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MLB luxury tax is a concern for Cubs board member Laura Ricketts

“Yeah, we have some new revenue streams — [and] everything we make goes back into the team — but you don’t want to be spending it on fees and penalties, you want to be spending it on talent,” Ricketts said. 

Laura Ricketts receives a Cubs championship ring from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred at Wrigley Field during 2017 pregame ceremony.
Laura Ricketts receives a Cubs championship ring from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred at Wrigley Field during 2017 pregame ceremony.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On Thursday, one of the Cubs owners acknowledged what we all knew but what the front office has specifically avoided saying: The lack of movement this winter was created by a payroll budget limited by luxury-tax consideration.

“The longer you go over [the luxury tax], the more you’re paying,” board member Laura Ricketts said Thursday at a Cubs Charities event at Horner Park Fieldhouse. “Yeah, we have some new revenue streams — [and] everything we make goes back into the team — but you don’t want to be spending it on fees and penalties, you want to be spending it on talent.

Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] have their own philosophies about talent and how to spend money and we defer to that. We hired them, we let them do what they do and then we are trusting them. I think they’ve earned that trust over a period of years.”

The luxury-tax threshold is $208 million in 2020. The current Cubs’ roster already projects to exceed that.

Last season, the Cubs were one of three teams to pay the luxury tax, and penalties increase for each successive season exceeding the threshold.

“I’m sure everybody always wants a bigger budget, whether you’re in baseball or whatever industry you’re in,” Ricketts said, “but it doesn’t mean it’s going to pay off with better performance on the field.”

Fans won’t be able to directly ask the Ricketts family about their payroll woes as the ownership panel has been cut from the Cubs Convention schedule for the second consecutive year. The reasoning for that, Ricketts said, wasn’t because they were trying to make themselves less accessible to fans but rather because it was the lowest-rated panel of the three-day event.

“It seemed like, to us, people were asking the same questions largely,” she said. “But we’re looking for other ways to be more accessible, we’re going to be on the Ryan Dempster show, we’re going to find some other ways to try and be more accessible to the fans and we may bring it back next year.

“I was saying to Tom last week, ‘Maybe we should just bring it back. So it’s the lowest rated, people don’t have to come, but at least we can say we’re making ourselves accessible’ because we actually enjoy it.”

Venable to interview with Astros

Third-base coach Will Venable, who was a candidate for the Cubs’ managerial opening this winter, is scheduled to interview Friday with Astros officials in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that cost Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch their jobs.

The Astros reportedly have interviewed veteran manager Buck Showalter and plan to interview another experienced former manager, John Gibbons.

Venable, who joined the Cubs’ front office as a special assistant in 2017 after his playing career ended, has spent the last two seasons on the team’s coaching staff.