The Rundown: Ricketts Embracing ‘Strive for 85’ Mentality, Baseball Budget Not Expanding, Counsell Focusing on Current Roster

Yesterday was a red-letter day for Cubs fans hoping that Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins are working to improve the roster. I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes in case you missed the rapid-fire pace of yesterday’s news and Chicago’s “Strive for 85” roster construction policy:

  • Team owner and chairman Tom Ricketts said the Cubs haven’t had any concrete negotiations with Cody Bellinger, but we knew that. The big guy also said he doesn’t negotiate with Scott Boras, something the super agent subsequently questioned.
  • Ricketts doesn’t see the baseball budget expanding unless the team finds new revenue streams. Chicago’s projected CBT payroll is currently about $208 million, well below the initial threshold of $237 million for the 2024 season. He also said that the Cubs should be able to win the NL Central with their current payroll.
  • The organization wants to see an ongoing balance between proven production and opportunities for prospects.
  • Mr. Ricketts believes Hoyer had a banner offseason and the club is positioned to be better than last year. He also cited the 84-win Diamondbacks as the primary reason the team has spent enough this offseason.
  • Ricketts and Hoyer trust that new manager Craig Counsell will get the Cubs back into the playoffs.
  • The front office quickly pivoted to a strategy that will seem very familiar to Cubs fans by signing Dominic Smith and David Peralta to minor league deals. Both have been on Chicago’s radar since well before the pandemic. If it looks and smells like Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini, you get the picture. Perhaps that means Pete Alonso will join the Cubs in 2034.
  • The Cubs also signed RHP JC Coronado, who has pitched to a 14.92 ERA across 11 games in the Pioneer League. No offense to Coronado, but that’s akin to buying a town named Schitt’s Creek as a birthday present joke for your only son.
  • The team’s marketing department debuted its 2024 slogan and quickly did an about (red) face. You’ll have to “C” it to believe it. Why not go with #Strivefor85? Rhymin’ Ernie Banks would be proud.

Ricketts has an incredible, albeit wishy-washy, knack for rubbing Cubs fans the wrong way while simultaneously taking all of the joy out of baseball. I’d love to give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s nothing more than gamesmanship to panic Boras and Bellinger. It’s not, though. Boras never panics and Ricketts has steered us into the same painted-on tunnel that disguises the brick wall he’s deftly hidden. He doesn’t move as fast as the Roadrunner, but he’s equally smug.

What can we take from all of this? Ricketts is too strapped financially to spend but the organization remains too profitable for him to sell. Let me put it into precise paradoxical nomenclature:

“The following sentence is the truth. The previous sentence is a lie.”

I’ll sit here and wait for your head to explode.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Dumb & Dumber, you’re keenly aware of the scene where the two protagonists make the most annoying sound in the world. Ricketts topped that yesterday to the disgust of most Cubs fans. We didn’t want to believe that Hoyer hired Counsell strictly to lead Chicago’s youth movement, but that’s exactly what has happened. Enjoy your ride on the 85-win express and put that Bellinger jersey in mothballs.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

I can neither confirm nor deny that that’s Hawkins in a blue shirt hiding behind the maple tree.

Climbing the Ladder

Here are Bellinger’s 2023 stats, and what the Cubs can expect in ’24 by replacing him with Busch and Crow-Armstrong, using an aggregate of several projection models.

  • Bellinger: .307/.356/.881 95 runs, 26 homers, 97 RBI, 20 SB.
  • Crow-Armstrong: .245/.324/.742/54/10/45/24.
  • Busch: .237/.316/.715/63/17/60/3.

To put things in perspective, the Cubs had a league-average OPS in 2023 and have done nothing to improve that. Keep in mind that’s the stats of two players replacing the production of one. The difference will have to be made up by more consistent years from Morel, Swanson, Ian Happ, and Seiya Suzuki.

If you are looking for a silver lining, the Cubs have a much deeper roster than last season, and their bullpen is stronger.

Central Intelligence

Spring Training News & Notes

Luxury tax implications will make it very difficult for the Yankees to sign Blake Snell. New York will have to pay a 110% tax on Snell’s contract if they sign him.

The Lerner family is no longer pursuing a sale of the Nationals.

Bryce Harper is embracing his move to first base so much that he’s expecting the Phillies to negotiate a contract extension. Harper still has eight years left on the 13/$330 million deal he signed in 2019.

Whit Merrifield signed with the Phillies because he wants to win a World Series.

Mike Trout said he doesn’t want the Angels to trade him because that would be “taking the easy way out.”

Trout is open to a trade but prefers to remain loyal to the organization that drafted him. The Angels did select Randal Grichuk one pick ahead of Trout…just saying.

White Sox regulars Luis Robert Jr., Yoán Moncada, and Eloy Jiménez have set goals to play 150+ games apiece.

Extra Innings

Nico Hoerner is in mid-season form, at least defensively.

They Said It

  • “I don’t talk to Scott. One of his signature moves is to go talk to the owner. When you do that, you undermine the credibility of your GM. Inserting yourself into that negotiation, I don’t think that helps. I don’t talk to him.” – Ricketts
  • “When Cody was a free agent last year the Cubs engaged and were very aggressive in their pursuit. And their process is no different this year. So I am not clear as to what Tom is suggesting.” – Boras
  • “You guys can kind of forget, we do have a lot of revenue, but we pay a lot in taxes, we pay $20 million a year keeping the ballpark together. We have a lot of expenses other teams don’t. We’re right there around CBT levels. That was kind of our natural place for us and that should be enough to win our division and be consistent every year. That’s the beauty of baseball. You don’t have to have the highest payroll or the biggest stars. If you’re playing well, anybody can beat anybody. I was happy for the Diamondbacks.” – Ricketts
  • “We’re just waiting. Waiting for whenever [Bellinger and Boras] are going to engage. It could be any time now or it could be a few weeks. We’ll see where it goes.” – Ricketts

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

The song of this winter, at least for a large portion of baseball fans.

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