Over the last three seasons, no team in Major League Baseball has won more games than the Chicago Cubs.
Much of the success, of course, can be credited to their stockpile of young, positional talent – every single one of their first round picks from 2011-2015 (Javy Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ) is currently a key contributor to the big league squad – and shrewd trades, where they’ve acquired Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana, among many others over the years.
But as much as we’d love to say this golden age of Cubs baseball was built solely on amateur scouting and deal-making, we have to admit that the Cubs also spent their fair share in free agency … and then some.
The Cubs did not spend much last winter (no one in the NL Central did), but before the 2016 season, the Cubs committed $276.25 million in free agency. Those dollars, you’ll recall, were spread among Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Trevor Cahill, and were more than any other team in baseball.
The year before that, the Cubs were also among the most spending teams, dropping $191 million on Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, David Ross, Jason Motte, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Chris Denorfia. The final bill ($191M) wasn’t the most in MLB, but it did rank among the top three, behind only the Nationals and Red Sox. (The Cubs also added Miguel Montero’s contract in trade.)
After taking a year off in 2017, the Cubs’ spending is once again at the top of the class:
Most money guaranteed to free agents this offseason*:
Cubs $206 million
Phillies $169.25 million
Red Sox $127 million
Rockies $114 million
Brewers $105 million
(* – Is it still the “offseason?”)
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 13, 2018
According to Jayson Stark, the Cubs $206 million in future dollars committed this winter was BY FAR the most in Major League Baseball – and we can finally say that confidently, given that almost all of the main free agents have signed (Alex Cobb and Greg Holland are left, but they’re not going to change these rankings).
I went over the Cubs offseason moves in greater detail this past weekend – so check out that post for a broader stroke – but, in short, here’s where there money was spent:
Yu Darvish – 6 years/$126M
Tyler Chatwood – 3 years/$38M
Brandon Morrow – 2 years/$21M
Steve Cishek – 2 years/$13M
Drew Smyly – 2 years/$10M
Brian Duensing – 2 years/$7M
(If you’re noticing that these numbers add up to $215M, not $206M like Stark suggests, it’s possibly because he’s not including the re-signing of Brian Duensing. There’s also the split deals for Shae Simmons ($750,000) and Dario Alvarez ($545,000) to account for, but we’re just splitting hairs at a certain point.)
No matter which way you cut it, the Cubs spent much more in free agency than any other team, and have now done so in two of the past four offseasons (while finishing among the top three in the third).
Now, to the credit of the front office, a string of highly successful drafts, trades, and periods of international free agency have allowed the Cubs to go hog wild on big-time free agents in recent years, while the rest of the roster remained relatively affordable in their pre-arb years. Without that core in place, you’d probably see the money spread out a bit more, with fewer total dollars committed. Moreover, it wouldn’t be worth supplementing a more mediocre team with three of the Cubs biggest free agent deals in team history (Darvish, Heyward, Lester) if there wasn’t a highly talented core to supplement in the first place.
But, yeah … the Cubs have spent a TON of money in the past four seasons, and, thankfully, they have plenty to show for it.
It’s a credit not only to the business side for helping supplement the available funds to spend, but also to the baseball side for using those fund well enough to justify the creation of more and more funds for spending.