Time for Cubs ownership to start spending and repay fans for saintly patience

SHARE Time for Cubs ownership to start spending and repay fans for saintly patience
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Bowling for dollars: Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts (left) needs to give president Theo Epstein money for a postseason push.

Massively wealthy family buys big-market baseball franchise considered one of the gems of professional sports.

Massively wealthy family proceeds to rebuild franchise from top to bottom, from lowest minor-league squad to major-league club, leading to very bad baseball at the big-league level for five straight seasons.

Thanks to that enthusiastic tanking, franchise gets scads of high draft picks, talent floods into minor-league system and big-league team finally starts winning, giving fans real reason to dream about playoffs.

Front office, scratching its head, isn’t sure massively wealthy family will give it money to acquire players to aid in push to postseason.

Do I have that right about your Chicago Cubs?

We’re told that top-secret bank covenants exist that might limit how much the Cubs can spend on the field, but there is something everyone seems to have forgotten, thanks to decades of dashed dreams and halfhearted ownership: This is the third-largest city in the United States. We deserve a big-market team that reacts to the possibility of the postseason the American way – by throwing money at it. It’s what the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Tigers and Giants do.

It’s what the Cubs should be doing now.

Speaking of covenants, what about the covenant between the Ricketts family and Cubs fans, the only covenant that matters? It’s the one that says, “If you’re patient while we, the owners, rebuild the franchise and Wrigley Field, we will reward you with a championship team.” Cubs fans have been patient beyond reason, beyond belief.

Maybe the Rickettses indeed are getting ready to give president of baseball operations Theo Epstein money to make some moves before the July 31 trade deadline. If so, bravo. If they are wringing their hands over double-knotted purse strings, consider this a nudge. If they are intent on waiting until next year to spend and to win, we’ve had that phrase on a continuous loop since 1909.

Ownership might say that, between the debt that came with buying the team and the money used to renovate Wrigley, there isn’t a whole lot of cash to go around. To that, any reasonable person would respond, “Your problem, not mine.’’ Although the ballpark had been a rusted dump for years, the renovations were not done solely with fans in mind. They were done with more revenue streams in mind to make more money for ownership. If you want to say they were done so that more money could be poured into the on-field product, go ahead, if it makes you feel better. But some proof before the trade deadline would be wonderful. A pitcher or two would be proof positive.

While we try to figure out who is in charge with the mid-major White Sox – general manager Rick Hahn or suddenly front-and-center vice president Ken Williams – there is no such issue with the Cubs. They have a man with a plan that seems to be working, though not quite at Cardinal level yet.That man would be Epstein, who presumably came to Chicago with the understanding that if he was going to do what the Cubs haven’t done since 1908 —win a World Series — he would not be hamstrung by debts, covenants and other corporate restraints.

I bring up the Cardinals not to pick at the scabs of Cubs fans but to point at how high the mountain is ahead. The Cards are without their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, yet still were 10.5 games ahead of the third-place Cubs in the N.L. Central going into the two teams’ Sunday-night matchup. It’s true that St. Louis doesn’t have a massive payroll ($120.8 million to the Cubs’ $119 million on Opening Day). What it does have is a formula that no one else seems to be able to match. It’s going to take money and great decision-making to move past the Cardinals’ institutional excellence.

Heading into Sunday’s game, the Cubs were only a half-game out of the last NL wild-card spot. The playoffs are close enough that fans can taste it. Their taste buds have been deprived for much too long.

Will Jon Lester bounce back from his 4-6, 4.03 ERA first three months? His history says yes. Club history declines comment. Regardless, don’t the Cubs have an obligation to add to their roster for a run toward the playoffs? Not an obligation to Lester, whom they’re paying a large sum of money, but to their fans, who have the modifier “long-suffering’’ attached to them like a barnacle?

Yes, they do. They most certainly do.


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