With the Tribune Company signing an agreement to sell the Cubs to the Ricketts family, there was much rejoicing from Cubs fans who believed that the Tribune Company was all about making money and not concerned with putting a quality team on the field. And while that may have been true in the past, Cubs fans cannot say the Tribune Company didn't spend the money the last few years. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, the Cubs payroll was 8th, 7th and 3rd in the majors, respectively. However, much of the free spending was probably pushed by the Tribune Company to make the team a winner and more attractive to potential buyers.
The Cubs had a payroll of $134.8 million at the beginning of this season, only the Mets ($149.4 million) and the Yankees (a whopping $201 million) have spent more on their payroll. But, as the Mets can tell you, spending money doesn't always equate to winning. You have to spend the money on the right players.
The Cubs have made a big splash in the free agent market each of the last three years. In November 2006, they signed Alfonso Soriano for $136 million over 8 years. In December 2007, they signed Kosuke Fukudome to a 4 year, $48 million contract. And in January 2009, the Cubs signed Milton Bradley to a 3 year, $30 million contract.
Add to that the 5 year, $91.5 million contract extension the Cubs handed Carlos Zambrano back in August 2007, and you have 4 players on big contracts who have not produced this year. Fukudome has shown signs of life this year, after going AWOL in the second half of 2008. Bradley and Soriano have been largely ineffective this year, after producing great numbers in the past. Zambrano, for all his money, can't be motivated to do his abdominal exercises.
So, the Cubs are stuck with a quartet of overpaid, underperforming veterans. They cannot trade them, without paying a large chunk of their salaries.
What about Jim Hendry, the guy who signed all these underperforming players to bloated contracts? Well, he is signed through 2012. So, the Ricketts family will have to decide if he's worth keeping around or if they should eat his contract and find someone else. For what its worth, Aramis Ramirez is behind Hendry.
That leaves Lou Piniella, the Captain of this sinking ship. Should he go down with the ship? Well, Piniella has said he plans to return for the final year of his contract in 2010 and the players support him. However, what happens after 2010 is anybody's guess.
Finally, with the sale of the Cubs not expected to be finalized until around January 2010 (due to owners' approval and bankruptcy court approval), the Ricketts family will have very little time to put their mark on next year's team.