Unless we get a serious surprise later today (doubtful), it seems as though another extension-signing season will have come and gone without the Cubs inking any of their young players to long-term deals.
But it’s not for a lack of trying.
In fact, according to General Manager Jed Hoyer (via the Sun Times), the Cubs front office did make efforts to extend some of their players this Spring, but it didn’t happen: “We’ve made it clear that we’d love to extend some of these guys. I won’t go into who we’ve talked to over the course of the spring. But obviously we have a lot of good young players, and we’d love to keep them longer than the six or seven years we control them. And we’ll keep talking to them.”
It’s a bit of a bummer that the Cubs weren’t able to make any long-term deals work – especially because, with nothing close, talks typically go dormant once the season starts – but there is still some time.
Below, I’ve listed some of the players the Cubs front office might consider extending, their age, and how many years of remaining control the team has on each player.
- Kyle Hendricks – 28 years old, 3 years of team control
- Jose Quintana – 29, 3
- Willson Contreras – 25, 5
- Javy Baez – 25, 4
- Kris Bryant – 26, 4
- Anthony Rizzo – 28, 4
- Addison Russell – 24, 4
- Albert Almora Jr. – 23, 5
- Ian Happ – 22, 6
- Kyle Schwarber – 25, 4
Put another way … After the 2020 season, the Cubs will lose Hendricks and Quintana. After the 2021 season, the Cubs will lose Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Russell, and Schwarber. After the 2022 season, the Cubs will lose Almora and Contreras. And after the 2023 season, the Cubs will lose Ian Happ.
Obviously, many of these dates are still far away, but two of the Cubs’ best starters are set to leave in just three years and their ENTIRE infield plus Schwarber would become free agents just a year after that. There may not necessarily be urgency in inking these guys to long term deals, but this is a critical issue overall nonetheless.
The harder part? Of the ten players listed above, six were first round picks, who received big signing bonuses (Baez, Almora, Russell, Bryant, Schwarber, Happ) and two were guys who’ve already earned life-changing money via early-career extensions (Rizzo, Quintana).
So the only traditionally “easy” extensions here are Contreras and Hendricks, but even the latter got a big raise (via arbitration) to $4.175M this season. In other words, it’s not going to be easy inking these guys up, as we’ve seen. Moreover, we’ve definitely seen the size and shape of extensions morphing in the last month, so that may have complicated things further as each side felt out the market.
I still expect something to get done eventually with some player(s), and next offseason might’ve always made more sense anyway. Why? Well, remember that the new CBA included more strict penalties for exceeding the luxury tax threshold, a salary limit the Cubs are under by just about $10-12 million. And while that certainly leaves some room for maneuvering, most of that money will be gobbled up by the end of the season thanks to any bonuses/contract escalators and in-season pick-ups. Were a young player or two to sign an extension that included this season, the AAV of the deal would increase the Cubs’ payroll for luxury tax purposes.
Moreover, the penalties for exceeding the luxury tax threshold are more severe when breached in consecutive seasons. Given the current payroll level and the huge free agent class next season, the Cubs are likely going to go over next year, so staying under this year is all the more important. Clearly, the Cubs thought they could make some of these deals work anyway – otherwise Jed Hoyer and the front office wouldn’t have tried – but it does leave a lot less room for upwards negotiations.
And, of course, the Cubs’ players/agents know this, too (i.e. the Cubs might simply be able to spend more next offseason). And given that many of those players didn’t have their best season (or were still having their first season) last year, waiting until after 2018 makes sense for their earning capacity, too.
So, yeah, it’s a bit of a bummer that the front office wasn’t able to lock anyone down for the long term, but it’s also understandable from both sides. My guess is that we’ll see conversations continue up and into next offseason, hopefully a couple get locked down, and then the Cubs can take the roster planning from there.
Which is not to say an in-season extension is not possible, by the way. The last two young player extensions signed by this front office – it feels like ages ago (Rizzo and Starlin Castro) – came during the season. It is just a lot less likely than in the offseason, and especially the late part of the offseason.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.