Already Longshots for Harper, Cubs Might Even Avoid Next Tier of Free Agents with Eye on 2020

As we wait for the hot stove to actually get warm, Cubs Twitter continues to find hope in Bryce Harper’s social media posts and over-analyze reports that are crafted to be pretty hard to be refute. And even though I’d love to warm my hands by the fire, I’m afraid I might first have to douse the kindling with a little cold water.

Of course the Cubs want to be in on Harper and will engage in the requisite tire-kicking, but everything points to them not realistically being players. Based on very reliable local reporting from those on the Cubs beat and here at Cubs Insider, all of which jibes what I continue to hear, money is too tight at Clark and Addison for anything on a grand scale to happen without some serious luck and creativity.

I simply do not buy that the Cubs are playing possum this offseason when it comes to Harper or other big free agents. Some industry sources have even expressed concern that the Cubs can’t even afford — or simply won’t spend on — a move like AJ Pollock or Zach Britton without shedding some salary.

While many have pointed to the $246 million maximum luxury tax penalty threshold as a limit, we don’t know exactly where the Ricketts family has set the hard line for a budget. Theo Epstein said at the GM Meetings that nothing is off the table until it’s off the table, and one source has confirmed that the Cubs did indeed check in with Scott Boras about Harper.

They also discussed the next steps in Addison Russell’s future. A source with knowledge of the situation said the Cubs did make some calls to gauge interest in the former All-Star shortstop, with Seattle mentioned as a potential trade partner. For now, though, expect to see the Cubs tender Russell by Friday’s deadline. I personally would bet on it.

The Cubs appear to want to rehab Russell’s nonexistent value as much as his character, rather just dumping him. It is a turbulent situation to be sure, one that is complicated further by the dynamics of a non-tender market that could be more robust than usual, and I do not envy the Cubs as they try to work through it.

Word is the Cubs’ frustrated front office will continue to explore all possibilities in an attempt to move some salary like Jason Heyward (obviously a longshot) or Tyler Chatwood to create some financial breathing room. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are boxed in by several different factors, but they won’t rest until they have exhausted every measure to create flexibility.

Does that mean they’re also inclined to deal someone from their young core to shake up the roster? It sounds like Willson Contreras is close to untouchable, almost on par with Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, and Anthony Rizzo. But Miami is apparently enamored of the young catcher and could entice with a deal centered around JT Realmuto and some of their talented arms if the Cubs want to get creative.

As for more budget-friendly moves in the likely event that Harper and Pollock are not in the mix, AL Comeback Player of the Year Michael Brantley has been discussed as a potential fit.

And while they may not be willing/able to play in this year’s free agent pool, the Cubs already have their eyes on next season’s crop. The 2020 class is headlined by Nolan Arenado, who I’m told the Cubs simply adore. That extra year could allow the Cubs to figure out their murky broadcast network deal and make big moves next offseason.

So while a major splash doesn’t appear to be in the works this winter, I would never count Epstein and Hoyer out when it comes to finding a way to make something happen.

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6 Comments

  1. “…Cubs’ frustrated front office…” Theo made this bed, now Rickets is telling him to sleep in it. Epstein should not be allowed to sign a FA, he has an abysmal track record. When Theo’s FA signing in Boston started to bite at his butt, he found an exit opportunity in the Cubs. Could a team like San Diego be his next move? Lot of linkage there.

    1. Zobrist and Lester have been darn good FA signings, and while Heyward hasn’t hit at the level his salary indicates – his defense and leadership has always been top notch. Just about every GM that has ever played the “go for it now” with big FA signings – has had major busts.

  2. While I think the Cubs are looking at their payroll and budget for both 2019 and beyond, I don’t think they are “eyeing” next years free agents per se’. (not that Evan ultimately said they were)

    When the slow market hit last off-season, it was the feel-good rationale to believe that everyone was just saving up for a feeding frenzy in the ’18-’19 offseason. Unfortunately for the lovers of the hot stove, I think it was instead the beginning of the new norm – at least until a new CBA changes the environment in which teams operate.

    W.S. winners have been getting it done with rosters of young, cost and contract controlled players. Not 100% of course, but a heavy dose of it. Javy Baez for $7 mil is a heck of a deal compared to Machado at $30 million or more. Mookie Betts will likely jump to $19 mil – still cheap compared to signing him as a FA. Even more unnerving for GMs/Owners today is the 10+ year contract. See Albert Pujols for recent example. Harper and Machado may get big contracts, but there will be some exit ramps put in.

    Bigger/longer deals will go down here and there, but I think GMs and Owners are looking to avoid them. Everyone is looking for cheap, cost/contract controlled talent more than ever.

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