Tom Ricketts didn’t say much about Theo Epstein’s contract situation, but the Cubs owner is clearly happy with the team’s on-field progress.
Speaking Monday when the legacy partnership with Toyota was announced, Ricketts heaped praise on the Cubs. They entered Monday’s game against Cleveland 20 games above .500 and in position for their first playoff berth since 2008.
Epstein, the man largely responsible for the transformation, has a contract that expires after the 2016 season. Though the prevailing thought is Epstein probably wouldn’t bolt just as the Cubs become a contender, his terms could be getting steeper by the day.
But if there’s anything new with Epstein’s contract, Ricketts wasn’t saying.
“No update on that front,” Ricketts said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
The Cubs as a team are getting somewhere few thought they could before the season. They have the third-best record in the National League and it feels like the start of something.
None of that means they’re a perfect team. They’re expected to target another top-level starter this winter, along with filling other holes that will pop open. The stated plan is money from deals like the one with Toyota help Epstein build the team, and add to the payroll.
With agreements like the one announced with Toyota and other sponsors, Ricketts was asked whether he was confident the baseball budget would increase exponentially in the next year or two.
“Obviously it all goes into the mix. I don’t know about exponentially, but obviously this is an important part of winning,” Ricketts said. “If you look around other stadiums and other ballparks, there’s a lot of signage everywhere because all those dollars end up going back into the organization.”
Any extra money would help the Cubs, who are all but assured of their first winning season since 2009. They’re doing it at a Wrigley Field that showcases the long-awaited video boards and one in the middle of a multi-phase renovation. The team playing has gotten good again, and should be for a few years.
And it’s obvious Ricketts is happy with what he’s seeing and glad he stayed the course.
“Obviously, when things aren’t going the right direction people want you to take more short-term decisions or they want to second-guess things you’re doing,” Ricketts said. “But we always knew that it was going to take a while, we always knew that there was a plan in place and we wanted to build a foundation that was more a team that could win on a consistent basis and you just can’t do that overnight and you can’t do that by writing one big check.
“You have to do that the right way, so I always knew that it would just take time.”
It’s also made 2015 more enjoyable for Ricketts.
“It’s certainly more fun, but you know the fact is that even during years where we weren’t producing on the field like we want to I knew we had a plan and I just was trying to stick with it,” Ricketts said. “It’s certainly a lot more fun to come to the ballpark when you feel like you’re going to hit five home runs or whatever.
“It’s really, really gratifying to see the young players delivering and when you win a game like we won the last few games and you see a lot of the production coming out of guys that are 22, 23, 24 years old that’s pretty exciting.”
Those players are here because of Epstein.