Why Haven’t Cubs Signed a Top-Tier Starter Yet?

What an absolutely insane, unpredictable, goofy offseason this has been. Sure, the Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani situations spiced up the offseason before the holidays. But ever since the two stars buttoned up their new uniforms, things have slowed to a crawl. Pitchers and catchers report in nearly six weeks, yet 135 of 166 free agents — including Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta — remain unsigned as of post time.

So what gives? Why haven’t the Cubs, or any team, inked a deal either of the top two pitchers on the market?

The 2016 World Series champs find themselves in a potentially advantageous spot. When the biggest markets in baseball are fighting to drop below the luxury tax threshold, the Cubs are well under the penalty and look to be in a financially favorable situation for the next several seasons.

Whereas the Cubs are currently around $30 million under the 2018 luxury tax marker, the Yankees and Dodgers project to be a mere $15 million under. And those teams already increased penalties from having been over last year. Then there’s the Boston Red Sox, who will already blow by this year’s $197 million mark by around $5 million, and the Washington Nationals, who are only under the line by that same $5 million margin.

Ironically, the Cubs are the only big-market team willing and able to spend big bucks at the moment (with full acknowledgement that there are differing views on the legitimacy of a soft cap limitations on spending).

In addition to a spending moratorium from the current top teams, many other organizations may be looking to strip down their teams in order to rebuild. Previous spenders like Toronto, Detroit, Kansas City, Texas, and New York (Mets) have already hinted at taking a page out of the Cubs’ and Astros’ playbooks, allocating resources toward player development instead of talent at the MLB level.

That leaves Darvish and Arrieta with a surprisingly small number of teams from which to choose. As it stands today, only the Cubs, Astros, and Rangers have met with the Japanese ace. But the latter didn’t even seem all that interested and it’s been reported that they are seriously considering that aforementioned rebuild. Houston is in a similar payroll position as the Cubs, but without the same money to spend in future years.

When it comes to Arrieta, we have heard little to nothing of any meetings or substantiated offers. All that has been reported is that he’s seeking something around six years and $160 million and that the Cubs may be willing to meet that AAV, but only over four years.

Darvish was expected to command at least as much as Arrieta in free agency, though both are now looking at the distinct possibility of dropping their asks in terms of both years and total guaranteed money. Which means the Cubs can afford to sit back and watch this market play out.

I would’ve been surprised had the Cubs signed either Darvish or Arrieta back in November, but I have to admit I’d now be shocked if they don’t come away with one of these top pitchers at a relative discount.

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