Edwin Jackson is a sign of the Cubs’ times
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com April 2, 2013 9:05PM
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Edwin Jackson throws to the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Mesa, Ariz., Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) ORG XMIT: AZCC102
The facts: 6:05, CSN, 720-AM.
The pitchers: Edwin Jackson
(10-11, 4.03 ERA) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.76).
Updated: April 2, 2013 10:58PM
PITTSBURGH — For nine years in Boston, Theo Epstein ran one of baseball’s big-market teams. He spent heavily on amateur players, made bold, expensive moves — and mistakes — with free agents, won two championships and never finished worse than 10 games over .500.
On Wednesday, Cubs fans get their first glimpse at how effective he is at running a mid-market team.
That’s when Epstein’s first big free agent as Cubs president, Edwin Jackson, faces the Pirates in his first regular-season start since signing a four-year, $52 million deal in January.
The thought behind signing Jackson was to assure the Cubs have at least two established, reliable starters in the rotation (the other being Jeff Samardzija) next year and beyond as they try to construct a competitive core.
The front office doesn’t believe the farm system has an impact starting pitcher any closer to the majors than Class A.
But the signing of Jackson and the pursuit of free agent Anibal Sanchez beforehand also shows how the Cubs are forced to do baseball business as ownership focuses more on revenue-growing schemes while servicing the heaviest debt in the game.
With projected big-ticket contracts a few years away, Jackson was given an $8 million signing bonus up front, keeping his annual salaries at a presumably below-market $11 million each year.
It’s the kind of move usually made by lower-market clubs with less revenue than the Cubs, whose payroll ranks 13th in the majors, according to USA Today’s annual Opening Day list.
It also suggests a potentially longer process for the rebuilding than some might have thought when Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took over 18 months ago.
Epstein seemed to acknowledge the limitations when he spoke Monday in support of the business side’s efforts to get restrictions in and around Wrigley Field lifted to allow for more revenue streams.
“I think it’s fundamentally important to get us to the next level as an organization,” Epstein said. “We have a baseball plan and we have a business plan, and they’re timed to sync up with one another.
“They’re interdependent, and if we don’t get our Wrigley renovation done in a timely manner and done the right way, then we can’t accomplish our business objectives, and that will certainly get in the way of us ultimately accomplishing our baseball objectives.”
This is a club with the third-highest ticket prices in the game, according to Team Marketing Report. A recent Forbes report listed the Cubs as the fourth-most valuable franchise and as the most profitable team in the game.
The bottom line: The Cubs are seeking at least short strides in becoming competitive again while operating on an unusually thin budget for a market Chicago’s size.
When chairman Tom Ricketts said in February that Tribune Co. payrolls in the years leading up to the sale were “unsustainable,” it wasn’t so much a statement of fact as a comment on the way the family has chosen to do business.
Commissioner Bud Selig said through a spokesman that MLB has no problem with the Cubs’ debt, despite the fact it puts the Cubs in violation of baseball’s debt-service rules.
The bigger, historical issue for fans — specifically, paying customers — is the Cubs have become the first major-market franchise in three decades of the free-agency era to intentionally and transparently undergo a youth-driven, multiyear rebuilding process.
The Cubs’ victory Monday marked just the third time since the Ricketts family took ownership that the team finished the day with a winning record. If the Cubs win Wednesday, they would be two games above .500 for the first time since that highly leveraged sale.
Selig was asked by the Sun-Times during recent quarterly owners meetings in Chicago about concerns that such an iconic and high-revenue franchise would choose that route while continuing to charge such high prices.
“There are different ways to try to compete, and sometimes you’ve got to be realistic,” Selig said. “I can’t be critical. If I was running the franchise, I would follow that pattern to a T.”
NOTE: The Cubs signed outfielder Ryan Sweeney, 28, to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Class AAA Iowa. The left-handed hitter was released by the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. Sweeney, a second-round draft pick of the White Sox in 2003, is a career .280 hitter.