Rosenthal: Cubs in ‘Bind,’ Need to Clear Money Even to Afford Adam Warren

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Cubs might not be “able” to spend big money on free agents this winter. That’s what has been reported since at least Halloween, when CI heard from sources that the budget wasn’t what everyone was initially expecting. It’s since been reported ad nauseum by several other outlets and Theo Epstein has confirmed multiple times that the budget is limited.

And even though Epstein has also said more than once that anything is possible, the prevailing belief is that the Cubs would have to make room for new contracts by moving existing ones. Let me clarify the idea of need here, as it doesn’t seem to be a matter of the organization itself not having funds. I mean, the idea that the Cubs themselves are broke is laughable. Rather, the budget provided to the front office — which they say is not governed by the luxury tax — leaves little buffer to add salary at this point.

We’re not just talking about handing $40 million annually to Bryce Harper with a unique swellopt contract, either. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Epstein and Co. are going to have to stretch ($) just to fit in a deal for some like 31-year-old righty Adam Warren. If true, that’s incredibly troubling.

While we can’t take MLB Trade Rumors’ free agent rankings as gospel, Warren only merited the honorable mention section of their top 50. Using the bottom few projections as a guide, we’re talking about a contract of just $4-6 million annually over a year or two. At best. For the sake of reference, Jesse Chavez was ranked No. 44 and we already saw the Cubs let him walk for $8 million over two years.

The Cubs do like Warren, who was with the team for a brief stint between the Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman trades. His time with the Cubs was beyond rough as he struggled to a 5.91 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 1.8 HR/9 over 29 appearances, but he’s gotten the walks under control (4.9 BB/9 with Cubs, 3.1 career) and his strikeout numbers have gone up consistently since being traded back to the Yankees.

There is, however, the all-too-familiar bugaboo of onboarding, something the Cubs have publicly acknowledged this winter. Warren isn’t the first pitcher whose performance fell off after joining the Cubs, but there may be more to it than that. He began his 2018 campaign with the Yankees by posting a 2.70 ERA and 11.10 K/9 with just 3.60 BB/9 over 30 innings, then saw those respective numbers go to 3.74, 6.23, and 3.32 over 21.2 innings following a trade to Seattle.

Maybe it’s just a matter of having to adjust on the fly or the shock of being traded that has caused his numbers to crater. But the move to the Cubs took place in the winter and Warren had plenty of time to assimilate prior to the 2016 season. He also improved immediately upon his return to New York and was quite serviceable during his time there both before and after the trade. It’s possible he’s just far more comfortable in Yankees pinstripes for whatever reason.

Performance aside, the real issue is that the Cubs are apparently being forced — again, imperfect word but you get what I mean — to shop at the low end of the market for bullpen help. And while Warren is a far more promising option than Colin Rea, who may be on the Cubs’ radar, the fact that they’re essentially looking to shore up a leaky bullpen with duct tape and bubblegum isn’t cause for celebration.

Who knows, though, maybe one of these guys will be like Flex Tape and the Cubs will be able to sail along in a bottomless boat like Phil Swift.

Ed. note: Rosenthal’s piece digs into a little more about the Cubs’ attempts to trade Addison Russell, along with some of their other young players, so you can click that link above for more details on that if you like. And though Rosenthal didn’t name any teams in those Russell talks, CI learned back in December that the Mariners may have been involved

One thing we know for sure, and that Rosenthal confirmed, is that Russell will not be in attendance at the upcoming Cubs Convention. Though normally an endorphin-fueled celebratory love-fest, this year’s event figures to have a lot of unrest and hard questions from fans about the team’s direction in the wake of an offseason of inactivity. Unless something changes, it’s got potential to be a very tense weekend.

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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and co-founder of Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana's foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan's greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson's Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College.

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42 Comments

  1. Theo needs to get that gorilla suit back if he screwed things up this bad, this is totally embarrassing.

    I can only hope this is news because they already have a full BP being stuck with Chatwood, Duensing and Kintzler who they would like to dump behind Morrow, Strop, Edwards, Cishek and Monty on top of the lower money guys like Rosario or Ryan who got a big league deal..

    1. What if under all the numbers there was some mis-management. Look at Duensing…sure, crap year, but look at his numbers vs LHH… It was a 0.217/0.313/0.377 was a BABIP of 0.222… I wish I could look to the days off in between as he looks encouraging up until 2 days off until you look at the SLG.

      Kintzler is the one that throws me…he doesn’t strike people out like early in his career, and there is no number that says he’ll be great…I just dunno..

      1. How ‘bout look instead at Duensing’s numbers over a 40 year career? Might that tell you he was garbage before Theo ever got him (as most every 4+ ERA RP is), and that 2017 was a complete aberration? 2018, age 35–welcome to reality.

        What do you suppose 2019 at 36 will look like—regardless of days of uselessness?

        Tony Watson…um…is in a little better shape at this point…after signing exact same contract as Duensing. More youth, better performer…but that musta been irrelevant.

        1. Or we could actually look at Duensings career which yielded 2 5+ seasons, and several in the 3’s…which is okay for a middle reliever… problem with Watson is giving up the long ball, but again… I don’t feel you’re looking at the numbers, you’re just very set in your opinion.

    2. The Cubs do have some really bad contracts. Heyward and a couple of starting pitchers. Getting rid of guys who are earning less than a million per, will accomplish nothing. I don’t have the answer, unless they bite the bullet and pay the luxury tax.

  2. We just are proud grandparents of our third granddaughter. We are sending her to chatwood’s house so he can teach her to walk.

  3. The dramatic calls for Theo’s head or Ricketts’ head are simply ridiculous. Let’s see how things turn out this off-season before stomping our feet like spoiled children. I trust this group to make it work.

      1. He’s great at turning a team around and then terrible at maintaining things. Go look at how godawful his moves have been since the start of 2017 and that doesn’t even factor in the Heyward albatross. Its Cishek and a ton of wasted money and prospects.

          1. We went from dreaming about Harper to hoping we can find enough money to sign Adam Warren, yet you keep acting shocked people are turning on Theo.

            Its going to get worse once Bryce signs elsewhere and we pick up some reclamation projects like Rae. Everyone in the division is improving and we have no money or prospects, but don’t question the guy in charge who got us in this spot?

          2. I have not said at any point that I’m shocked, it’s more about the pure negativity. If following a team gives you nothing but bad feelings, it’s probably not a good thing.

      2. Personally I will always be thankful to Theo Epstein for bringing the Cubs a championship. Epstein is brilliant at putting together an organization. He is brilliant at making small trades and flips into gold mines for the Cubs. Where I have reservations about Epstein is in big trades Justin Wilson and Jose Quintana. Also in his free agent signings. His ability to properly control the team finances. While I understand the trade for Jose Quintana had a lot to do with his contract. I do wish Epstein were more patient before making those trades. I also believe Epstein would be brilliant on a continual basis if there were someone above him who could serve as a sounding board and have the final decision, Like a Larry Lucchino type, who filled that roll in Theo’s last 2 years in Boston. Oversee free agent dollars spent. This is the 2nd team Theo has dug into a hole financially.

    1. I’m with you on this, CP. I’ve said it before, but virtually every GM that makes moves to sustain “win now” – is going to have some misses. Take a look at the two super stars available right now; Harper and Machado. Odds are that at least one of them will NOT play up to the contract he signs this winter, and that team will have fans that call the GM stupid because of it. Those players sure look good now though.

      My only “complaints” of the off-season thus far, are that they haven’t done more in the trade category. I.E. why is Russell still on the team? Plus, I don’t believe that they improved the team with the Smyly and LaStella trades.

  4. I honestly like the team taken as is. We need 2 more bullpen pieces but honestly, maybe those could be filled in house with Dillon Maples, Duane Underwood or a refocused Chatwood. We have plenty of depth on the roster to fill out the position spots. Every year there seems to be a guy or two who surprises us by over performing (Bote, Chavez) Sure there’ll be another this year.

  5. I still think they will be fine. Didn’t dip in standings till they had to play so many games in a row. I think they still have top talent on offense and will need money for that great offense. May even be playing possum. Go Cubbies!!

  6. Sadly Ken Rosenthal also made a point to write that the Cubs have not liked the offer’s in return for their young players. Meaning they have little value outside of Bryant and Baez. Because Theo & Co. overvalued them and Epstein’s plan for having interchangeable pieces, blew up in his face. Just like Epstein’s financial planning.

    1. I do not believe that the Cub young players have little value. Schwarber who hit 60 HRs the last two seasons has no value? Happ is a multi position player with power, no value? Rizzo no value? I’m not going to list them all, but you get the idea.

      1. Anthony Rizzo will be 30 in August not exactly a young player. Considering that Theo Epstein said he didn’t like what was being offered for his young players what exactly does it tell you.Think about it please. Kyle Schwarber has hit 56 home runs the past 2 seasons and not much else. Ian Happ has homered 39 times the past 2 seasons. If he wants to be considered a power hitter, he really needs to step it up

  7. I think this is all being done to set Maddon up for failure. Theo is covering his ass. If he goes out and signs some great pieces and they falter just like about every other FA he’s signed, finger is pointed at him. He keeps playing up that the current roster is loaded with talent. Anyone with a brain knows that while there are some good pieces (Baez, Bryant, Rizzo), it’s not loaded with talent. The fact that he can’t get what he wants for these guys tells you he has vastly overrated their talent. Nothing coming from minors to speak of either anytime soon. This team will not make playoffs in 2019. 2020 will result in big FA spending as much of their pitching staff will be gone, at least those worth a crap. Can’t count on pitchers from minors as no aces there. I’m looking for a rebuild in 2020 and 2021. And if Theo thinks he can get Trout, he’s dreaming. If he leaves angels, he’s going to Phils. And if not Phils there is no way Yankees get outbid. Theo has screwed the pooch with his horrible FA signings. As I have said over and over, he did exact same thing in Boston and eventually got run out of town. People who believe in him should be very cautious. I’m not ready to toss him YET, but if team fails to make playoffs in 2019, Maddon, Theo and crew all need to go.

    1. I would not mind a rebuild. They are kind of fun, watching all the young players. No pressure and no tension. I am cool with that.

  8. I think the Cubs go into the season as is. Once they finish the season in second or third in the division they will have to reevaluate their talent and make moves in 2020.

    1. Happ is already signed through 2023, and isn’t even arbitration eligible until after 2020 – currently making a paltry $570k. It would really, really be a head scratcher if they extended him.

    1. I feel like he’s just saying that maybe this year he can’t…or of course its a smoke screen. With next year having Zobrist, Hamels, Morrow, Duensing, Cishek out, possibly moved on Chatwood…with the league bump in revenue…I can see some buying power

  9. If they don’t add some pitching and a bat, next year’s Cubs will be a lesser team than last years 95 win version. They have lost Murphy, a solid hitte, Wilsonr and Chavez. They have not added anyone of note and evidently have no plans to do that. Hello third place.

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