Spending-challenged Cubs, White Sox set to stink again

Written By BY RICK MORRISSEY rmorrissey@suntimes.com | @MorrisseyCST Posted: 03/30/2014, 02:34am
Array Sox GM Rick Hahn and president of baseball operations Ken Williams have put together only the 20th-highest payroll in baseball this season. That’s still better than their Cubs counterparts, Theo Epstein (above, left) and Jed Hoyer. | For Sun-Times Media

Welcome to Kansas City.

Welcome to our small-market baseball city. Or, this being March Madness, welcome to our mid-major programs, the Cubs and the White Sox.

You didn’t know? Chicago is a baseball backwater. Check out our quaint town square, our petting zoo and the Kiwanis sign at our border.

According to the Associated Press, the Cubs’ payroll for the upcoming season is $89 million, which ranks 23rd out of 30 teams. The Sox’ payroll is $91 million (20th).

Chicago, Chicago, that dawdlin’ town.

Both teams open their seasons Monday, which, after last year, sounds like a threat rather than a reason to celebrate. The Sox lost 99 games in 2013. The Cubs lost 96.

Even if you don’t believe there’s a correlation between spending and winning in major-league baseball, surely we can agree a big-market franchise has an obligation to operate like one. Right now, both teams seem to be representing Paducah, Ky.

What you’re reading is a preemptive strike against the bad baseball that is about to take place, especially on the North Side. Unfair? Not after what this city has been through. Visceral? Oh, absolutely. The losing and the lack of spending have gotten old.

Just wait, the Cubs keep saying. The smart people nod their heads in agreement, all of them on board with the plan, emotion not being allowed on the premises. The Cubs are doing it the right way, they say.

But here, underneath a ton of losing, it doesn’t matter what the Cubs’ plan is or how soon they project to be competitive. Nobody cares about future TV revenues. Nobody cares about the debt burden the Ricketts family assumed when it bought the team. The Cubs have put a substandard product on the field each of the last four seasons under this ownership and will do so again this season.

Ah, but be patient, the true believers say. If you question why the baseball has to be so bad at the major-league level and why the franchise has to wait to spend more money on the big-league product, you’re myopic, they say. Stick with it, they say.

Meanwhile, this.

This mess.

This crime against baseball.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he expected people to get impatient with the process sometime around now, Year 3 of his regime. But predicting there would be a backlash doesn’t make the backlash any less valid.

I’m not arguing that the end of the tunnel is lacking light. Epstein is a smart guy with a vision. But is there proof that chairman Tom Ricketts will spend money? Says who? Is there a law against spending now, as well as later?

When do the Cubs get good? Why does everything have to be predicated on the success of the minor-league system? Where does it say the major-league team has to suffer so much while the Cubs wait to see if the hotshot prospects turn out to be good?

Too many questions. And not enough money being spent.

It seems almost unfair to throw the Sox in with the Cubs. The South Siders have been operating as a small-market team forever. Maybe we’ve allowed them to fool us with reduced expectations and reduced payrolls all these years. But at least they’ve won a World Series title in the last 105 years.

The Sox’ core consists of Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana and Avisail Garcia, which is great if you’re playing four-man baseball.

Nobody is saying the Cubs and the Sox should be the Los Angeles Dodgers (with a $235 million payroll) or the New York Yankees ($203 million), the top two teams in terms of payroll. But come on.

And no one is saying the Cubs or the Sox should shell out money the way the Detroit Tigers did to Miguel Cabrera, who signed an eight-year, $248 million contract extension last week. But come on.

Fans aren’t stupid. They know sacrifice is required. But this isn’t sacrifice. This is torture.

While we read about the 12-scoop banana split that will be sold at the Cell or about the stalled renovations at Wrigley, other teams invest in the on-field product. That’s an interesting concept, one with which we’re not familiar.

The Cubs, losers of 197 games the last two seasons, figure to lose another 90 this season.

Nobody knows what to expect out of the Sox, but “greatness’’ isn’t in the conversation.

The working slogan for both teams appears to be ‘‘Austerity: You’ll Learn to Love It.’’ Perhaps you’ve heard it before.

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