Crane Kenney pushes back on criticism of Cubs' payroll, stresses 'a lot of money' is rolling over to 2023

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(670 The Score) Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney on Saturday pushed back against criticism of the organization’s spending, calling it a “little bit of a false narrative.” The major-market Cubs rank 14th among the 30 MLB teams in payroll in 2022, according to Spotrac, and they're amid a trying season in which they currently sit in fourth place in the NL Central.

“It’s a talking point, I get it,” Kenney said in an interview on Inside the Clubhouse on 670 The Score. “I think we got to have a little bit of historical perspective. So if you look at between 2016 and 2021, we ranked fourth in all of baseball (in payroll), only behind the Yankees, Dodgers and just a smidge behind the Red Sox. So over our last championship window, when we were in that championship window, we were one of the top spenders in baseball. And during those six years, we tripped the (competitive balance tax) penalty three times, including as late as in 2020. So just two years, we were over the limit. That was a shortened season, obviously, but we were over the limit in ’19 as well.

“We’re so lucky that we have an owner that lets us spend when the time is right. Again, over the last six years, we’ve been top-four in baseball. Clearly, this year we’ve taken a step back. And as I said, all the resources that weren’t used that would’ve pushed us up the ladder on the payroll chart this year will go into next year’s budget. So I feel really lucky that (chairman) Tom (Ricketts) has never said, ‘No, I don’t want to spend.’ It’s whatever’s in the system goes into our baseball operations department to try and win. And that includes paying the CBT tax when we go over it like we did in ’16, ’19 and ’20. I feel like it’s a little bit of a false narrative because yes, in this one single year, we’re back into the middle of the table. But if you look at any sort of reasonable length of time, we’re always in the top four or five.”

The Cubs signed outfielder Seiya Suzuki to a five-year, $85-million contract and right-hander Marcus Stroman to a three-year, $71-million deal this past offseason. They were also tied to star shortstop Carlos Correa in the rumor mill but didn’t land him, as he joined the Twins on a three-year, $105-million contract.

President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer recently emphasized the Cubs will spend bigger in free agency when the time is right, and he has suggested that the timeline of the organization’s younger prospects being ready to arrive on the big league scene will play at least a part in that decision.

When it comes to the finances, Kenney defers to Hoyer on when the time is right to spend at a higher level.

“I hate to keep giving the same answer year after year, but it is the same answer year after year,” Kenny said. “Which is, yesterday we had our first concert of the summer, which was (Dead & Company) and have another tonight. All of these activities, all of those generate revenue that go back into the baseball budget. The sportsbook will do the same thing. This goes back to my time with (former general manager) Jim Hendry – it’s sort of always been the same program, which is generate as much revenue as you can. You obviously take care of your fixed expenses, so the labor and other expenses that go into running our operation. And we’ve been really fortunate the Ricketts family, they’re not a public company, they don’t have to satisfy shareholders. They let us put every dollar that’s not used in running the business back into the payroll. So as you point out, we have a lot of money left at the end of this year that we need to spend. All of that will roll over for next year. And again, we trust our baseball operations to make good decisions with those proceeds and they’ll either use them next year or down the line. But again, they stay inside the system. And I get it’s boring, I keep saying this every year, but it’s a closed loop. When the time is right, we’ll spend those resources to build a great team.”

The Cubs are struggling mightily this season, sitting at 27-44 entering play Saturday. They went 71-91 in 2021, when they sold off almost all of their core players just before the trade deadline as free agency loomed for them.

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