How Much Will Wrigley Field Renovations Help Chicago Cubs' World Series Quest?
The Chicago Cubs announced on Monday that they have reached an agreement with the city of Chicago on a proposed $500 million renovation to Wrigley Field, the team's home ballpark since 1916.
There are still some details that need to be worked out, but Cubs owner Tom Ricketts went ahead and used the deal as a platform for a bold promise.
"If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our fans and our city," Ricketts said, via Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.
While Ricketts' guarantee is all well and good, ending the Cubs' 104-year World Series drought is going to require more than just a $500 million facelift for Wrigley Field. It still comes down to the Cubs changing themselves as an organization.
The renovations to Wrigley can only help the ultimate goal, particularly the renovations that the Cubs have planned for what's under the hood.
Muskat wrote that the "top priority" is to renovate the home clubhouse and facilities. If you scroll through the gallery of concept illustrations courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, you'll get a glimpse of what the organization has in mind.
One of the bigger changes involves putting batting cages where Cubs players can access them during games. They can't do that now, as the batting cages are located under the bleachers. In-game batting practice for Cubs hitters involves a tee and a screen that drops down from the ceiling in the clubhouse.
Ricketts hit the nail on the head in detailing this upgrade:
We don't want to be telling our players this is a first-class organization and give them second-rate facilities. It's not just how it looks and how it feels but how it works. We'd like to get batting cages built, better training facilities built. The ability to do that will be subject to how quickly the process moves.
The whole idea is to make the Cubs a better team, and the reason these changes could help push the Cubs in that direction is simple: They can only make Cubs players better.
The new clubhouse looks considerably more comfortable than the basement-like clubhouse the Cubs have now.
Making the training facilities more modern addresses a concern expressed by former Cubs manager Dusty Baker to Mike Dodd of USA Today back in 2010. He noted that modern training facilities help injured players get back on the field quicker.
By that same token, updated facilities will help keep Cubs players fresher for longer. The renovations could render Cubs players more ready, willing and able to compete in October.
It's not just the renovations themselves that could keep Cubs players fresher for longer. Part of the organization's agreement with the city of Chicago is that the Cubs will now be allowed to play more night games at home during the season, potentially as many as 40 (up from their current cap of 30).
Day baseball is a time-honored Wrigley Field tradition, but it's a disadvantage for the players. Former Cubs great Kerry Wood was upfront about that in an interview with CSN Chicago last year, remarking that so many day games are especially draining for position players.
The renovations to Wrigley Field obviously have financial ramifications as well. Things like more signage around the ballpark, a brand new 6,000-square-foot jumbotron and various upgrades here and there will mean more revenue for the Cub to invest in marquee talent.
"It's my responsibility to generate as much revenue as I can to give to the guys in the baseball organization so they can put that back on the field to make us more competitive," Ricketts said. "This is a big step in that direction."
More revenue is never a bad thing. But as things pertain to the Cubs snapping the "Curse of the Billy Goat," more money isn't necessarily going to be a game-changer.
It's not like we're talking about a poor ballclub. The Cubs have always had a large and loyal fanbase feeding them dollars, and the club had payrolls well north of $100 million four years in a row between 2008 and 2011 (see: Cot's Baseball Contracts).
The Cubs' payroll has been down the last two years as the club has sought to rebuild, but business has been just fine. Per Forbes' MLB organization valuations, the Cubs were the most profitable team in baseball last year.
If the plan is to use these extra funds to buy up free agents to push the team toward its long-overdue World Series title, the organization must keep things in perspective.
The Cubs haven't had the best luck with high-priced free agents, most notably Alfonso Soriano, who the team signed him to a eight-year contract worth $136 million before the 2007 season. Since then, he has served as a reminder that big free-agent contracts can weigh down a franchise.
That's always going to be a danger with free agents. Most players hit the market close to the age of 30, and that's right around when players peak. Anything after 30 is the danger zone.
There's also the reality that so many star players are signing extensions these days. The upshot of that both now and in the long run is fewer and fewer stars testing the free-agent waters.
This isn't to say that the Cubs shouldn't be willing to augment their roster with whatever free-agent stars are available when additional money to play with thanks to the renovations is a reality. But before the Cubs get to that point, they actually need to build a roster worth augmenting.
That means staying the course.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein promised (via ESPNChicago.com) a "foundation for sustained success" when he was hired in 2011, and that foundation is still taking shape. He's still building a prospect pipeline that will hopefully provide the big league roster with talent and the front office with trade chips.
To see this thing through to the end, Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of the front office still have a lot of decisions to make. For the curse to be snapped, these decisions must be good decisions.
That's what's going to have to change in the land of the Cubs. This is, after all, an organization that has a history of poor decision-making. Things like that tend to keep World Series victories well out of reach.
The renovations to the clubhouse and the facilities are going to help the baseball side of things, and the renovations elsewhere are going to help the business side of things. But the Cubs winning the World Series is going to come down to the baseball minds, and nothing that happens to Wrigley Field is going to make them any smarter.
So take Ricketts' latest guarantee for what it's worth. Renovating Wrigley Field doesn't make the Cubs destined to win the World Series. It's just part of a much larger effort.
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