At first, tonight’s Bryce Harper-related update sounds like more gloom and doom in the wake of the Dodgers’ opening up cash and outfield spots, but then you dig in, and it’s actually arguably as optimistic as any news as been all offseason:
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) December 23, 2018
Gordon Wittenmyer is the first to report that the Cubs did in fact meet with Scott Boras in Las Vegas at the Winter Meetings for three hours, and here’s the money quote: “Sources say Epstein urged them to wait before accepting an offer from another team until the Cubs had a chance to try to move some payroll off the books and check again with ownership.”
To me, since we already know the Cubs are not pursuing Harper with reckless abandon, this is a really positive update. At least it demonstrates that the front office is trying to keep a seat at the table. And if Harper’s market yields only a surprisingly low final offer from another suitor? And he and Boras take it back to the Cubs before signing off? Who knows what might happen. If the Cubs credibly pull this position off, it’s not actually a bad negotiating spot to be in. Just sayin’.
That said, please read Wittenmyer’s full piece for the overall tenor, which is not optimistic about an actual signing. All the same red flags about financial tightness are there, and no one should come away from tonight’s update thinking the Cubs are doing anything more than what we’ve been saying for weeks now: they want Harper, they’re trying to stay involved, but they likely have to move some other salaries first (and/or get extraordinary approval from ownership). It’s just that now we have some additional details that firm up our suspicions on that position.
As the offseason goes on, it’s not going to become any easier for the Cubs to move significant chunks of salary, by the way. Budgets get filled up, other free agents sign, and finding homes for downtrodden players on huge contracts is not easy, no matter how deftly the Dodgers always seem to do it. (Yes, that’s me throwing down the gauntlet.) Try as the Cubs might, it’s not as if there are teams out there clamoring to take on the majority of Jason Heyward’s or Tyler Chatwood’s deals, for example.
Oh, also: there’s nothing out there that indicates other teams are not trying this exact same tack with Harper and Boras – check with us before you finalize anything. The Cubs may not be special in that regard, unless, of course, Harper really wants to sign with the Cubs. On that, we just don’t know.
For tonight, I’m a lot more hopeful than I was after the Dodgers’ big trade yesterday, even if I still wouldn’t peg the odds any better than this:
Updated odds to sign Bryce Harper (@betonline_ag):
White Sox +500
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) December 22, 2018