At the GM Meetings this week – President Meetings? – Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein shared some thoughts about the teams’ ability to spend extravagantly this offseason, and I’ll hope that no one was surprised by what he said.
Epstein explained that, while not impossible, striking two big financial deals this offseason would require creativity (ESPN, CSN, Cubs.com). The Cubs’ full financial might won’t be realized until the next TV deal is much closer (the current contracts run through the 2019 season), which means we won’t see the Cubs suddenly dolling out multiple nine-figure contracts like so many lollipops on Halloween.
Indeed, Epstein cautioned that doing even one big thing will probably require some creativity. That could come in the form of a creative contract structure (as was the case last year with Jon Lester), and/or trades to free up some salary/fill other holes, and/or getting some value deals in the market to plug other holes. Some of the predictions out there for the Cubs’ free agent activity this offseason are almost certainly too aggressive.
The big caveat here, of course, is that, however much the Cubs can add to payroll this offseason thanks to increased revenues in 2015, the front office simply isn’t going to tip their hand. It doesn’t help in trades, and it doesn’t help in free agent negotiations. The less other parties know about what the Cubs can and cannot do, the better. (Of course, I consider it a part of my job to estimate what they can and cannot do, and I suspect they’ll be able to add something in the $30 to $40 million range this offseason in 2016 payroll (and more if they trade away contracts and/or non-tender arbitration-eligible players). That is not to say they will do that, because the additions would still have to make sense. The front office will not add just to add.)
Also, remember: this time last year, Epstein was eschewing the idea that the Cubs could or would sign two nine-figure pitchers in a single offseason, and the context was about the Cubs going after two of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields. As we know, the Cubs not only signed Lester, they went hard after Shields a few months later because his anticipated price tag had fallen significantly.
The point there is simply that it’s hard to predict exactly how things are going to shake out. Signing two starting pitchers to nine-figure deals in a single offseason is, indeed, a risky, and probably inadvisable thing for almost any team to do. (The same is mostly true even if one of those two players is a positional player.) I don’t expect the Cubs to do it this offseason.
But might they surprise in some of their pursuits? Might the price tags become a pleasant surprise at some point this offseason, allowing them to try and do more than they thought would be financially possible? Absolutely.
Don’t expect SIGN ALL THE PLAYERS! But you also don’t have to expect SIT ON ALL THE HANDS! The Cubs will be active. They will make compelling additions. And they will be, as Epstein says, rather creative.