Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cubs to Suck Money As Much As They Suck on the Field

The Cubs aren't giving up their fight to get public money to help with their fixer-upper project at Wrigley, which was news to House Speaker, Michael Madigan, who apparently didn't get the memo.  But there was Tom Ricketts at a press conference yesterday surrounded by a bunch of Grabowskis, or rather, unionized Grabowskis, who are in favor of the Ricketts' plan because it means they will put about 1,000 of their brethren to work for a few years.

Tom may have made a misstep by bringing up his scheme right after an election when everyone is probably most aware of how fucked the economy and the budget are because of all the attack ads that assaulted us for the last two months, but he went right to work to spin things back in his favor.  He wanted to show us how the "regular" people of Chicago and Illinois will benefit from his plan, and not just how much money he and his siblings will make without any risk.

At this point, I think anyone reading this knows how I feel about using government money to fund this project at this time, so I'm not going to get into it again here, but let's see what that $200-$300 million would buy ($400-$500 million if you include what the Ricketts will chip in).

Chad Yoder at the Tribune put together a nice summation that I'll break down a bit.  First let's look at the pretty pictures:

The grand plan. Notice lack of room for another noodle.
I'm not a landmark expert, but considering the trouble they had putting in a damn sign, it will be all kinds of fun changing the facade of almost half of the existing ballpark. So, even if they get funding, this is still nowhere close to happening.

Cubs Alley commemorating the 1942 and 1949 seasons when they finished a combined 50 games under .500

Notice the sign above the Concourse that talks about the playoffs beginning. 
This must represent the future MLB when every team makes the playoffs.

Yoder also breaks down the components of the plan:

Triangle building development

The triangle parcel would be developed to include retail, concessions, parking, outdoor dining and team offices.  A hotel and Cubs museum are also being considered.  The corner of Addison and Sheffield would be slated for expansion, possibly including the Captain Morgan Club.

I'm going to start referring to it as the Bermuda Triangle Building since that is where our money will be disappearing.  We don't see much in the renderings about the Bermuda Triangle because they haven't fully figured out what amenities would separate us from our money most efficiently.  The nice thing is that a trophy case won't take up very much room at all.

The Cubs are talking about how much all of this will help increase the revenues of the neighborhood, but since the seating capacity of Wrigley isn't going to increase in this overhaul, there won't actually be any additional fans in the neighborhood spending money.  The Cubs are actually building competition for Sluggers, Casey Moran's, Bernie's, etc. and selling it as something that will be beneficial to those places.

There is a finite number of people that come in to the neighborhood on game days and they all have places they like to be, and when those fill up, they go to Yak-zies.  If everyone is flocking to the Bermuda Triangle as much as the Rickettseses are claiming they will, it won't just be Yak-zies that can feature easy seating.

Cubs Alley

Between the triangle lot and ballpark would be a pedestrian walkway including shops, restaurants and a Cubs merchandise store under a retractable roof. No tickets would be required and no cars would be allowed.

I like that they are calling it an alley because people get robbed in alleys all the time and after a stroll through Cubs Alley, you'll probably feel like you had your pockets picked.  Still, the picture looks nice and it is a bit of an homage to the Red Sox closing down Yawkey Way on game days.  A nice gesture would be to allow homeless people to sleep there since there will probably be a few state employees added to their ranks by the time this thing is completed.

Underground clubhouses

Expanded home and visitors clubhouses would be built under left and right field. The team will soon start testing how deep it can dig.  Plans include new batting cages, weight rooms and an expanded training room.

So, the Cubs have this grand plan, they are already asking for money from the state to help fund it, and they don't know if the plan is even plausible?  What if they can't dig very deep?  Then what?  A whole team of Sam Fulds?  Also, how about saving a bit of money and just slapping some new paint on the visitor's side and call it rehabbed.  Why do they have to get such a nice expanded space?

Improved concourse

Ramps inside Wrigley would be removed to make a more spacious concourse, including new floors, ceiling and lighting.  Above the concourse, facing Clark and Addison streets, outdoor rooftop patios with concessions would be added.

Now that I think about it, the ramps do take up a good amount of space within the ballpark.  They really could open it up by getting rid of them.  But have you already gotten to where I'm going with this?  How do we get to our seats from the nice expanded concourse that has no ramps?  At some point, a few thousand people will escape from the Bermuda Triangle, Cubs Alley and the wide open spaces of the concourse and will attempt to watch the game (especially considering the Upper Deck seats will probably break the three digit mark in price by then).  How are they getting up there?

All in all, the pictures look really nice and I'm sure the actual result would be significantly better than what Wrigley currently offers.  But at a cost of up to $500 million to make the renovations, Wrigley will officially become a money pit. 

All of the renovations that they are talking about are basically changes to the structure of the park.  I remember when I was in college the Tribune ran a story about testing that had been done on the foundations and key structural areas of Wrigley and found that the core of the park's structural integrity was good for another 50 years or so.  Well, that was 20 years ago and we've already seen concrete falling from the superstructure of the upper deck.  This plan doesn't mention anything about that.

This plan also doesn't address the cramped situations in the seats or the fact that a good number of the seats out in the corners aren't angled towards homeplate.  Believe me, if ticket prices get boosted the way the Ricketts are planning, people are going to want to watch the game without getting a strained neck.  So then what?  More renovations?  More borrowed money?  How many more hundreds of millions?

If Wikipedia can be believed, there is a proposal for a new Marlins stadium that will cost $515 million.  A proposed new stadium for the A's would cost $400 million.  I found a story from 2007 that put the estimate for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark at $450 million.

The Cubs are looking to spend about those amounts of money just to boost the parts of the ballpark that don't involve watching the games.  Probably because they know the games won't be worth watching for awhile.


Ace@BleacherNation said...

I don't "lol," but your quips with the pictures definitely made me chuckle.

Doc Blume said...

I bet you the Cubs could still get a good deal from the Tribune for that land they own out in Schaumburg...and I bet Schaumburg would give the Cubs some kick-ass tax incentives to build a stadium on that land.

There is land available off the river by Goose Island...not to mention some nice underdeveloped properties on the near west side.

Build a new stadium. The neighborhood be damned. That ballpark isn't worth it....seriously.

mb21 said...

I couldn't agree more, doc. I've been saying the same thing for nearly a decade now.

Tim, I'm curious about something. Would you dislike this proposal if the governments weren't in such trouble? I'd feel the same as I do now. That's as long as there is no threat whatsoever of the Cubs moving, there's no reason for the state to hand them a check. If such threats are made in the future then people can make arguments why it's important to keep the Cubs in Wrigleyville and maybe even the city of Chicago. Until then, I see no reason to support it regardless of how well or poor the state is doing.


Aisle 424 said...

To be honest, I probably wouldn't be as incensed about it, MB. I would probably be more open to the idea seeing as the Cubs are the only team in Chicago not to have gotten government assistance. Plus, the Ricketts plan in better economic times might be more apt to generate the increases in revenue that they are projecting.

They have no right to the money, but why should the Cubs have higher principles when it might actually be a decent investment by the state? The problem I have is that money now is more valuable than money later, so the state needs all the money now that it can get its hands on to meet its current obligations.

But the Ricketts have played this all wrong if they wanted government funds. They have tried to play both sides of the coin by talking about how important Wrigley is and how much they love it and their dedication to staying there for a long time. While the fans love to hear that, it completely takes away the threat they will leave if they don't get the money.

Doc Blume said...

Maddog, I know you were directing that at Tim, but in reference to the money from the state...

I fully understand the backlash here. I really do. It couldn't have been worse timing for the Ricketts family to have gone to the state for this. It's easy for me to say I'm for this while I'm living in Wisconsin (even though I'd be paying more of this tax than the average Illinois tax payer). Things are tough right now...especially in Illinois and that money could very well be better used elsewhere. Promises that Ricketts has made as far as job and revenue are, without a doubt, overstated as well.

My biggest problem, though, is the fact that we Cubs fans have been paying a larger portion of that Amusement Tax than any other team of organization out there because of both the attendance numbers and the ticket prices. It irks me that Cubs fans have payed more for comiskey park and soldier field than the fans of either of those teams. I feel like the Cubs should get something in return from this.

But then we get to the Ricketts family, who should have known what they were getting into. I believe that their fandom and love for the ballpark may have blinded them to the true, full extent of the condition of the ballpark when they bought it. The said no public money would be used to rehab the park.

I think this changed because of two reasons. They sunk $10 million into Wrigley last year and got virtually no true improvement out it in terms of fan experience and player amenities. Second, people stopped coming to the ballpark resulting in a lose of revenue. The PNC club was a disaster from what I've heard and they sold only about 1/2 the seats for that thing for the whole season. With fewer people in the ballpark, a drop in souvenir and concession sales occurred. And revenue they usually made with their ticket brokering service dried up as well.

Due to these two things, I believe the Rickettses changed course quickly realizing there was little that could be done by piecemeal offseason rehab work that could make the ballpark viable again. The $10 to $20 million a season they intended to spend on that work wouldn't be enough. With some reduced revenues and with a $450 million debt that will start to be repayed in another year, (and the fact daddy won't let the kids spend any more of their inheritance) they panicked and went to the state. I have assumed all along that it will come down to PSLs...and in the end, that is what it looks like will happen in some fashion (regardless of what Rickettses say they won't do). They had to take this path (through the state) first. They couldn't go to the season ticket holders and ask for the money first until they tried to get the money the same way the Bears and the White Sox did.

It's a long process and in reality, Wrigley 2016 might be more like Wrigley 2020 before this is all figured out. And that sucks, because I truly believe the Cubs can't win a pennant at Wrigley unless they push their payroll over $200 million.

FrankS said...

The Cubs would probably need to push payroll to near 200 million to compete in 2011. The idea going forward is to draft and develop a new team core that would be cost-controlled. In theory, your payroll will go down as overpaid veterans' contracts expire and they are replaced with cheap, homegrown talent. Of course, I have little faith that Hendry and crew can succeed at that task.

Aisle 424 said...

I just wish our homegrown talent had higher ceilings, Frank. For whatever reason, the Cubs can occasionally develop pitchers, but the good position players are few and far between.

Keith Law said...

Vitters has a high ceiling, but the one aspect of his game that's lacking hasn't improved a lick in three years. I can't pin that one on the amateur scouting staff, though.

Aisle 424 said...

I don't know if Vitters not progressing as we might like is anyone's "fault." I've come to grips with the fact that sometimes prospects don't work out. The problem I have had with the Cubs system for years is that they always seem to have one guy that will be the savior and then that guy is, at best, a semi-useful player, and at worst, a complete bust.

Seeing as Mark Grace is still the last Cubs position player that was even above-average for multiple years in a Cubs uniform, I don't trust the Cubs' farm system to replenish the departing veterans' spots without significant drops in performance and results on the field.

It is why I don't believe that this half-rebuild, half-contend plan they have is going to work at all. If they are going to rebuild, then rebuild and replenish the system with good prospects in return for Marmol, Marsall, Byrd and whoever else has decent value on the market.

If they are going to contend. Then contend and push up the payroll to get good free agents, and use the prospects we have to make deals to help the team now.

Going halfway only fosters false hope amongst the fans that believe everything Vineline says as the Gospel.

mb21 said...

Keith, don't all players have high ceilings? We hear that word thrown around a lot. Potential too. This guy has a lot of potential. Don't they all? Even the worst guy in professional baseball has a lot of potential or he'd not have been signed in the first place.

Isn't it the job of the scouts to project what a player can do in the future based on his current skills? Given that, I'm having trouble understanding the high ceiling comment with regards to Vitters. Sure, he has a high ceiling like any other players, but what can he realistically do? What could he realistically do at the time of the draft and perhaps more importantly, what could we expect from him after a season or so in the minors?

It's always possible something just clicks and a player like Vitters would suddenly have acceptable plate discipline, but as it was, his discipline wasn't even the unacceptable range. It was in the range where you can't possibly be successful at the MLB level. Probably not even at AA or AAA.

I don't think scouts and analysts make these same mistakes with pitchers. They don't look at a guy like Casey Coleman and refer to him as a high ceiling pitcher. Add a couple miles per hour and maybe another plus pitch and they would. What is the difference between pitching and hitting that leads to mistaking Vitters as someone who could realistically be an impact bat at the big league level? Is it as simple as not having velocity? If so, isn't plate discipline for a hitter even more of a detriment to his success than velocity for pitchers?

There are some skills that are so important to a profession that a person cannot succeed without them. Players can succeed with below average and even terrible discipline, but Josh Vitters' patience hasn't even improved to terrible yet. It seems to me that scouts and organizations do a far better job with pitchers. Charting the velocity and seeing plus pitches is a lot easier than looking at a player who has a nice swing, some power and a guy who could hit for average with one exception. Unfortunately for Vitters, that exception is the one thing that will prevent him from ever having an MLB career. Doesn't that have to be considered? It's like an organization saying that I have a high ceiling as a left-handed pitcher. I'm not left-handed, but they're technically correct. if I could learn how to throw left-handed, throw about 90+, and develop at least a couple plus pitches I could be a great left-handed pitcher. That's entirely possible, but it's also so unlikely that nobody will ever say I have great potential as a left-handed starting pitcher.

FrankS said...

Hey now, Soto has had two plus seasons out of three. I know it doesn't compare to Grace doing it for a dozen years, but doesn't two seasons loosely qualify for multiple years?

And speaking of plate discipline, who taught it to Geo last year? Better find that person and send Vitters to him before next season.

Aisle 424 said...

Frank, if Soto goes 3 out of 4 good seasons at the ML level, I'll forget that he was never that great offensively in the minors. After his sophomore year, I became convinced that his rookie season was a statistical anomoly, so his rebound was nice, but I'm not sold on him yet as a consistently good player.

I'm sure MB will tell me why I'm not terribly bright for thinking that, but my gut doesn't trust him yet. That said, he and Castro are the best hopes for finally putting Grace in the rear view mirror as last homegrown good position player.

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