A Lower Cubs Payroll: I Don’t Even Want to Look

When a loud crash at your door sends you running to find this, trust me, you’re not glad you looked.

You know that feeling you get when you’re resting comfortably at home and a loud and/or unexpected noise shatters the silence? That jolt of adrenaline followed by a downward tug on your pancreas? When you have kids, that sound is often a dull thud; you freeze in the deafening quiet that follows, waiting to hear if a shriek of pain or some kind of tortured sobs will come next . . . you hope for just a controlled “Ouch!” You’re scared to know what made the noise, but it’s your duty to go check on the safety of your offspring.

In other instances, say in the middle of the night, it’s just some kind of knock or far-off crash that is probably the wind, but that’s not a good enough explanation. My wife insists it never is. I have to go check it out and see what the cause is. My default answer is “car door,” but it’s never satisfactory until I have done a quick survey of the house, made sure the kids are still in bed, and fend off any possible intruders who have clumsily made their presence known. Again, it’s my responsibility to check it out, but honestly, I don’t want to know what made the noise. If it really is a burglar, what am I going to do? Grab a knife? The gun I don’t own? A flyswatter or some Lemon Pledge? I’d probably just tell him or her, “Hey, could you wrap it up and get out? My wife is expecting the ‘all clear’ and I want to be able to pass this off as a car door slamming. That can’t happen if you keep banging around.” I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t want to know. All things considered, I’d rather not investigate the noise.

One Sunday morning I had no choice, because it was one of those sounds you just can’t ignore, as much as I wanted to: a loud, sharp bang followed by the unmistakable melody of glass smashing into smithereens. It was the day before the night before Christmas, actually. I ran down to the front door to see what was the matter, and I saw that a storm caused my storm door to shatter. I’ll stop rhyming and get to the point. When I solved the mystery behind the noise, there was nothing I could do. Snow was packed up on the outside of the door, and any adjustment from the inside was sure to dislodge the glass trapped between the outer screen and the lower, unbroken pane inside. So I just left it. Until March, actually. It stayed pretty crappy outside for a long time, and I just didn’t have the time to deal with that mess. We had other doors we could exit through.

As it turned out, and as it very often does, that scary noise didn’t actually require the attention one’s instincts tend to ascribe to it. Such startling sounds might be worth a look occasionally and demand a response every now and then, but a lot of the time it’s just not worth the investigation. Even if it is something significant, there’s probably not much I can do about it.

That’s how I would describe my reaction to last week’s comments from Tom Ricketts as recorded, among other places, in Crain’s ChicagoBusiness.The obvious one, sticking out like a sore, underpaid thumb, was his answer to the question about the reduction of payroll:

It hasn’t been finalized for next year. Off the top of my head, I’d say it will be a little lower than this year. We haven’t made any decision on that yet. But once again, it’s not about the level of payroll. It’s more about what you’re getting for the dollars you spend.

*Glass shatters*

We’re being told the Cubs have every intention of competing next year. Ricketts assures us 2011 will not be part of a rebuilding (read: losing with purpose) year. And to bring about winning, the Cubs will cut spending. I’m sure Republicans everywhere agree with this plan, but I just don’t see it working well. Still, there’s no point in attending to the sound of crashing payroll. There’s no sense in running to investigate the plans of the front office. I’m pretty sure when I do, I won’t like what I see.

But maybe I could just take a look. Maybe I should read this Wall Street Journal article about 2010 being the year when the correlation between spending and winning was all but erased. It’s an interesting article. Even has a quote from Tom Ricketts. I recommend you read it, especially this part:

According to estimated payroll figures updated throughout the season, the correlation between a team’s player payroll and its winning percentage is 0.14, a number that makes the relationship almost statistically irrelevant. That figure is 67% below last year’s mark and is easily the lowest since the strike.

This outcome represents a stark reversal from the state of affairs a decade ago. In 1998, the correlation between payrolls and wins was 0.71, a figure that suggests a strong and significant tie. And in the 1999 season, when the correlation was 0.5, all eight teams that reached baseball’s playoffs were among the 10 top spenders.

I could go running to see if maybe this was a happy noise. Maybe Santa brought a brand new fun Bag o’ Glass for us to play with. Maybe it’s the sound of plummeting ticket prices, skyrocketing ad revenue, or the jingling parts in a do-it-yourself World Series Trophy just waiting in a box on Wrigley’s doorstep. But excuse me if I don’t run to see if maybe there’s a chance the Cubs could spend their money more wisely and potently.

We know where the money is going. We know that the Cubs had a significant hand in throwing off the correlation between dollars and wins. We know that the cheapest way to upgrade a team is through homegrown talent (or by trading your expensive veterans for someone else’s homegrown talent). We know if we go scrambling to the front door to see if there’s any of that waiting for us, all we’re going to see is, more or less, the same jagged pieces of Cub we’ve been watching all year. There just isn’t much point in looking into this further. We know it’s going to be bad. The only discovery we’re likely to make is that we’ll learn it’s much, much worse.

The Cubs could get lucky. Something good could happen. Things could just go our way next year. Let me know if it does. I’ll be lying comfortably in my bed, trusting that the noise I hear is just confirmation of my gloomiest suspicions.

2 Replies to “A Lower Cubs Payroll: I Don’t Even Want to Look”

  1. "There's no sense in running to investigate the plans of the front office. I'm pretty sure when I do, I won't like what I see.'

    I think it best that you leave it alone until March rolls around, just like your storm door. It's likely to be pretty crappy out there for a long time.

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