Talk about burying the lede. The headline of Bruce Levine’s Monday evening column reads simply: “Winter Meetings Notes: Sox In ‘Aggressive’ Mode.” The sub-title is equally innocuous: “The Cubs and White Sox are both searching for bullpen help.” And the opener is focused on the Southsiders’ aggressive pursuit of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
“The White Sox met with Harper in Las Vegas on Nov. 19,” Levine wrote. “The Phillies and Dodgers are believed to be two other serious suitors for him.”
Then comes the bombshell, tucked safely away behind 138 words and then passed over quickly in favor of both Chicago teams’ bullpen pursuits. Virtually all the talk to this point has been that the Cubs were not going to spend. It’s been the central tenet of several posts here and at The Athletic, which has really driven home the idea of budget constraints.
At the GM Meetings in November, agents indicated the Cubs had told them the had limited financial flexibility.
Has anything changed? It remains unclear, but on the flip side, rumblings also exist that the Ricketts family has signed off on the possibility of a big expenditure for a star like Harper [emphasis mine]. Only the Cubs know, and only time will tell how big of a free agency splash they can make.
Bruuuuuuuuce. My man.
This obviously runs contrary to what’s been said by other MLB execs and agents (not directly, but through members of the media) and what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have stated publicly in no uncertain terms. But Levine’s report lines up with what we’ve heard here at Cubs Insider and what 670 The Score’s Julie DiCaro tweeted out Monday, which is that the Cubs are more “in” on Harper than previously believed.
And when you take into account the descriptions of the surreptitious meetings Scott Boras has coordinated between Harper and interested teams, it makes sense that the Cubs would remain coy. That’s their MO anyway, so the whole “submarine race” thing just gives them more impetus to keep it up.
Maybe there’s nothing to this and the rumblings Levine is talking about are just coming from the bellies of all those beat writers who’re skipping meals in favor of a juicy quote. Or maybe Tom Ricketts — perhaps spurred by the Cardinals’ acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt or Boras’s claim that Harper could be worth $1 billion to his new team — really did allow his baseball brain trust a special dispensation to land the superstar outfielder.
As Levine wrote, only the Cubs know that for certain. But if they really do have the willingness to spend, they have to be considered one of the two or three teams Boras said will be serious contenders. Their ability to recruit is unparalleled and it does appear that Harper is looking for much more than just money, though he’s not cutting his demands in half for anyone.
I guess now we just sit back calmly and wait to see how things play out, huh?