In both of the pre-2015 and pre-2016 offseasons, the Chicago Cubs spent big in free agency. In fact, they were among the most high-spending teams in all of baseball both years.
This offseason, however, their spending has been rather mild.
In fact, they’ve signed only one of MLBTradeRumors’ Top 50 Free-Agents – Jon Jay – and as the 37th ranked player, he required just an $8 million, one-year commitment from the Cubs (Koji Uehara was an honorable mention, but did receive a $6 million deal).
But the Cubs had good reason for limiting spending this year, not only because of longer-term financial considerations and the huge spending the last two years, but also because they didn’t have significant needs that required addressing in free agency.
Further the Cubs aren’t the only team that didn’t spend a ton of money this offseason. In fact, spending was down in the NL Central (relative to past years), and across the league. At MLB Trade Rumors, Connor Bynre discusses free agent spending on the top 50 available players, separating them by division. Where teams are competing against each other in divisional races, it can be useful to consider spending in these kinds of buckets.
Byrne identifies the players and their respective total commitments from each team. For a more detailed breakdown, feel encouraged to check out his article here. We’ll tackle the overall spending with a broad stroke (plus the number of Top 50 free agents in parenthesis):
AL East: $157 million (5)
AL Central: $90.5 million (3)
AL West: $114.5 million (6)
NL East: $214 million (8)
NL Central: $163 million (5)
NL West: $324 million (5)
So, yes, the NL Central was the third most spending division in baseball this year, but that comes with a couple of caveats. For one, while it is the third most-spending division in baseball, it is the least-spending division in the National League. Secondly, Dexter Fowler’s $82.5 million deal with the Cardinals accounts for more than half of the total divisional spending on top 50 free agents, which is far greater than the top player in the NL West (Kenley Jansen – 25%), for example.
But moreover, this level of spending pales in comparison to the not only the divisional spending over the past two seasons, but the Cubs’ spending all on their own.
In the offseason before 2015, alone, the Chicago Cubs committed $191 million free agent dollars – which was the third most in baseball. And then, in 2016 they committed another $276.25 million to free agents (again, by themselves, let alone the rest of the division). Although it isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison, the enormous difference in spending is quite apparent.
Of course, the biggest reason for the divisional spending difference this offseason is the lack of premium free agents, but it’s an interesting development nonetheless.
With brighter free agent classes on the way, spending in the NL Central figures to tick back up in 2017 and beyond.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.