Ricketts family has a lot to consider

August, 16, 2011
8/16/11
2:13
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Tom RickettsAP Photo/Matt YorkOne of the first decisions Tom Ricketts has to make is what to do with Jim Hendry.
While the players association and Major League Baseball lawyers try to figure out who will pay Carlos Zambrano $700,000 a week not to pitch, Chicago Cubs ownership -- led by Tom Ricketts -- has bigger decisions to deal with as he looks to solve the team's future on the baseball and business side.

As reported by ESPNChicago.com on Monday, Ricketts will address some of his plans in the next 7-10 days.

On the baseball front, Cubs ownership has to decide whether its front office led by GM Jim Hendry will stay intact for the 2012 season. All 90 people in baseball operations are loyal to the Cubs, but more importantly to Hendry, who has been responsible for their hiring over the past nine seasons.

Ricketts just finished a tour of the minor league affiliates for the second year in a row. It appears now he has a better sense for how the baseball side of the business operates.

However, rumors of him having talked to former Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes and Philadelphia special adviser Pat Gillick have surfaced through the baseball season. Ricketts insiders insist the Cubs chairman never has talked to Gillick.

Hendry's record includes working for three different owners in four years going into 2009. He bounced from the Tribune Co. to Sam Zell to Ricketts family ownership over that period of time.

The perception that Hendry wasted money on salaries that didn't work out is part fact and part fiction. Certainly the free-agent signings of Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley go on the wrong side of the voucher for Hendry. But the Cubs GM was given a mandate by Zell and then-president John McDonough to spend a lot of money on free agents after a horrific 2006 season.

Zell's perspective was that he wanted the team at top-player and top-performance mode in order to sell the franchise at a peak, which of course he did at $855 million while retaining five percent.

Hendry was negotiating a contact with Alfonso Soriano before getting on a plane in California and landing in Chicago to find out that the six-year deal he was offering turned into eight years, $136 million and that his bosses agreed to the deal.

Whether or not the five-year, $91.5 million extension Zambrano signed in 2007, and Soriano's deal will be held against Hendry, the Cubs have managed to lower payroll over the last two seasons, even with escalating contracts of the team's veterans.

Once Ricketts decides to retain Hendry or let him go, it's assumed he'll discuss the business side with the fan base. Cubs ticket prices are the third-highest in baseball at $53 on average.

However after two down seasons where interest has dropped off, ownership is concerned about the secondary market where season ticket holders have been selling tickets on Stub Hub for discounted prices. The Stub Hub deal allows season ticket holders to sell their tickets at above or below the face value. In 2011, this has created a mini disaster for the Cubs and other teams, where some tickets priced at $100 have sold as low as $10 on the website. MLB's deal with Stub Hub has one more year to run. Baseball probably would prefer a deal similar to the NFL's, which allows a secondary market for season ticket holders that can't be sold for less than face value of the ticket.

The good news for the Ricketts family is it has new facilities in Arizona and the Domincan Republic, as well as plans to renovate Wrigley Field. The renovation itself to the 97-year-old facility is estimated at between $250 million and $300 million.

Ricketts has a lot to be proud of as the Cubs still average 38,000 fans per game. However the no-show factor impacts the team greatly. Every time a ticket buyer takes a pass on going to the game, the Cubs lose an average of $50 per head in food, beverage and souvenir sales. Tom Ricketts and his family enjoyed a team over .500 for only two days in the two years they've owned the team. That's hardly the vision they had when plunking $425 million in cash as a down payment on the team in 2009.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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