ST. LOUIS – The Cubs’ hotter-than-summer run into September has put the Pittsburgh Pirates on notice to consider travel plans in October, and let the Cardinals know the division race might not be over.
But the impact this young and increasingly popular team is having on the National League postseason picture is only the beginning of the impact it might be having on the sustainability of success that the front office has talked about since taking over nearly four years ago.
The Cubs’ back-to-back victories over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium the last two days – including 8-5 on Tuesday night – were just the latest reminders of how far the baseball side of the operation has surged ahead of business operations in dual plans that were designed to meet someday at a happy crossroads of big new revenues and spending needs.
The promise of massive cash flows from a new local TV deal is still years away, but the success of this year’s team could have the same impact on creating extra payroll flexibility next winter as squirreling away $20 million from the 2014 budget had on last winter’s.
A sharp increase in attendance this year should more than cover that much additional room in next season’s budget – giving the Cubs the potential to add another big starting pitcher, an outfielder and/or another late-inning arm.
“Obviously, the lack of success on the field [in recent years] pushed the attendance number down, and I think we’re getting that number way back up,” Hoyer said. “You go to the ballpark and know that there’s going to be roughly 40,000 people there every day, and it’s a great atmosphere. And that atmosphere should translate into increased revenue.
“I think it will definitely go into the product on the field.”
Unless business president Crane Kenney pushes his wheelbarrow of cash in some other direction, the Cubs could see $21 million or more in increased spending ability because of attendance alone.
The payroll budgets have remained flat in 2014 and 2015, roughly $100 million each year – with the ’14 carryover creating, in effect, a $120 million budget this season.
The Cubs are on pace to increase home attendance by more than 275,000. Internal estimates conservatively value each paid admission as worth more than $75 in gross revenues – making that increase worth more than $20.6 million.
Hoyer said the front office has a “decent idea” what its budget might be heading into the offseason.
“But I think that weekends like that against Arizona can’t hurt us going forward. I think it only helps our projections for next year,” he said.
The Cubs beat the Cardinals the last two games even without frontline starters Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta pitching either game.
Jason Hammel cruised through six shutout innings with an 8-0 lead before the Cardinals knocked him out of the game with a five-run seventh.
Could the Cubs wind up with enough in the winter to make a bona fide chase for Cy Young left-hander David Price as a free agent? Or Cy Young right-hander Zack Greinke – if he opts out of his contract with the Dodgers?
Or anybody else in a strong free agent market for starting pitching?
“What you really want is the flexibility to make good decisions,” Hoyer said. “Whether it’s one move or a series of moves, I think that’s what you ultimately want, is the ability to continue improving something that we think has a really good future.”
Long-term first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit his 100th career homer in the first to start the big night for the Cubs and added a run-scoring single in the seventh for three RBis.
Starlin Castro added a three-run homer and RBI double for four RBIs.
“Obviously we’re not a finished product and to have the ability to go out and make some moves to continue to improve areas of weakness I think that would be great,” Hoyer said. “And I think we expect that.”