MESA, Ariz. — As the Cubs prepare for what will be an interesting season in terms of their future, fans returning to the ballpark will play a big part in that future and in what the on-field product might look like in 2021.
The Cubs will play the first of 14 home spring-training games Tuesday at Sloan Park, and the effect the return of fans and game-day revenue will have on their ability to make moves this season can’t be overstated.
It has been well-documented what the absence of fans because of the coronavirus pandemic meant to team revenues around the major leagues in 2020, and the subsequent salary-shedding that ensued was a result of that. Even the Cubs, who are considered a big-market team, were forced to shed salary during the offseason.
But with fans in the seats at Sloan Park and, eventually, at Wrigley Field, it’s not impossible the Cubs’ budget could be positively affected.
‘‘I think the potential is always there,’’ president Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘We’re gonna learn a lot about finances over the course of the next few months, like what percentage of fans [will be allowed] when things open up. I think those are all real questions that we’re still figuring out. But we want to be on that side of the equation, for sure. That’s where you would like to be.’’
The Cubs’ offseason started slowly, and it looked as though they wouldn’t be able to add any players of consequence. After a late increase in their offseason budget, however, Hoyer was able to add outfielder Joc Pederson, starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Brandon Workman on one-year deals.
The increase in the Cubs’ offseason budget likely was tied to the projected attendance this season at Wrigley, declining COVID-19 numbers and the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.
The Cubs have been in constant communication with city and state officials about the possibility of fans returning to Wrigley at a reduced capacity. Several reports have said the Cubs and White Sox will be able to have fans in their ballparks on Opening Day, but no official announcement has been made.
‘‘They don’t call me on those things,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘I’ve been on a couple of calls that are encouraging, to say the least. But, again, that’s way, way above my head. I think everybody is trying to get back to a sense of normalcy, but as well understanding that we’ve got to keep people safe.’’
After a year without fans, even reduced capacity this season will be a welcome sight, especially for a team that relies heavily on its game-day revenue.
But the Cubs’ play ultimately will decide whether that revenue is distributed back into the on-field product. If the Cubs are good and in a position to make a move, making an addition might not be as far-fetched as it seemed two months ago.
‘‘If we play well and there’s clear things we need to do to add to the team, I’m confident we’ll be able to do that,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘I’m confident we will be able to do that if the team plays that well. But . . . I think we’ll also learn more about the budget in the next few months, as far as fans in the stands. That makes a huge difference toward your finances.’’