Cubs May Actually Choose Not to Spend Big This Winter
Theo Epstein vowed to put all his energy into fixing a Cubs offense that broke this past season, a statement many assumed meant spending big in free agency. Then you consider that they already have more than the $206 million competitive balance tax limit committed for 2019, with the promise of a broadcast-contract windfall in 2020, and an inflated payroll including either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado seemed all but assured.
But what if it isn’t? What if “effort” isn’t code for “money” and Tom Ricketts isn’t willing to give his front office carte blanche to spend freely this winter? Call it contrarianism or intuition (which is growing stronger) or whatever you like, something is telling me we are going to see a much smaller splash than has been anticipated to this point.
Some of that is the disappointing results from the nearly $350 million handed out to Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, and Tyler Chatwood over the last two seasons. Ricketts may not be comfortable approving that much or more to just one player. Then you consider the Carl Crawford deal that marred the latter portion of Epstein’s tenure in Boston and there’s maybe a little more impetus for ownership to turn the screws.
Maybe I’m way off here and things end up following expectations, but I’m feeling more and more that we won’t see the Cubs pursuing the top free agents. And you know what? That isn’t the worst thing. While there were some notable flaws with the offense in particular, the difference between being bounced in the Wild Card and hosting an NLDS series was nothing more than a run or two in a single game.
Think about what a healthy Kris Bryant would have meant to the Cubs’ results. Or a healthy Yu Darvish. Or a healthy Brandon Morrow. But those are gravity issues, things that can’t be altered. The real culprit may have been a lack of urgency, something that can be easily corrected with minimal financial and personnel commitments. Well, more easily than preventing injuries.
Faith in their young hitters to take a step forward rather than stumbling once more could also lead to a reluctance to spend big. Javy Baez emerged as a legitimate superstar in what was really only his third full big-league season and patience could well prove virtuous with Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and Albert Almora Jr. as well.
Understand that I’m not advocating for the Cubs to stand pat and limit their spending, especially not when they have turned Wrigleyville into a printing press at the same time such talented players are available in free agency. It’s just that I’m getting a really strong vibe that any luxury tax overages will end up being minimal at best. And even though there have to be some changes, I don’t think they’ll be the result of Harper displacing people.
Now let’s hope I’m wrong so you can point and laugh at me over the next few weeks. But I’m really afraid the info I got I might be right.
Ed. note: The “intuition” mentioned above was actually much more concrete than just a funny feeling, though it did feel funny to be told to dial expectations for Bryce Harper way down. According a source with direct knowledge of the situation, one who wished to remain known as just a gut feeling at the time, the Cubs’ baseball budget had come in lower than previously expected. That has since been repeated in several media reports and by the Cubs themselves, so it’s no longer very exclusive.