Report: Cubs considering selling minority shares of team to fund Wrigley renovation

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With the Cubs looking for ways to finance the Wrigley Field renovation effort and projects around the stadium, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports that ownership is considering selling minority shares of the team.

No final decisions have been made yet, but the Ricketts family will not be selling off controlling interest in the team. It’s akin to what the Mets did a couple of years ago after the settlement in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Just some outside cash now to get the projects off the ground.

An industry source predicted the Cubs would be working from the latest Forbes valuation – $1.2 billion – that put the franchise behind only the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox at a time when commissioner Bud Selig estimated the sport’s revenues could top $9 billion this year.

That’s a 42-percent jump from the $845 million deal that finally closed in October 2009 and included a piece of Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The game’s rising tide hasn’t lifted the Cubs out of fifth place since the Ricketts family entered into that leveraged partnership with Zell’s Tribune Co., which demanded any buyer take on a debt-heavy structure that would create a shelter from huge capital-gains taxes.

The Cubs source said a sale wouldn’t impact the futures of team presidents Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein, who both have long-term contracts and run business and baseball operations without much interference from a hands-off ownership group.

MLB would have to approve any new owners. The Wrigleyville project is expected to cost around $500 million and will consist of renovations of the stadium itself and outside the stadium, including a hotel. In addition to trying to raise the money to fund it privately, Cubs ownership have run into some other issues along the way, including their contract with rooftop owners which runs through 2023. Plans for a jumbotron will block some of the views into the ballpark.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.