Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Ricketts talks free agency, Theo and more
By Bruce Levine
If Theo Epstein wants to sign Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, Tom Ricketts has his support.
Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts met with reporters on Tuesday and touched on a variety of subjects.
On going after a big-ticket free agents: "Like I've always said, there is one person making decisions and one person accountable for those results [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] so if he believes strongly that's in the best interest of the team he has my support."
On the new collective bargaining agreement and cap on draft spending: "People knew this was an issue that would be discussed in the new CBA. I was personally surprised how far it went. I thought there would be some changes [to the draft] but it's a big shift, a bigger shift than expected. So we knew it was a possibility this would come in but it's Theo and [general manager] Jed's [Hoyer] decision how to allocate the money. But it will have an effect because they will only have a certain amount of dollars to allocate for the draft."
On the Cubs' 2012 baseball budget: "I think it will be comparable to 2011. Our economics are about the same as last year. Nothing has really changed dramatically on that front.
On a Carlos Zambrano return: "What Theo said publicly is that he would give Carlos a chance to earn his way back on to the team. It's Theo's decision, and I support it 100 percent. We will let things develop over the next few months and hopefully that gets back to a place that works for everybody."
On Wrigley renovation and ticket tax relief: "There is nothing really too dramatic to report on the stadium issue. We are still talking to all the elected officials that might have a role in helping us to really get a real renovation done. It's incumbent on everybody, and it's a real win-win in that it allows us to get the dollars in the pot to really renovate it. That's really meaningful for the long term. But right now there is nothing concrete at this point. Every level of government is behind the eight ball so you have to be sensitive to the issues they've got on their own budgets and balance sheets."
On meeting with new manager Dale Sveum for the first time: "We met in Milwaukee and had a couple of beers. We just talked for awhile. There was no litmus test question that I wanted to hear answered. I would be supportive of what the baseball guys wanted. I just thought it was a good idea to sit down with him and talk to him a little bit. I was very impressed. When you talk baseball with him he has a real deep understanding and looks at things very thoughtfully. I think this will be a great fit for us."
Ricketts knew quickly that his GM search would start and end with Theo Epstein.
On hiring Epstein: After we parted company with [former GM] Jim [Hendry] we took a couple of analysts [Ari Kaplan and Steve Walters]. We asked them to analyze the teams in terms of records and how they won. We wanted to know how many dollars they spent in getting those wins and also how they developed players and the number of players they produced that are bona fide prospects. While they worked on that I made about 20 calls to owners, agents and asked them who would they want if they were hiring a general manager. At the end of the process, Theo's name just kept coming up, and it was the obvious choice for us. I talked to a lot of people during the process but as far as interviewing for the GM job, it was one stop. I interviewed Theo. At the end of August and September, Theo was the first choice. If he wasn't available we would have moved on to other names on the list."
On why he gave Epstein a president title: "I did see that he had a comment to one of the papers in August about someday moving on and wanting a bigger title. So I said to myself, 'You know what? That makes sense to make him president of baseball [operations]. Everything would flow up to him. He could build his own team beneath him so I was comfortable with that. It made sense for us to make an overture for him to be president. It's a promotion."
On gauging Epstein's availability with Boston: That was the biggest risk because you have to make a phone call before you know. We asked the Red Sox for permission, but they could have just said no. But it was my gut that after everything he had accomplished in Boston [the Cubs job] would be the next great challenge for him. Within a few minutes of talking to him I felt this was the right guy for us. Obviously the track record is terrific. The recommendations of people from the industry were terrific. I just wanted to make sure as a person he was someone I could work with. And you can kind of tell in a short period of time when he came in he was very low key. Very thoughtful, very team-oriented. All the things I thought would be great for us in building a great baseball culture, so it all kind of fit."
On the status of compensation with Boston for Epstein: "It's my understanding that those kind of compensation issues are typically resolved in the future. I don't think we did anything out of the ordinary."
On Ryne Sandberg's place in the organization: Ryne will always be a Cub. He will always be welcome to all of our events. He will always be a part of the Cub family. I don't think anything that's happening right now will change that."
On Ron Santo's possible induction to the Hall of Fame: Ron belongs in the Hall of Fame. We will do everything we can to get the message out to the people who make the decision. We are hopeful that they will see it that way this weekend [a 16-man committee comprised of Hall of Famers, executives and media will vote on the Golden Era ballot. Santo is one of 10 on the ballot. An announcement will come on Dec. 5 if any of the players get at least 75 percent of the vote.]
On winning in 2012: "Of course we can win in 2012. If you get 25 guys working hard and staying healthy, baseball tells you anything can happen. We will see how the offseason goes. I imagine we will be right in it next year."