With the last remaining free agents flying off the board on relative bargain deals, I wouldn’t blame you for wondering whether the Cubs could steal someone like Greg Holland before the season begins.
But, as was forced to poo-poo the idea of Jake Arrieta returning to the Cubs on a one-year deal, I’d have to do the same thing – for many of the same reasons – with respect to a steal on Holland (or Alex Cobb, if you wanted to try to make that roster crunch work).
On the one hand, the Cubs do still have an open competition available for at least one of their eight bullpen spots, so it’s not as if a solid reliever like Holland would be foreclosed in that respect. Instead, it’s a matter of the Cubs having enough payroll space below the luxury tax to (1) sign Holland on a one-year deal, and (2) reserve some funds for in-season moves as they become necessary.
We looked at the Cubs’ luxury tax situation after the Yu Darvish signing, and the short version is that the Cubs are about $12 million under the luxury tax cap at the present moment, but that does not include bonuses that accrue during the season, nor the increased payroll that comes from up-and-down roster churn at the back of the roster. So the team’s actual flexibility is probably under $10 million to make in-season additions. And a playoff-caliber team like the Cubs *MUST* preserve some flexibility for in-season moves, because you just don’t know what is going to happen.
So, then, how much could the Cubs spend on a guy like Holland and still be comfortable? Maybe $5 million, tops? At that price, Holland may simply decide to sit out until after the draft to decouple himself from draft pick compensation. Speaking of which, signing Holland now would also cost the Cubs their second round pick, plus $500,000 in IFA pool money. Worth it to add another capable back-end reliever? Yeah, sure, maybe. But when you factor that in together with the increasingly tight financial picture?
Moreover, Holland’s one-year price tag at this point, based on what other qualified free agents have taken, is probably more than $5 million. It might be less than $10 million, but it’s still likely to be more than the Cubs can squeeze in and still have in-season wiggle room.
At least not at the big league level.
I tend to think if old friends like Trevor Cahill or Chris Coghlan found themselves settling for a minor league deal, the Cubs would be very interested in that depth. But then, guy like that might prefer to sign with clubs where, even if they’re on a minor league deal, the path to getting up to the big leagues is more clear than it is on the Cubs.
So, that is all to say, it’s been a long, tortured offseason, but as far as the Cubs are concerned, I think it’s over.