Following the Bryce Harper rumors has been like watching a tennis match, with attention shifting back and forth as teams and motives change by the minute. The same is true even if you focus just on the Cubs. Several early reports had them playing it safe, then came word that they were more “in” than previously suspected, followed by Bruce Levine saying ownership may have approved funds for a big splash.
Jed Hoyer subsequently told the media that nothing had changed with the budget. Ken Rosenthal reported that the White Sox could be willing to ink their biggest contract ever, while the Cubs were not currently engaged in a meaningful pursuit of Harper. But given how secretive Scott Boras has been with the orchestration of his client’s courtship, the Cubs may be wisely remaining in stealth mode.
That is indeed the case, according to a source with knowledge of the situation who said the Cubs have not ruled out a legitimate play for Harper. The superstar outfielder has made it clear that he enjoys Chicago and it’s believed he would like to play for the Cubs, so he is hoping the front office can find a way to make it happen.
The Cubs are viewed as having a solid chance to land Harper, another source said, but it’s nowhere near a sure thing. The money situation will obviously be key here, though it’s not as simple as which team writes the biggest check. Even if the Cubs are Harper’s preferred destination and he would be willing to take less to play there, neither Boras nor the union would be in favor of such a decision.
And it doesn’t appear as though Tom Ricketts has actually earmarked an additional $35 million in annual salary, either. It’s possible he’ll be more lenient with the budget constraints should Harper become a reality, but the front office would still have to get creative to free up some extra payroll.
Could that creativity come from finding a way to make Jason Heyward‘s contract disappear or by trading Ben Zobrist? The latter has been brought up as a possibility should the Cubs really need to “find” money, even at the obvious cost of leadership and a solid bat. These are among the hard decisions and difficult scenarios that have put Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer on edge as they navigate what feels like a pivotal offseason for the franchise.
And that’s not even mentioning the scores of other free agents and trade options they’re researching as alternatives or fallbacks. Even for tireless workers like those in the Cubs front office, this process can be wearisome. The disappointing results from last offseason’s spending have put Epstein and Hoyer in a position where they can’t afford more swings and misses.
Only they know exactly what they’ve got to work with and what they’ll have to do to make it happen, but signing Bryce Harper is still very much a possibility being weighed. But until someone hits a winner, we’re going to be watching volleying reports for a little while yet.