chicago cubs logoIf it seems to you like spending in free agency has been up dramatically this year, you’re right. With a few big names left to be signed (including, potentially, a huge one in Masahiro Tanaka), the total spending this year is going to break the record spending we saw back in the 2007-08 era – during which the Cubs were significant participants. It’s no surprise that spending is enormous right now, with the league awash in record revenues, huge new national TV deals set to kick in next year, and with a collective bargaining agreement that shifts dollars from the amateur side to the big league side. Each of Jeff Passan and MLBTR do a good job documenting the historic spending this offseason.

If you follow only the NL Central, however, you might not recognize any of that.

Of the top free agents, only Jhonny Peralta – four years, and $52 million – has signed a big contract with a team in the NL Central. While the Cubs have been largely absent from free agency this year, they aren’t alone. Among the headliner NL Central moves outside of Peralta: the Pirates picked up Edinson Volquez on a one-year, $5 million deal; the Reds got Skip Schumaker for two years and $5 million; the Cardinals paid Mark Ellis $5.25 million for a year; and the Brewers … um … uh … nothing. Against that backdrop, the Cubs’ big $4 million deal for Jose Veras is right in line with what the rest of the Joneses are doing.

Is that a good thing? Does the lack of spending around the rest of the division mean that the Cubs have missed an opportunity to catch back up? Was this the worst possible time to be cheap?

Eh. I’m still not so sure about that, even if it is interesting to consider how miserly the Central has been this year. Consider that, last year, the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates were among the best teams in baseball, largely built upon young-ish cores of talent that are under control for many years to come. Spending big in free agency was simply not necessary or advisable for them (especially since none of them blinked first), and is actually more of a concern as we look ahead into the future, rather than a sign that the Cubs will eventually be able to overtake the poor neighbors. These teams didn’t need to spend big in free agency to keep up their competitive squads. Frankly, if the Cubs are going to be non-competitive for another couple years, I would have loved to have seen some of the other NL Central teams signing the kind of long-term nooses that drag smaller market organizations down after a couple years.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, these tend to be well-run, well-position organizations that aren’t really all the worse for the wear for having sat out the great spending binge of 2013. The fact that the Cubs also sat things out is neither a good nor a bad thing, relative to the other organizations. “Catching up” with where they are already would have required hundreds of millions of dollars, and the success would have been very short-lived.

The more I consider all of the inputs as the offseason goes on, the more strongly I believe what I said back in November (which was a change from what I believed back in February): it’s just not the right time for the Cubs to spend big. That’s my position regardless of the Cubs’ ability to spend big right now (which is debatable). Let the three big boys in the Central have one more year of (probable) dominance, and see where the chips are next offseason. Let the kids do some more developing, and see where the clearest long-term needs are after the 2014 season. Let the new partial TV deal kick in. Let the Wrigley renovations get underway. If some value signings present themselves in January and February, sure, grab ’em (and if Masahiro Tanaka becomes available, he’s an entirely separate discussion). But it was going to be rough, rough going in the Central in 2014. Dropping anything short of hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency wasn’t going to change that.

Here’s hoping that, come this time next year, I haven’t convinced myself of the very same thing as we watch the Cubs once again sit on the sidelines, and prepare for a disappointing, but theoretically virtuous, season.

  • dash

    Or, maybe the NL East GMs realize that dumping a ton of money on free agents doesn’t necessarily improve your team.

  • josh ruiter

    again…looking at the upcoming FA class. I just don’t see a guy that stands out (minus Kershaw who won’t get to FA), and I feel like the value of having a solid OF veteran presence was too necessary to not play on one of Choo or Ellsbury (Choo was always my preference). That being said as the price tags rose it was evident that it wasn’t what we needed. While those guys will probably be very good the first 4 years of those deals and then tail off or nose dive shortly thereafter, the teams that signed them will compete for those for years. The Cubs would have competed for 2-3 at best of those years and so had 1-2 years less of inspired spending. oh well, the reality of a building process.

    • Cizzle

      I see the Cubs (if they don’t sign Tanaka this year and there aren’t a rash of big extensions this year) getting one of Bailey, Cueto, Gallardo, Kershaw, Scherzer. The farm should fill in most of the other holes over the next year and a half, but as has been discussed, we are low on high-upside arms.

    • hansman

      “I just don’t see a guy that stands out (minus Kershaw who won’t get to FA)”

      This, and:

      “I feel like the value of having a solid OF veteran presence was too necessary to not play on one of Choo or Ellsbury”

      This were said last year and the year before and the year before and the year before.

      • Brett

        It’s easy to forget that, at this time last year, folks were projecting that there was going to be absolutely nothing available on the market next year. And now it’s the most spendy offseason in baseball history. Is it like it was five-ten years ago? No. But there will always be quality free agents. And, long-term, I think we’ll see the pendulum swing back in the other direction as more and more players think, “I’m going to gamble on huge free agent dollars.”

        • Edwin

          Maybe, but the main reason that FA was more “spendy” is due to revenue growth in MLB, not neccessarily the quality of FA. Currently, FA age is trending higher. I think if you’re someone who is averse to the Cubs “overpaying” for FA talent, you’re probably not going to be a fan of any big spending in FA for at least a couple years.

          • hansman

            This is true. The talent on the market this year wasn’t markedly improved over last year just there was more money to spend.

            Just like last year, there are guys who should provide some value to their new teams but they also come with significant risks. Next year will be the same and there will be, roughly, the same number of dollars chasing the same level of talent.

            However, as more 24-25 year olds risk arb extensions for FA, we should see marginally higher contracts (marginally more dollars) for drastically higher talent.

    • Voice of Reason

      Josh ruiter you can do more than just sign free agents.

      There is a thing called trades.

      I wouldn’t have spent all that money on choo or ellsbury unless one of then would have put us over the top. Were not even close to that point.

  • Rodrick

    I like this website! I believe that owners know better than to spend money on players. When have players ever made a team win? We should wait for players to be good that we already have and then the team will be better and then they will win. There has never been a team who hired a player and won. The owners know what it takes to win because they win all the time.

    • caryatid62

      I’m sure this will get old quickly, but right now…this is wonderful.

    • mjhurdle

      hmm, wonder if i can try that kind of bizarro logic….

      When have owners ever made a team lose?! The players play the game, they are the ones who lose! Every single team that has missed the playoff in the history of the game had players on it! Players = missing the playoffs.
      For that matter, every team that has lost 100 games or more in a season was comprised of people that breathe oxygen! The 2014 Cubs team is doomed to 100 or more losses because last time i checked, this horrible Front Office has stacked the roster with nothing but oxygen breathing players!!

      • Jono

        I hate oxygen

        • DarthHater

          Try phlogiston.

          • Darth Ivy

            wow, I actually did a minute of research about that. Nice reference, master.

            • DarthHater

              Always, there are two. 😉

      • Rodrick

        Maybe you do not understand baseball? If you spend money on players the players are expensive, but if you have them already they are cheap. Then the team has good players and they are cheap. If the players are good then you win and if you need new players then you find them where you have them, not from somewhere else. If you sign them then the team will not be good.

        • wvcubsfan

          Not sure if serious or if you are just trying too hard.

          • frank

            I think what he’s trying to say is that free agency is not the best way to build a team because it’s too expensive, and that building through your own system is better . . . (?)

            • DarthHater

              I think your interpretation of what he is saying is pretty charitable. Not sure that interpetation is really consistent with a statement like: “There has never been a team who hired a player and won.” That’s not just saying that free agency is not the best way to build a team, it’s saying that a team can never successfully build via free agency. Which, of course, is both false and silly.

          • D.G.Lang

            He’s very trying.

          • Arrieta’sUncle

            I am pretty sure.

      • cub2014

        mj wait until july because i think Veras,ejax,
        schierholtz will all be flipped. i also think
        barney,russell,murphy or valbuena,vitters,
        raley,cabrera and others will be traded if
        they can be.

        So this team will be the youngest I can ever
        remember by July or August. How good they
        will be who knows.

      • frank

        The new market: Nitrogen breathing players . . .

  • dash

    Oops. I meant NL Central. (I’m still stuck in the ’80s, apparently!)

  • regimezefelerski

    My personal feeling is that the bottom is going to fall out on all this free agent spending. I think the money is going to dry out. But even if it doesn’t and pro teams are able to keep making athletes super rich, I think it has spoiled baseball. My family can’t afford going to big league games, except once every other year or so. Minor league games and Frontier league is our budget now.

    • regimezefelerski

      I know this isn’t the scope of the article, it just brought this thought to my mind.

      • DCF

        You can easily score $5 seats for the Cubs if you’re not too picky about the date and quality of the opponent. And even if it costs you $10, as long as the Cubs keep sucking, tickets are very affordable.

    • Edwin

      I think pro teams are more about making owners super rich.

      • frank

        Chris Rock once said, “Shaquille O’Neal is rich; the guy who signs his paychecks? He’s wealthy!”

  • 70’scub

    Bottom line the Yankees and Rangers were the “big losers” this year. Choo can’t hit southpaws, the Yankees just got older…….with a forty year old SS coming off two broken ankles, a brittle Ells, and they just about got older with every move they made. Last two years free agent winner the “Angles” traded a young power hitter to protect Albert /Hamilton “what a mess” The big free agent play is classic desperation that the Cub FO is avoiding. “Again 300 million two average center fielders past their prime playing years”. The Cub fan should know what happens when a team is loaded with old highly paid past the prime talent. The Tigers got rid of an young effective starter to help pay for their Aces contract that runs to he is almost 40, by the way that ace already dropped to number 2 on their depth chart.

    • Rodrick

      Yes, the teams that spent money lost because money is for the owners. How can the team work if all of the money is in pockets of just one player? Signing players never works because we will lose. The only answer is to hire players that the team already has so we can win.

    • Blackhawks1963

      Yeah, the Yankees, winners of 28 World Series Championships and 5 over the last two decades are a mess. Stop yourself. They are on the odds on favorite to get Tanaka. Suffice to say, they are rarely down for long. A lineup to include a healthy Texiera to go along with Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran and McCann is going to be very strong too.

      • 70’scub

        Mr. 1963 Yankees 27 of those titles happened over 10 years ago! However your comment made my point by cherry picking the best of the old Yankee players odds are one or two of those have a decent year. By the way Yankee brass tried to trade the young one “Gardner”. My bad maybe your givens were Jeter, A Roid, Wells the big high mileage lefty Ace, the old Japanese (right fielder, number two starter). Soriano at 38 is still more Athletic than half their opening day roster, heck before the season ends Sori might get a shot to start in right field. Maybe those last 5 titles were about aggressively using “PEDS” it worked for Lance Armstrong!

  • Edwin

    I’m thinking that next offseason we probably “watch the Cubs once again sit on the sidelines, and prepare for a disappointing, but theoretically virtuous, season.” I don’t think there will be much in FA that fits the Cubs needs, and I don’t think the “young core” will do enough that suddenly it makes sense to buy big on someone like Choo, Ellsbury, or some other player of that caliber.

  • Noah_I

    One thing I’d note is that the Cardinals did make a somewhat significant move via trade, moving David Freese for Bourjos. It’s one of the nice things that the Cubs will hopefully be able to do in the next few seasons: trade from positions of strength to improve a weakness. The Cardinals had 3 players to play 2B and 3B in 2014 (Freese, Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong) and at least their best defensive alignment puts Carpenter at 3B and Wong at 2B. Add to the fact that Freese had a down year and costs a lot more than Carpenter and Wong combined, and it was a smart move for a team that has to be conscious about what they spend. Add in that the Cardinals addressed their greatest weakness, outfield defense, at the same time, and that’s a nice complimentary move.

  • Blackhawks1963

    NL Central assessment.

    1. St. Louis is already loaded and didn’t need to spend in free agency. Peter Bourgos is a strong addition, Mark Ellis provides a platoon mate to go with prospect Kolten Wong at 2nd and Oscar Tavarez is a projected superstar waiting in the wings. Most importantly, the Cards are bursting with power pitching.

    2. Cincinnati absolutely took a hit and seem to have problems supporting the payroll level they became accustomed to. Billy Hamilton is very overrated and Ryan Ludwig is a spare outfielder, so they definitely will have problems in the outfield other than star Jay Bruce. They have a hole at 3rd base too, plus Johnny Cueto is falling apart.

    3. Pittsburgh has strong prospects arriving, to go along with the emergence of Cole, Alvarez, Marte, Walker. They have financial limitations always, so they were never going to be free agency players.

    4. Milwaukee is a mess. The only thing they have going for them is that the Cubs, at least right now, are a bigger mess at the big league level.

  • cubsin

    The Cardinals got better this winter, and nobody else in the NL Central did. Absent the usual July yard sale, I expect the Cubs to battle Milwaukee for fourth place in the division. If we somehow land Tanaka, we should win that battle easily.

    • Blackhawks1963

      Cubs have snowball’s chance in hell of signing Tanaka. Not with the Yankees and Dodgers deeply coveting his services. The Yankees will absolutely blow thru the luxury tax cap to get Tanaka too.

      I’m so sick of reading this wing and a prayer theory that Tanaka can’t wait to sign with the Cubs. Good God a dose of perspective folks.

      • mjhurdle

        i thought everyone was entitled to their opinion?

      • Jon

        Don’t you get tired of copying and pasting the same thing every day. We fucking get it.

        • 70’scub

          Maybe he can get his head out of his bottom and realize the “Blawkhawks” are winning titles with a “young impact talent core”

      • Edwin

        Apparently you’re not sick of it enough to refrain from posting about it every single chance you get. Cubsin wrote “If” not “When”.

  • 1060Ivy

    MLB talent doesn’t win ballgames! Payroll flexibility wins ball games.

    Cubs haven’t improved the talent level of the MLB team this offseason. The organization is facing a 100 loss season for 2014 and setting back the schedule for being competitive by another season.

    Based on the current and forecasted increases in MLB revenue, why should the Cubs not expect that free agents salaries to continue to increase next offseason and other future seasons? The front office by sitting on their hands this offseason may have to pony up substantially more in future seasons to fill the holes in MLB roster when business operations and prospect infusion finally sync.

    • Brett

      Because the Cubs would rather be paying $20M for a 31-year-old season of Future Free Agent X when the team is nearly competitive than $20M for the age 33 season of someone like Choo.

      I liked Choo as a “sign him when they’re available” type guy, but not for close the deal he got. Don’t see the value.

      • 1060Ivy

        And if in 5 years, Cubs still don’t have a lead off man and going rate for free agent OF is $25 – 30 MM per year but Cubs can’t afford their own prospects as their revenue base has shrunk due to too many consecutive 90-100 loss season?

        Or if the Cubs can package Choo with cash next season for prospects, there’s more than one way to restock the minors without tanking MLB seasons year after year

        • Brett

          Are you suggesting you’d want Choo as the Cubs’ leadoff man in 5 years? No one can say with certainty what he’ll be then, but I’m going to bet on “no.”

          • Bluz Cluz

            Brett, you are very wrong on this one. If there was one sign now, will still be good then, FA on the market, it was Choo. Also, I don’t think it’s far fetched that the Cubs be decent this year, with the pitching and much improved BP and Choo would have made them even better. I feel like Texas got a huge bargain. For Choo. Getting Choo, easily the better player, for less then what the Yankees paid for Ellsbury, when the going rate for these players is obviously increasing, can only be considered a bargain.

            • frank

              If you think the Cubs may be competitive this year, then Choo would probably have been a good signing even if you had to overpay. However, if the Cubs are not competitive this year, or even next, the question is how he may perform then–when the team is competitive–and if the contract becomes an albatross that keeps you from improving the team in the future. Do you pay $20 million a year for a guy who’s in his mid to late 30s and declining, when that $20 (or $25) million may be better used elsewhere.

            • rockin’ dawg

              Signing Choo would have been a horrible move for these reasons:
              1) He’s too old.
              2) He’s too expensive.
              3) He would have cost us our #2 draft pick.

              Better to stick to the plan. Draft some power arms. Only sign or trade for players young enough to fit the timeline or players you plan to flip for young talent.

          • 1060Ivy

            I’m willing to make a couple of bets: A) the production that the Cubs get from the leadoff position in the next 5 years will be less than what Choo has provided over the same period; B) the cost of an above MLB average leadoff man will make Choo’s contract look affordable by that time.

            Would have liked to see the Cubs sign a MLB outfielder and a starter that could produce at the MLB average or better over the next 3 – 5 years.

            I would expect that the Cubs would have had to overpay for these assets but these assets could be traded if prospects unexpectedly develop faster than expected.

  • Tim

    I don’t know about you guys, but I would rather the cubs beat a good cardinals team than be the favorite to win a crappy NL central

    • Darth Ivy

      if they’re gonna win either way, yeah, I’d rather they beat good teams. It’s more fun watch to a race than a month long victory lap. Of course, that’s assuming they win either way. Without the benefit of hindsight, being in a crappy division only increases the odds of success. So if I had to choose whether the other NL central teams are good or bad, I’d choose bad.

  • Nate Dawg

    Bottom line, the success of this season depends almost entirely on the success of our top prospects. What we have at the major league level obviously is not going to be able to contend this year, even if we add Tanaka. I know we all need to temper our expectations for these young guys, but the team is banking on them to contribute before too long. Free agency is definitely not the way to improve the club long-term. So keeping in mind that some of these prospects will probably fail, I am really excited to see how the upcoming season in the minors pans out.

    That said, I think it’s incorrect to assume Olt will man 3rd to start next season. While I hope he wows us all in spring training, there were some HUGE red flags last year. Even if his struggles were due in part to vision problems, it’s difficult not to see last season as a step back in his development. So, much to the chagrin of most of us, I think it’s likely we see Donnie Valbuena at 3rd again.

    But for the sake of not being completely depressing, here’s my extra hopeful 2016 lineup!!

    1. Alcantara 2b
    2. Almora CF
    3. Bryant LF
    4. Rizzo 1B
    5. Baez 3B
    6. Soler RF
    7. Castro SS
    8. Castillo C

    By 2016 the Cubs should be legitimate contenders in the Central.

    • Rich

      5 of your 9 have never even seen a pitch at the MLB level. Why I hope you are correct, I am saddened to think we must wait until 2016 to be competitive. My humble opinion is that we have one more season of scrapping the bottom of the barrel and we will start to trend upwards from there.

      We cannot assume that all these rookies are going to come and be successful full time players. Rizzo struggled a bit last year and we know about Castro. I think by 2016 Castro is no longer a Cub.

  • Pingback: Lukewarm Stove: Tanaka, Baker, Pineiro, Samardzija, Yankees Spending, More | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • Medley

    My head hurts reading this. Poking fun at perennial contenders who go out and sign players like Ellsbury and Choo to mega contracts. Is this a joke? The Cubs last played on the World Series in 1945 and we are mocking a team like the Rangers? Fans of a Cub team sure to lose 95 games?

    Some of you need a very serious dose of perspective. Damn.

    • 70’scub

      I here your point Medley butt the last three trades the Cubs made with the Rangers were smoking hot in favor of the Cub.

      • DarthHater

        Medley Butt would be a good name for a rock band.

        • Jon

          or a prophylactic

    • Rich

      I am a huge Cub fan, but tell me something that Medley said that is not true. Will the Rangers not be in the hunt for a pennant again? I hope the Cubs get their business “stuff” worked out in 2014 so we can start winning.

      To say the Cubs will lose 95 games is probably dead on accurate. While I thankful that a new TV contract and renovation with advertising will allow the Cubs more income, let’s be clear that the Cubs are a major market team and could spend now.

      one more year of a high draft pick, and let’s start putting more pieces together.

  • Aaron

    Boy…hate to wait another 3 seasons before the Cubs are a competitive team. We’ve already “lost” 3 seasons with a new owner.

    • Cubs Faith_27

      Here is to the hope that the cubs surprise and believe they can win, I really like RR’s attitude about this. They have to play hard and believe they are good enough to make it to October. Sitting here daydreaming about October baseball for the cubs at Wrigley gets me excited for the season no matter what people say about spending or not having much impact talent. The cubs can do this I believe so anyway.