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Columnist
New Cubs owner could rescue Peavy
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/8/2009 12:01 AM

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Two things haven't changed in the weeks and months since it said here that Jake Peavy wanted to pitch for the Cubs, and that the leader in the race to buy the team was Tom Ricketts.

This is still where Peavy wants to pitch in 2009, and Ricketts is still favored by MLB.

There are upsets in baseball all the time, so perhaps the groups led by Marc Utay or Hersch Klaff could pull off a surprise in the late innings, but MLB powers have preferred Ricketts for months, and even a higher bid might not trump that.

And it makes sense.

Ricketts, CEO of Chicago investment bank Incapital, is a local guy who loves the team and will have only its best interests at heart. He even, reportedly, met his wife in the bleachers at Wrigley.

Utay grew up here but is New York-based and has New York-based partners, which doesn't exclude him, but he doesn't quite fit the ideal profile.

Klaff, a Chicago real estate magnate and, we're told, a terrific guy, was born in South Africa but has been here since the '70s. For symmetry's sake, he did buy 26 Cub Foods stores in 2006, though they've been "substantially liquidated,'' according to the Klaff Web site.

The Cubs are so valuable on so many levels, however, that MLB wants to make certain the Cubs are guarded by someone who will treat the franchise like it's family.

They want the next owner to be someone who has a deep understanding of what the Cubs mean to the city and is someone who will keep the team for generations. There's every indication Ricketts fits that profile.

Ricketts will want to win and win fast, so if it's him and it happens soon his first call might be to GM Jim Hendry with the news that he can up the payroll and get Peavy out of San Diego.

Hendry has done his part to meet payroll for current ownership, which has neither an interest in winning nor an interest in owning the team.

For some in the Cubs' front office, it has been like having no owner at all the last two years, and to win 97 games in an absurd environment with a vacuum at the top is mildly remarkable.

But while we all wait for Sam Zell's decision, Peavy still is sitting there hoping he's dealt to the Cubs.

The good news is Hendry knows exactly how to do it, and how to do it quickly.

All he needs is the go-ahead from the new boss to add Peavy's $8 million for 2009 and trade talks can start again.

As for the rest of Peavy's contract, yes, it's hefty, with an average of $16 million from 2010-12, but that's reasonable for a pitcher of his worth.

In the meantime, Peavy would lead a rotation that includes Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. Tell me that wouldn't scare the daylights out of the rest of the National League.

Getting this team to the World Series next year would be an incredible way for the new man, whoever he is, to begin his ownership.

It would be especially gratifying if the new boss got the credit for being the one who said, "Go get Peavy,'' in contrast to the current owner, who probably wouldn't answer the phone if the Cubs called.

Zell is thought to be very close to making up his mind on the sale, though we've heard that before a few dozen times, and the proceeds of any deal might have to be overseen and the sale approved by a bankruptcy judge, even though the Cubs weren't part of the original bankruptcy filing.

So there is still a ways to go in the process, but once Zell makes his call, Ricketts - or whoever wins - should also make a call.

He should get on the phone with Hendry and tell him to make his rotation so good with Peavy that it doesn't matter whom the Cubs have in right field, center field or at second base.

In one short conversation, the new owner can make Cubs fans forget the nightmares of owners past and permanently endear himself to a tormented group of fans that want to believe for the first time in their lives that the owner cares about them.

Two words will prove that: Jake Peavy.

brozner@dailyherald.com