Cubs owner Tom Ricketts sets expectations when it comes to 2024 payroll

Ricketts was measured in his remarks about spending this offseason, hardly what Cubs fans were hoping for.

Apr 2, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Cubs owner Tom Ricketts on the field before the game between
Apr 2, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Cubs owner Tom Ricketts on the field before the game between / David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, Cubs fans need to come to terms with the fact that Tom Ricketts is never going to be the sort of free-wheeling owner we see in Queens in Steve Cohen or Philadelphia in John Middleton. That's not to say he's not going to spend - after all, Chicago dropped more than $300 million in free agency last winter. But he's always going to look to 'spent intelligently,' above all else.

After his team crashed and burned over the season's final weeks and fell just short of reaching the postseason for the first time in a 162-game season since 2018, Ricketts spoke with the media about expectations on the North Side, payroll and the luxury tax - but was his usual vague self in his responses.

"We were aggressive this year. I think we’ll stay at those levels. I’ll let Jed decide where the dollars go — that’s his job. The nice part is we do have a fair number of people coming through the system right now that could be real producers for us over the next few years. And on top of that, we have a core, something we couldn’t say two years ago."

Tom Ricketts on Cubs' payroll

There's no doubt. Chicago's farm system is drastically improved under Hoyer since taking the reins from Theo Epstein late in 2020. But building a strong farm system and having a steady pipeline of impactful players making their way to the big leagues year after year don't always go hand-in-hand. Based on Ricketts' comments, though, that's what it'll take for the Cubs to be an annual contender.

Cubs seem reluctant to put high-dollar deals for superstar free agents on the table like other NL contenders

You're not going to see the Cubs playing in the deep end of the free agent pool, handing guys $300+ million on decade-long deals. That just doesn't sync with the organizational thinking we've seen play out time after time in the last five or so years. So it'll take guys like Pete Crow-Armstrong or Cade Horton emerging as stars alongside the likes of Justin Steele as centerpieces on the roster.

"The key to consistency is to not build a one-year super team but to try to get to the playoffs as often as possible. You do that by finding guys that you like, giving them extensions, solidifying your core and then trying to supplement them with guys from your system and the occasional free agent. That’s going to be our strategy going forward."

Tom Ricketts on Cubs' plans

But it's hard to envision a scenario where the Cubs crank out enough All-Star caliber talent in the short-term to propel this team deep into October. It's going to take free agent spending - and not just of the fringe variety - to compete with the toast of the Senior Circuit. Ricketts' comments do little to suggest the team is ready to make that jump, which could prove frustrating for the fanbase.