Ken Rosenthal writes today about the financial implications of recent Washington Nationals moves, the luxury tax, and how seriously they are pursuing a reunion with Bryce Harper. It’s a perfectly good read on that topic.
But there’s a stray mention of the Chicago Cubs as a Harper pursuer, and it reads like a very uncomfortable confirmation of how that pursuit has played out. The money section, both figuratively and literally, leaves no question as to where Rosenthal’s sources point.
After discussing the known suitors, Rosenthal mentions how some other clubs could – or could not – get involved. That’s when he drops the line that’ll make you feel feelings: “The Cubs would love a shot at Harper, though ownership approval continues to appear unlikely, sources say.”
It’s important to know up front that signing a contract like the one Harper is going to get would require ownership sign-off. That’s certainly true for every organization in baseball, not just the Cubs. Front offices run the show, but when a quarter of a billion dollars or more is put on the table, owners are involved.
For the Cubs, that sign-off – according to Rosenthal’s sources – is not likely to be forthcoming from the Ricketts Family. That could be because the baseball budget simply cannot include Harper and his contract, and/or because projections on the business side don’t justify a ten-year outlay like that, and/or because ownership simply does not want that kind of contract on the organization’s books. We don’t and can’t know the precise angle here, and, again, this is only a sourced report.
But the clear implication from the way Rosenthal has written this snippet on the Cubs is that the front office DOES want to sign Bryce Harper, but ownership will not agree to the kind of contract he’ll require at this time. That would certainly explain why the front office reportedly asked Boras and Harper to check back in with them before signing in case they’d been able to move some salary and talk again to ownership.
Look, I’m not about to argue that Cubs ownership should go hundreds of millions out of pocket to sign Bryce Harper (though I know that there are some who would make that argument, given the rapid, billion-dollar appreciation in the value of the Cubs asset). I do have questions about the previously-espoused approach of turning over all of the revenues – minus expenses – to baseball operations for their use, but I do recognize that the Cubs organization’s non-baseball-player-payroll expenses are undoubtedly significant. Moreover, the Cubs’ payroll projects to be the highest its ever been – by a long shot – and could be one of the top two or three payrolls in baseball. It’s hard to argue this is just about being cheap.
The Cubs are a company with a budget, and the baseball operations group has a budget within that framework into which a contract like Harper’s clearly does not easily fit. I get it. Really, I do. Even as I express my frustrations as a fan – I just want to see Harper on the Cubs, man! – I am not blind to certain realities.
Among those realities, though, is upwards of $60 million coming off the books in payroll next year, so you do wonder how much of these questions are solely about the 2019 budget – no one wants to see the Cubs miss out on many years of a guy like Harper because fitting him for one year is a really tough thing. I’m just sayin’.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are reportedly close to finalizing and announcing their new regional sports network, the projected fruits of which I cannot help but think are somehow related to all of this. And, to be sure, if a significant increase in money flowing into the organization and to the Ricketts Family is looming, then extending financially this year to sign off on making a serious run at a 26-year-old generational superstar is not an unreasonable front office ask.