Jim Bowden Claims Cubs ‘Did Not Make a Play on Bryce Harper at All’

I know many of you are suffering from Bryce Harper fatigue and have grown increasingly skeptical as each new bit of sourced information contradicts the last. But this latest report hit my windshield like a massive bird dropping and I just couldn’t wipe it off. That the Cubs may not have the available funds to sign Harper or other top free agents is far from novel, so The Athletic‘s Jim Bowden took things to a new level during a Wednesday appearance with David Kaplan and Jordan Cornette on ESPN 1000.

“Well, you got your world championship and then you got a lot of bad contracts,” Bowden said. “And that’s just business, that’s not just baseball. You had the money, you spent it, it didn’t work out — for injuries or for whatever reason — and now you gotta pay the price.

“They did not make a play on Bryce Harper at all. Zero, from I was told. They did not make a play on Michael Brantley. Zero. They did not make a play on A.J. Pollock. Zero. Despite knowing they need another professional hitter and another bullpen arm.”

He went on to report that the Drew Smyly trade was made in order to free up money to bring Cole Hamels back, which has been known since the time it went down. We’ll extend the benefit of the doubt on that one since not everyone follows the Cubs as obsessively as we do, even though Bowden’s colleague at The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal, was responsible for the info

I’ve long been apprehensive of Bowden, and it’s got nothing to do with the former GM resigning his position with the Nationals during a federal investigation into his skimming of signing bonuses for Dominican prospects. Rather, it’s the general tendency toward bombast and frequent presentation of incomplete or incorrect information. Then again, I suppose someone could apply some of the latter to me.

This latest claim about the Cubs’ lack of contact with Harper runs completely counter to everything we’ve heard to this point. Cubs Insider had been told that they were indeed more “in” on the superstar than was being shared publicly. Gordon Wittenmyer reported for the Sun-Times in late December that the Cubs had actually met with Scott Boras for as long as three hours, at which point they asked Harper’s camp to wait for them before accepting another offer (all emphasis mine).

That explains the message the Cubs delivered during their lengthy meeting with Scott Boras, Harper’s agent — as long as three hours, by some accounts — as he and Harper made the rounds with interested teams.

Sources say Epstein urged them to wait before accepting an offer from another team until the Cubs had a chance to try to move some payroll off the books and check again with ownership.

Now, is it possible that Harper was not present at the meeting and that Bowden’s report is technically correct? Or that the semantics of “did not make a play” could be massaged to mean the Cubs were simply going through the motions? Sure, but that argument is intellectually dishonest at best, especially when he reinforced with “zero.”

As for the Cubs not pursuing those other moves, well, that’s hard to find much fault with that. CI learned back in December that Pollock was indeed seen as too rich a target. Subsequent reports have said the team is in such a bind that even signing Adam Warren would require them to free up salary. Woof.

At this point, the only good thing about all these conflicting reports is the fuel they provide for my burgeoning career as a professional summarizer.

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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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16 Comments

  1. Bowden said something completely different on MLB radio yesterday when he mentioned the Cubs as hanging on the periphery to a a caller. He then followed it up saying “he believed” (not sourced) thatvtge Cubs are handcuffed by post-championship bad contracts, specifically mentioning Darvish and Chatwood, while indicating that the Heyward contract – combined with those two – was enough for Tom Ricketts to close the spigot.

    So he sounds like he is citing himself.

    1. Hard to blame Ricketts closing the bank. With zero off season moves Cubs are still, what, #2 in payroll heading into 2019. So, he’s clearly not cheap. History also shows that the highest patrolled team doesn’t usually win the brass ring. You have to feel like Ricketts is telling Theo “get some ‘bad’ money off the books before we bring on ‘maybe’ money.” I know I would.

      1. Ricketts new TV deal and Wrigleyville renovations will put tons of money in his pocket.. Adding pieces for another WS Championship will make up for the cost. Finishing third in the division is going to make for a tough off season next year.

        1. For all the talk about money and the Ricketts fortune, it makes me think of 3 things: 1) the Cubs aren’t desperate (2016 WS Championship exonerates them from desperation), 2) it’s a for-profit company and they probably love making huge profits for their family; 3) to your point about cost (Ross), the big payroll Yankees have only 1 WS ring in the last 15 years so exorbitant payrolls don’t necessarily translate to rings. It’s obvious you can’t be in the bottom 10% of payroll to win it, but it’s also obvious you don’t need to be in the top 10% of payroll to win it (and usually aren’t), and personally, I think the team has bigger systemic issues than just adding a Harper. (we don’t possess any elite pitchers or have an elite BP – a bigger issue IMO).

        1. $225M is kinda trying, no? Now we can debate how the $225M is spent (obviously inefficiently), but the Ricketts are spending. And again, they just won a ring, no desperation needed.

  2. My wish is for Jim Bowden to have a lengthy case of laryngitis. Just STFU already. Honestly, I wouldnt feel bad if guys like him & Steve Phillips just dissapeared into the regular world never to reappear again!

  3. Gotta find something else to write about man…this topic has been beaten like a dead horse and then some. We don’t need Harper so regardless if they made a play for him or not shouldn’t matter. They won 95 games last year with virtually everyone having a “down” year or at best average year (exception being Javy). Bryant, Darvish and Morrow all missed significant time. Most people complain about Heyward’s contract (and rightfully so) but Harper with a $30M or more for 8-10 years would be exponentially worse. At least Heyward provides elite defense to go along with lackluster offense. Our bullpen should be top priority if they make any moves.

          1. I think you missed the point in my original post. While Heyward’s offense has dropped off since joining the Cubs he still adds value by providing elite defense (and yes I know offense is more important) but if Harper declines on offense his contract would be a disaster. Take out his 9.3 WAR mvp season and he’s essentially a 3 to 4 WAR player on a yearly basis. And while that is still decent it isn’t $30M per year good. He isn’t a “generational talent” like many try to claim. Mike Trout is a generational talent. So while it would be entertaining to have Harper on the Cubs he would likely never come close to producing enough offense to live up to the contract he’ll likely get. Bullpen needs help a lot more than our position group does. Cubs already have plenty of offensive firepower they just need to get it together this year and get back to playing like they did in 2016. It’s largely the same team still.

          2. Heyward no longer elite defensively, and I’m wondering if that was not overrated all along (20 assists would be nice some year—but I’d also take 10…or 8). But don’t take my word for it—watch the games, and consult the advanced defensive metrics and—who have confirmed the same.

            The other “elite” part of Heyward’s game—his baserunning—has disappeared into virtual nothingness.

            And since both D and baserunning generally decline before hitting…we are in for a beautiful next 5 years.

          3. Counting on a player who once won an MVP while slugging .650 is a better bet—ever since baseball was invented. Alas, that opportunity will be missed—due to supreme faith in questionably made-up baserunning and defensive numbers.

            Stick with the obvious—it’s a stick, after all.

          4. So you think it would be wise to make that same mistake again by adding Bryce for twice that length and at 1.5x pay per year (at least, maybe more) and likely see the same result? Not to mention if cubs were to add him there is not much chance of resigning Bryant and Baez in a couple of years (maybe either of them depending on how new CBA changes before then. Cubs can’t keep throwing money at free agents every year especially since we don’t have many pre-arb players left on roster to balance out large contracts and not much currently in farm system. So unless Theo and scouts can start hitting on pitchers in the draft and get them developed to add on mlb roster they are going to have to use available funds on pitching.

          5. It was not “likely” that Heyward would turn out as badly as he did; it is therefore impossible that the former MVP and life .900 OPSer Harper does the same face plant. Harper is more valuable in his sleep than Heyward is on his best speech making day. The question of whether I want Cubs to grab Harper (of course) is irrelevant…Heyward has made it impossible…another thing we can refuse to boo him about.

            When the whole story is written, no one will have done more to steal the Cubs’ window of opportunity than Heyward…shame of it all is we never even needed him from the inception of the deal.

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