Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts sheds light on team spending, sportsbook, streaming

Could the Cubs go over the luxury tax this season?

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Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts signs autographs and spends time with fans Monday at Cubs Spring Training in Mesa, Arizona.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts signs autographs and spends time with fans Monday at Cubs Spring Training in Mesa, Arizona.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Chairman Tom Ricketts has said he expects the Cubs’ payroll will be right around the competitive balance tax (CBT).

But what if the Cubs get off to a hot start and look like a potential playoff contender? Will president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer be beholden to staying below the luxury tax?

‘‘You want to be careful going over the CBT because there are penalties,’’ Ricketts said on the first day of full-squad workouts Monday. ‘‘Some of the penalties are merely financial, but over time they become draft-pick slots and those kinds of things. So you want to be thoughtful about it, and you want to just be alert and manage around it if you can. If we’re midseason and we need a player, we’ll do what we have to do then.’’

That sounds as though the Cubs won’t let the CBT stop them from adding the right player. But there’s a catch or two. Ricketts won’t be impersonating the Mets’ Steve Cohen or the Phillies’ John Middleton anytime soon.

Ricketts joined camp Monday, and after addressing the players as part of the first-day meetings, he spoke with the media on a wide range of topics. Much of the talk hinged on the Cubs’ spending.

Understanding Ricketts’ approach requires an understanding of the CBT, a measure that its supporters claim protects parity across the majors and one its detractors say promotes salary suppression.

The CBT taxes teams that go above a preset payroll threshold. That threshold is $233 million in 2023, and it rises incrementally in each year of the collective-bargaining agreement. The penalties are determined by how much the team spends above the threshold and how many years in a row they do so. Teams that come in $40 million-plus above the threshold also lose draft position.

The Cubs rank ninth in projected luxury-tax payroll this year (about $225 million), according to rosterresource.com. Considering they are in the No. 3 market in the country, many fans have called for them to be a perennial top spender.

‘‘If we see an opportunity or it’s the right time to go over for a year or two, we’ll have the ability to do that,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘But we’ll manage that year to year. I’m not gonna promise top five or anything like that. But we will definitely put the resources we have on the field.’’

A year or two at a time, sure. But Ricketts was much more wary about sitting above the threshold for any longer than that. Teams incur the highest penalties when they’re above the threshold for three or more consecutive years.

Hold your bets

The DraftKings Sportsbook the Cubs are building outside Wrigley Field won’t be ready for Opening Day, Ricketts said.

‘‘It’ll be sometime maybe late spring, early summer,’’ he said.

The Cubs don’t profit off fans’ bets, but there are other financial advantages.

‘‘What we primarily get out of that is DraftKings as a sponsor,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘And all the sponsorship revenue goes back through the team to the baseball guys to spend more or less.’’

Stream away soon?

Ricketts said the Cubs are ‘‘still looking at’’ a direct-to-consumer option for streaming games on Marquee Sports Network in 2023.

‘‘The most important thing with our direct-to-consumer is, we just want to do it right the first time,’’ he said. ‘‘We want to make sure that when we do have it out there, it’s of good value to fans. And we realize that the way people consume the game is changing. We want to make sure we accommodate that. But it’s kind of like a ‘measure twice, cut once’ thing for us.’’

That, too, might not be ready for Opening Day.

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