think he truly believes in that and I know I do.”

The Cubs signed 20 of their top 22 picks, including Shawon Dunston Jr., an outfielder out of Northern California. Dunston is the son of former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston, who was the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 1982.

For the Cubs, Maples was the sleeper in the draft. Ricketts got involved in the negotiations because he had heard about the North Carolina native’s upside.

The Cubs drafted Maples knowing there was a possibility he would go to North Carolina and kick for the football team. Before the draft, Maples’ representatives were telling teams that he wouldn’t sign for less than $3.5 million.

The Cubs feel that they got a first-round quality pick by signing Maples.

Earlier in the week, Trevor Gretzky, son of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, signed a $375,000 contract with the Cubs. He had originally committed to San Diego State.