November 7, 2008
BY CHRIS DE LUCA firstname.lastname@example.org
DANA POINT, Calif. — Throw out Sam Zell’s idea of selling the Cubs by the end of the year because he still hasn’t reached his goal of narrowing the field from five bidders to two. And sources close to commissioner Bud Selig sounded an alarm this week during the annual general managers meetings: Forget about Mark Cuban buying the Cubs.
Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks’ owner, was the fan favorite, the guy who liked to drink beer, watch the game from the bleachers and spend money. He was the most appealing bidder to Zell’s group, who knew Cuban could swing the quickest transaction for a team and ballpark that at one time figured to fetch $1 billion.
Cubs in running for Padres’ Peavy Buzz from the GM meetings
Global financial crisis or not, baseball’s old guard plans to stand firm against letting Cuban into the club. ”There’s no way Bud and the owners are going to let that happen,” a Major League Baseball source said this week. ”Zero chance.”
This would be a blow to Zell and Cubs fans who are eager to get finality on a team that’s in limbo.
On Opening Day 2007, the Cubs officially went on the market. Zell’s group was hoping for a quick transaction, certainly before Opening Day 2008. That same MLB source promised a deal won’t be done by Opening Day 2009.
”We’ll be standing here at next year’s GM meetings,” the source said, ”and this will still be unresolved.”
All of this likely will put the group headed by John Canning Jr. — Selig’s personal favorite — back as the front-runner.
Either way, the slow process figures to have a financial effect on the Cubs, who are pursuing expensive San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy and still have their eyes on free-agent pitchers Ryan Dempster and CC Sabathia. A potential deal for Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who’s a year away from free agency, could include a new, richer contract.
Already, the payroll figures to make a significant jump in ’09 with so many backloaded contracts. Among the notable pay raises, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome goes from $6 million to $11.5 million, pitcher Ted Lilly from $7 million to $12 million, pitcher Jason Marquis from $6.37 million to $9.87 million, left fielder Alfonso Soriano from $13 million to $16 million, third baseman Aramis Ramirez from $14 million to $15.65 million and pitcher Carlos Zambrano from $15 million to $17.5 million.
Will the Cubs’ ownership question put a crimp in general manager Jim Hendry’s ambitious offseason plans?
”We’ll be given a fair payroll number,” Hendry said. ”I don’t have a final figure yet, but there is no indication that we are going to go backward. We’re in the middle of a pretty good situation. The last couple of years, we’ve got it going in the right direction, and we don’t have an old team. We still have a lot of positives, and our [minor-league and scouting] departments are doing real well.”
Had Cuban purchased the Cubs, there was a feeling he’d open the checkbook even wider to end the team’s 100-year World Series title drought. But this week at the GM meetings, Selig cautioned executives to be prudent in the face of the world financial crisis.
”There are some very real issues in the global economy,” White Sox GM Ken Williams said. ”For any of us to believe this isn’t going to ultimately affect our business, you have to have your head in the sand.”
”We’ve all been fortunate with the Cubs to work for a great company that increased payrolls the last couple of years, even with the club for sale,” Hendry said. ”And I was fortunate enough that they gave me a contract extension without a new owner in place. We have a lot to be thankful for.
”At the same time, you face the reality of the world that it’s very tough economic times.”
And it’s becoming clear Mark Cuban won’t ride in to save the day.