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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Ricketts' selling points to Epstein

By Bruce Levine

Tom Ricketts
Tom Ricketts may have to be creative when pitching the Cubs to Theo Epstein.
If the Boston Red Sox allow their general manager Theo Epstein to interview with the Chicago Cubs, what will Tom Ricketts' selling points be for a team that finished fifth in the mediocre National League Central the last two seasons?

Money -- as in payroll -- will be an issue, it always is. In 2011, the Cubs had a $131 million payroll, down $14 million from 2010. If the team does not bring back Aramis Ramirez or Carlos Pena -- and with the expiring contracts of Carlos Silva, Kosuke Fukudome and John Grabow -- it will lop off almost $53 million. That will bring the Cubs' commitment for 2012 to $78 million. That flexibility is a selling point for Epstein or for anyone else who interviews.

Rickets stated before the last game of the season that the overall baseball budget will remain the same, estimated at $200 million. That is the total amount spent on operations of the baseball department.

Although it appears to be a weak free agent market beyond Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and pitcher C.J.. Wilson, the Cubs' new GM will have great flexibility in the coming seasons to bid on free agents, make trades and sign players in Latin American and the Pacific Rim without being encumbered by a maxed out payroll.

After 2012 another $32 million will come off the books from the contracts of Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

If and when Epstein sits down with Ricketts and president Crane Kenney he will want to know more about the minor league system. That will be key as to how the team will spend its money over the next couple of seasons. The organization feels center fielder Brett Jackson will make it to the major leagues out of spring training. Epstein can look at Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and one of the young catchers, along with Jackson, to give them a good-looking nucleus.

The Cubs' No. 1 objective in the offseason will be fortifying the starting pitching staff that was near the bottom of the league in ERA all season.

The minor league system has some prospects, although tall the pitching in Double A and Triple A either had injury prone seasons or down years.

The Cubs have a storied franchise and ballpark to offer, as well as a new owner who appears to want a winner on the field while having an eye for a progressive business plan as well.

The next step is Boston's. We should know in the next 24 hours if Epstein will be allowed to interview. The Cubs' fan base is in need of some hope for the future, brining in a GM like Epstein who won two world championships is a nice selling point when the team is looking for a renewal on season ticket packages.

The last time the Cubs hired a GM who won two world championship, it took five years to win a wild card berth and 10 years to get to the NLCS. That was under Andy MacPhail's regime. Perhaps, Epstein will expedite the process.