Up front, I’ll just say that we’ve been operating under a couple assumptions about next offseason’s big free agent class as it relates to the Chicago Cubs. If the Cubs were going to go after a big-timer in that class like Bryce Harper, (1) it’s probably going to require that they go over the luxury tax cap in 2019 in any case, so the question becomes a little bit less about whether they can “afford” the guy, and more about whether they’re ready to go over the tax cap; and (2) it probably will be almost entirely without regard to the “fit” on the roster, because that would be the whole point of going after someone that impactful – you figure it out and make it work.
Because of those assumptions, you may have noticed that I have almost completely ignored the Harper-related consequences of the Cubs signing Yu Darvish to a nine-figure contract. No, I haven’t lost my SQUEAL-LEVEL enthusiasm for the Cubs going after Harper, and also, no, I don’t think the Darvish signing necessarily precludes it. Instead, it’s more that I’ve just kinda been agnostic about the whole thing: either the Cubs are going to go hard after Harper or they aren’t. He’s that caliber of free agent – both from an age/performance perspective, and a projected cost perspective – that it probably doesn’t matter what happened with Darvish. Decisions about a 26-year-old free agent superstar becoming available kinda transcend everything else.
So, then, I was not surprised to hear the front office’s official stance over the course of the last two days with respect to future free agent spending and the commitment to Darvish. Still, I’d like to highlight Theo Epstein’s and Jed Hoyer’s comments on the matter so that we’re all sitting in the same place as we go forward in our dreaming and rumormongering.
To be sure: none of the discussion offered by the front office was explicitly about Bryce Harper, nor does it solely have to apply to him. But since there is the obvious connection there with the Cubs thanks to Kris Bryant and the many teases of Harper, he’s the lens through which I’m going to view this stuff.
At the front office/Joe Maddon press conference yesterday, Epstein had this to say about how the Cubs’ pursuits in the future might be affected by the Darvish signing: “It’s hard to sit here a year removed and say what our approach is going to be next offseason. Look, if everyone plays well and we’re healthy and productive, we have just about everybody back next year. We might be in a situation where we don’t have to do much. That said, this game is so unpredictable. We might have real needs in areas that we don’t anticipate. So we’ll have to see where we are at that point, take stock throughout the course of the season, at the trade deadline, try to look ahead. We still have some flexibility as players move through the arbitration system. So we’re not necessarily done, but we obviously made a significant investment in Yu Darvish to round out our pitching staff, and it’s a staff that we think is going to be together for years to come.”
It’s an acknowledgement that the addition of Darvish does fill out the rotation for a while and does fill up the budget for a while. But no door was closed.
Today, Jed Hoyer was on ESPN1000, and he echoed Epstein’s perspective: “I think Theo said it well yesterday. You know, we’d love it offensively if all these guys took a step forward, we have guys at almost every position that are young and talented. We’ll see. We don’t know what we’ll be looking to do next winter at this point. I think we’ll watch the 2018 season and I think that’ll go a long way towards determining our attitude going into the next free agent class.”
It’s no secret that the Cubs are loaded with positional talent, and in a world where Kyle Schwarber blows up, Albert Almora and Ian Happ take off, and Jason Heyward suddenly goes back to being Jason Heyward, the “spot” for a guy like Harper is totally unclear. But again I say: a 26-year-old generational talent becomes freely available only money once in a decade if you’re lucky. You simply have to consider that opportunity, and adjust elsewhere, not the other way around. The Yankees went after Alex Rodriguez with everything they had for a reason, and they didn’t let the presence of Derek Jeter stop them.
Epstein spoke on the topic again today on The Score, and although he was speaking generically, I think this is where you’ll really see the front office’s perspective coming out (emphasis added): “If you look at our needs, knock on wood if we can stay healthy and productive for the most part through our roster, everybody’s back and for the next few years. We shouldn’t have tremendous needs. But we have some work to do to make sure we’re in position to be able to pounce if a certain great fit or just the right special player happens to become available, or somebody wants to be in Chicago and something becomes too good to turn down, too impactful or too good to deal would mean too much to the team, we just have to work hard to get in position to do that. Rosters are flexible, payrolls are flexible. We would never put ourselves in a position to be completely inflexible going forward, but when you commit $126 million to someone, that does take away a little bit from future flexibility.”
In other words, if someone extraordinarily impactful and special like Bryce Harper were to come along and wants to be in Chicago, the Cubs would have to figure out a way to put themselves in a position to make it happen.
The Cubs signing Darvish did not close that door. It reduced the organization’s flexibility some, to be sure, but there are some players that you just have to work to figure out how to make it happen, regardless of what’s come before.
You may stay on Obsessive Bryce Harper Watch alert for now.