You’d have been a fool to go into the end-of-season presser expecting Cubs President Jed Hoyer to speak candidly about how much the team will spend this offseason in free agency and/or in trade acquisitions. But you still want to hear precisely what he had to say, if for no other reason than to have a callback at the ready when the Cubs do X or Y, or don’t do Z this offseason.
Hoyer reiterated that the Cubs, yes, will be active in free agency and will have money to spend, but will do so intelligently. His focus was on the idea that the teams that “win the offseason” aren’t always the teams that win in the regular season, with a particular focus on this year’s Giants and Rays.
“Obviously, everyone operates within a budget, but I expect to have resources to go out and be active in free agency,” Hoyer said. “Exactly what that budget is, it doesn’t really help us to talk about that publicly for obvious strategic reasons. But I expect to have the resources available to be active.
“I’m not going to tip our hand as far as what we do in free agency. I’ve said repeatedly that we do have financial flexibility. We have money to spend this winter. But it’s really important that we do that in an intelligent way. Trying to win the offseason – we just talked about the Giants, for example – they certainly didn’t win the offseason. They won the season. The Rays lost [Blake] Snell and [Charlie] Morton – they certainly didn’t win the offseason last year. They won the season. There are teams out there that made huge splashes. They were aggressive. They were lauded for all the things they did, and they’re not playing in October, just like us.”
Although that could all be read as front-office-speak for sticking exclusively to low-dollar, short-term deals, Hoyer explicitly denied that higher-dollar, longer-term deals were off the table. Though, by the end of his response, he did veer back into preaching caution:
“I wouldn’t say that [pricier free agents are off the table],” Hoyer said. “It’s just being opportunistic and sort of striking when you feel like the value is right. We have a lot of holes to fill on this roster. We have a lot of areas we need to improve, so we’re certainly going to be active. But we need to be active in a way that we feel like we’re getting the right value for the dollars we’re spending, and we’re also making sure that we’re not hindering ourselves going forward with expenditures for right now.”
Like we’ve said many times before when it comes to this particular pre-offseason talk, this front office – Theo Epstein and now Jed Hoyer – has absolutely never tipped its hand about how much they were going to spend. Not explicitly. But you could always read the tea leaves a bit, and just as you knew there would be limited movement the last few years, you knew there would be some aggressiveness before that. You could just kinda take everything that was said together, and get a decent sense.
This time around, everything Hoyer said yesterday, just like everything he said before, seems to point you in roughly the same direction. There will be spending. Maybe even a lot of spending – the Cubs could commit over $100 million in new 2022 money and still not come anywhere close to the luxury tax. They really might do that. But I think it’ll predominantly be shorter-term signings. I think the Cubs will explore the markets for guys like Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman and Nick Castellanos, but I don’t know that they’ll be super aggressive there. Moreover, I don’t think guys like Carlos Correa or Corey Seager will realistically be pursued.
We already anticipated a targeted approach in free agency, where the Cubs will (hopefully) be very active in trying to land a sizable volume of the right short-term deals, where they are paying a premium AAV for upside. Not every other organization is in a position, financially or competitively, to go after those high-risk, high-cost, short-term types. The Cubs are, and they should take advantage of being in that spot.
To that end, I *think* Hoyer hinted at confirming our suspicions at the direction they’ll take. You kinda have to read all of his comments in concert to get the sense, but it certainly has the feel of (1) yes we’re going to have money to spend, (2) yes we’re going to try to land a whole lot of interesting guys, but (3) no we might not sign multiple top-tier free agents. It’s not an explicit thing he said, mind you. Just a sense I get ….
Again, the action is going to do the real speaking here, but at least Hoyer isn’t trying to sell folks on the idea that there AREN’T a lot of holes on the roster. This Cubs roster is not one or two pieces shy of clear contention. It would take a LOT of hits in free agency (and a LOT of big steps forward internally (and good health)) for the Cubs to compete in 2022, so just signing Carlos Correa to a monster deal isn’t going to do it. We can – and will! – debate the merits of balling out on Correa at this moment in time, but the general point here is that the Cubs need to target many, many additions in free agency. Doing so within whatever budget the front office is given will require that “intelligently” part.
Lots of targets. Lots of activity. Lots of intelligence. Simple as that, right?
I kid, because it’s easy enough to say those things, but it’s a far trickier thing to actually get it all right. When you’re playing in the higher-risk pool of free agency, you are necessarily increasing your odds of not hitting on a signing. If a guy were a sure thing, he’d be getting one of those nine-figure deals! So I don’t want to mislead here and say that, while I think I approve of the Cubs’ likely approach, it’s a sure-fire strategy for success.
Instead, it’s a mere recognition of how needy this roster is in 2022 (take lots of shots in free agency), how the budget probably isn’t going to open up all at once (spend intelligently), and how the Cubs might have another rough first half in 2022 (stay short-term).