While discussing the various free agent rumors this offseason, I’ve noticed a particular trend emerge from the comments on Twitter/Facebook, and it goes something like this: I would love the Cubs to sign Yu Darvish/Jake Arrieta/et al., but then they wouldn’t be able to go after Bryce Harper next offseason, and he’s the better target.
Now, there’s definitely a kernel of truth in there – this front office rarely thinks one offseason at a time and the payroll coffers aren’t exactly limitless – but I was always a bit dismissive of the thought in practice. I still very much think the Cubs are going after Bryce Harper next year, and I know money spent now is money they can’t spend later, but I’ve assumed that any deal they’d be willing to sign this offseason (i.e. any substantiated rumors we’re hearing and discussing) would not have a primary effect on their plans/ability to do that.
The theory there being something like this: if the Cubs are going to get Harper next year, they’re probably going to have to go past the luxury tax cap anyway, so if they can stay under this year even after signing a top arm, then it won’t entirely matter for next year, since they’re probably willing to going over the luxury tax cap in any case.
But perhaps we should step back and consider the possibility that the moves this offseason and the pursuit of Harper are more related than we might hope.
At FanRag, Jon Heyman seems to indicate exactly that: “The Cubs are looking at or near the top of the free-agent class (Yu Darvish, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Cobb) but seem to be scouting for a deal, understandably so in this unmoving market. One rival speculated that he believes the Cubs are again trying to save their pennies for a run at Bryce Harper. That’s a guess heard a fair amount, though it seems to be mostly supposition at this point, based on his close relationship from Las Vegas with Kris Bryant and the friendship of their wives.”
Possible implication: The Cubs are in fact playing in the deep end of the pool – Darvish/Cain/Cobb/probably Arrieta – as suspected, but as of now, any offers can probably be classified as conservative, as dollars are earmarked for a future pursuit of Harper. If that were true, it would be quite notable.
If this were any other offseason, I’d guess the Cubs would’ve already locked up one of those starters – they’d almost certainly be more comfortable offering more than the Twins, Astros, Rangers, Yankees, and Dodgers, for various, legitimate reasons – but because they haven’t, I think you could take that as evidence that they are serious about spending big next winter. That, it seems, is what Heyman’s source is speculating/hearing.
If the point isn’t landing, think about it this way: the Cubs are purportedly risking their ability to land a much-needed starting pitcher right now by “scouting for a deal” in free agency … so that they can better position themselves to land Harper in 2019. That would be a risk and a calculated decision. This season figures to be a competitive one for the Cubs and they could really use another starting pitcher, especially as the Cardinals continue to close the gap, … and yet, they’re still waiting out this market as long as they can.
I don’t want to stretch a few lines from Heyman and his source into something it’s not, but given our existing pile of rumors on the Nationals right fielder, I think it’s fair to say the Cubs’ actions this winter could very plausibly have a direct link to Harper.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.