All in all it’s just a-nother brick in the wall.
Without directly confirming or refuting any of the buzz out there about the Cubs’ ability to spend this offseason, GM Jed Hoyer did say something very telling to reporters at the GM Meetings: “Given where we are as a roster, [this week] will probably be more focused on trade talk. We do feel like our answers are internal. We need to focus on getting our players to maximize their potential. With that said, I think we’re open to business and listening [on trades] and that will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the market.”
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) November 7, 2018
As is always the case when you see these comments or rumors, you have to ask yourself: do we buy it?
The front office never puts itself in a bad negotiating position, but they also usually lay out the reality if you’re open to really hearing what they’re saying. At this point, the front office would have be acting UNCHARACTERISTICALLY deflective for us to believe this is all just a smokescreen. Even when talking about financial tightness in the past – like after signing Yu Darvish – the “but you never know” aspect of the conversation always felt more than just a throwaway line. It felt like, yeah, you really don’t know what these guys have up their sleeve. This time around? It feels like we are having our expectations for the offseason managed. You never know, but, yeah, it’s going to be virtually impossible for us to get Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
To be very clear, I have never been of the mind that you just *HAVE* to keep spending more and more money because your team is in a competitive window. I am a realist, and I know that there will be a budget. I also know that we see every year that the priciest moves don’t always wind up being the savviest or most productive.
But when it comes to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, specifically, the potential on-field impact is so dramatic that I don’t think any large-market, big-revenue club should ever allow themselves to be in a position where they cannot entertain a serious pursuit if they believe in the player. Since we do not have any indication that this front office doesn’t believe in these players, then I cannot and will not excuse the organization if it decided, for purely financial reasons, that they cannot be in the pursuit of those two generational, 26-year-old talents. (If they have decided privately that they simply don’t like these guys as much as we think they should, however, and know they won’t outbid the market for that reason, then I suppose that’s another conversation entirely. But we don’t have that indication.)
It’s not just about spending money. The Cubs’ payroll already projects to be up dramatically from last year, and last year it was nearly $200 million. Relative to the rest of the league, the Cubs project to have a payroll commensurate with their market standing. Cool. Good. Fine. There are moves the front office could make to improve the club for next year, and they could win more games (they won ninety-freaking-five last year!), and the payroll could come nowhere close to the top luxury tax tier, let alone bust through it. In isolation, I’m not going to bust the organization’s chops solely for not going out and hitting some arbitrary payroll mark.
But like any offseason, I think it’s wholly fair to expect efforts to improve, and, this offseason, I think it was always wholly fair to expect a serious pursuit of Harper and/or Machado if the front office believed in the talent. Those two guys are that unique for free agency, and the next three years are that important.
Circling back to Hoyer’s comments, then, if the Cubs have decided their best bet to improve is in the trade market, again, I say cool, fine, go for it. It’s not like going hog wild in free agency last year worked out well for the Cubs, so I trust the adjustments they choose to make. I am just saying that there are two free agents in particular, so rarely made available at this age, that the Cubs could really use. Not even being involved in those two pursuits – specifically – for financial reasons would be incredibly disappointing and discouraging.
This conversation isn’t going to go away, as much as I’d like to say this is the last time I’m gonna round on for paragraphs about the financial state of things. Rumors will come and go, and there will necessarily be financial implications. We will also eventually get a better whiff of what the Cubs’ revenues looked like in 2018, and that, too, will have some implications for these conversations.
For now, though, the message being sent from the front office is very clear: don’t expect a balls out pursuit at the top tier of free agency, and instead it may be a matter of making other creative moves.