The year after the Ricketts family took control of the Cubs, their opening-day payroll was reportedly over $144 million. It was under $110 million this year.
Oddly, I haven't been bothered by the Ricketts' penny-pinching, and not because I want to see them line their pockets or because I feel sorry for their struggles getting Wrigley Field renovated. With where the team has been directionally since they have taken over — bad, and getting worse — splurging in free agency hasn't made a lot of sense. I'm OK with payroll shredding with a pair of big ifs — IF resources are being heavily invested in the future, and IF the Ricketts will spend big when the times is right.
On point two, I have my doubts, but I guess we can do nothing but take the Ricketts at their word that they will dig deep to make the Cubs a championship caliber team. On point one, they earned a lot of favor with me by hiring Theo Epstein and company and committing to a full-scale rebuilding project instead of half-heartedly patching things up to try and keep the park filled.
With that said, the Cubs haven't been a lot of fun to watch and follow this season. I knew they'd be bad. They've been worse than I imagined. I liked the front office's first offseason, but so far, most of its big acquisitions — Chris Volstad, Travis Wood and Ian Stewart, to name three — haven't worked out very well. With Anthony Rizzo still in Triple-A, there's very, very little to be excited about. Most Cubs fans are trying to be patient, but some are already declaring they're fed up. Even though I could care less about 2012 and absolutely think the front office should worry only about the future, part of me does feel like this is a team and an organization that is in need of some sort of excitement.
You know what would excite me? The Cubs winning the bidding war for Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler. The 20-year-old outfielder would immediately rank among the top prospects in the Cubs' system if he were brought aboard (maybe even as the top prospect). It would be like adding another high first-round draft pick, with no penalty other than the (many million) dollars he is paid in free agency. Soler does not count against the draft cap, nor does he could against the international cap Major League Baseball will soon impose.
The bidding for Soler is sure to get a little silly. So get a little silly. Obviously there is a line somewhere that the Cubs shouldn't cross when it comes to paying a guy who may or may not ever turn into anything at all. But this is a rare oppourtunity — with the new spending rules, opportunites like this may never happen again — to add elite young talent at the price of nothing else but money. Money is something with which the Cubs, who haven't been spending on their big-league club, should be willing to part.