Heading into this offseason, the Chicago Cubs clearly have some major needs.
Their rotation lost multiple pieces (Jake Arrieta and John Lackey) and is aging, their bullpen is losing key contributors (Wade Davis and Brian Duensing) and showed sign of weakness throughout the postseason, and even though the positional starters are mostly in tact, a few quality complementary pieces are on their way out (Jon Jay, Alex Avila). So, yeah, moves need to be made.
However, when asked about the Cubs “busy-ness” this offseason (via trade/free agency), Cubs GM Jed Hoyer dropped the following thoughts on ESPN 1000: “I do think that the nature of each offseason is that there’s a danger in being completely focused on building the best team for Opening Day . I think you have to look at it over multiple years, think about what players are available now and what players are available going forward.”
He immediately followed that up with another “I do think you always have to keep an eye towards other players who are going to be available.”
Interesting. Very interesting even. But before we get too far into what this might mean for the future, let’s look backwards.
Before the 2015 season, the Chicago Cubs signed six free agents accounting for $191 million in future commitments – a figure that marked the third highest total of the offseason. Then, before the 2016 season, the Cubs did it again:
Updated free-agent commitments this off-season: CHC: $276.25M, DET $272.25M, SF $251M, BOS $230M, BAL $214.8M, AZ $206.5M, KC $178.5M/
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 19, 2016
Adding Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey (among others) made the Cubs, for the second straight season, one of the most spending teams in all of baseball.
Last offseason, however, couldn’t have been more different. Among MLB Trade Rumors Top 50 free agents, the Cubs signed just Jon Jay ($8 million) and Koji Uehara ($6M, though even he was just an honorable mention). They even saved some long-term money, swapping one year of Wade Davis for the rest of Jorge Soler’s contract.
The NL Central – as a whole – spent less money on free agents last winter ($163M) than the Cubs did, alone, in either of their past two offseasons. So … did the Cubs run out of money? Did they think they had the perfect team already? Nah, and nope.
They simply saw two free agent classes they really liked (2015, 2016) and one that was just OK (2017), and decided to do all of their spending in the first two years, when the guys they wanted more were available.
Given Hoyer’s latest comments, I can see last offseason and this offseason working in exactly the same way – only opposite. As I’m sure you’ve been told a thousand times by now, next offseason’s crop of potential free agents is as ridiculous as any in recent memory – it includes, among MANY others, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, A.J. Pollock, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Dallas Keuchel. (There’s also the matter of impending arbitration raises to consider.)
Might the Cubs, then, save up some payroll dollars (and, almost as importantly, luxury tax space) to go hog wild next winter? Yeah, I think that’s very much a possibility. This Cubs front office has always been relatively transparent, and Hoyer literally just told us to “always … keep an eye towards other players who are going to be available.”
Now, do I think that means the Cubs are going to stand pat this winter? Absolutely not. Hoyer specifically said this could be one of the “busiest offseasons during his tenure as the Cubs GM,” later adding that he thinks the Cubs will be “very active, there’s no question.”
But I do not think that means the Cubs are going to go bananas on free agents, specifically, this winter; and that’s okay, because it means they are all the more likely to do so next time around.
And then maybe this …
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) October 27, 2017
… will inch closer to reality.