Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs signed a position player with lots of big league experience, but it wasn’t a “big league signing,” as infielder Matt Duffy got a minor league deal. Although he does seem very likely to compete for a big league job in the spring – in which case he’d earn a $1 million salary – you wouldn’t really characterize it as “the Cubs signed their first position player free agent of the offseason!” I mean, you probably wouldn’t include the exclamation point in any case, at least not unironically. But eventually, the Cubs *will* sign an outfielder, at least, and then we’ll be able to say it.
For now, though, the Duffy signing reflects the latest in a clear mold for the Cubs in recent years: experienced MLB positional players signed to compete for a job, brought in with the hope that they can tap into past upside, or at least provide nice, complementary value.
Oh, but also cheap and short-term. Cheap. And short-term.
I mention that because the Duffy signing, paired with those recent Jackie Bradley, Jr. rumors, reminded me of an utterly absurd reality for the Cubs: they have not signed a free agent position player to a multi-year deal in over two years. Moreover, that guy? It was Daniel Descalso on a whopping two-year, $5 million deal. Before that? It was none other than Jason Heyward OVER FIVE YEARS AGO.
We already know this, but sometimes I just need to smack myself in the face with it. The Cubs have not signed a multi-year free agent position player – besides Descalso – IN OVER FIVE GD YEARS. It’s truly, and spectacularly, inglorious.
Ah, but maybe there are a bunch of impactful one-year signings? NOT REALLY, BOB! After Dexter Fowler re-signed, dramatically, in the spring of 2016, the Cubs have signed Jon Jay and Steven Souza, Jr. THAT IS LITERALLY IT.
We know the reasons, of course. The Cubs had so many positions filled with young players. The Cubs had already signed a few long-term, big-money guys. Then the purse tightened considerably. But just because there are reasons doesn’t mean there can’t also be shame, especially given the stagnation (or downward trajectory) of the offense. Yeah, you try to get improvements/change internally, but as we saw when the Cubs brought in Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, the biggest way you can make fundamental changes to the offense is BY MAKING FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO YOUR OFFENSE. Sorry. I know I’m getting a lot of mileage out of CAPS LOCK today. But I feel it.
None of this is designed to crap on the Duffy signing, or others like it. I dig the attempts at complementary, low-cost, low-risk, value signings. Even in their spendy days, the Cubs are still going to make those moves. They always have and always will.
But in the wake of the signing last night, I found myself thinking about all the ways Duffy could incorporate into the roster, and I had to catch myself. When I looked back at the signings in recent years, including those one-year deals and Descalso’s two-year deal, there hasn’t been a position player signed “to take a position” since Heyward and Zobrist . You can count Fowler, if you want, but that was a re-signing where it was long known the Cubs wanted to retain him in the spot he already occupied. It really hasn’t been since that winter of Heyward and Zobrist five years ago.
With left field (or center field) wide the heck open right now for the Cubs – and I’d add that second base should be consider extremely open, too – you’d think that would change this offseason. Maybe the Cubs don’t wind up signing a guy to a multi-year deal, but there are a lot of really interesting free agent options out there this year for the outfield. Surely, the Cubs are going to sign at least one of them, right?