The conventional wisdom in baseball circles is that an MLB team never, ever invests in a spring-training facility. Sure, you may have the Pittsburgh Pirates invest $2 million in Pirate City, while the Cincinnati Reds talked about putting $10 million in an Ed Smith Stadium rehab. But those offers don't happen very often; the template is a municipality picking up all the costs of a spring-training complex.
The Chicago Cubs, however, may be on the verge of turning that conventional wisdom on its ear.
Whispers from Naples tell us the team is seriously looking at a major investment in a new $80-$100-million complex in Naples. And while our Cubs friends continue to tell us the team will most likely stay in Arizona, the very fact that the Cubs are crunching the numbers on a big investment means the team is taking the idea of a move very seriously.
Currently the Cubs are exploring offers from Mesa, the Gila River Indian Community and Esmark. Mesa is looking at replacing HoHoKam Park and the Fitch Field complex with a new complex elsewhere in the city. The Gila River Indian Community has proposed a new complex on tribal land near Chandler. Both these offers would require no investment from the Cubs — but then again, they'd offer no revenue, either, as other developers and the Indian Community would control development rights to whatever is built around the complex.
In Florida, Esmark is proposing a complex/development that would cost upwards of $100 million in Collier County. Besides the spring-training complex, Esmark and the Cubs are also talking real-estate development, bars/restaurants and hotels. The hope is that the state and Collier County would pick up the costs of the ballpark and the complex. For the state, there would be a huge influx of spending from diehard Cub fans who would watch the team train in Antarctica. And, although the economy is still in the crapper, the idea of a huge complex in Naples — which already possesses some awesome demographics — would appeal to investors.
Of course, there are a few flaws in the proposal. Florida is broke; it would be extremely hard to persuade the state legislature to pony up $30 million or so for a new ballpark and spring-training complex. (Though the thought of luring the Cubs and screwing over Arizona would be a powerful motivator in Tallahassee.) After spending $900 million for the Cubs and looking to invest $300 million in Wrigley Field, new owner Tom Ricketts may not want to spend more on a spring-training facility when there's a free one for the taking in Arizona. And there's a institutional bias in the Cubs front office toward staying in Arizona.
But Tom Ricketts didn't rich by passing up on opportunities to turn one dollar into two via an investment. So we're still laying odds the team will continue to train in Arizona. But we're not quite as willing to write off the Florida bid as we were a week ago.