So, How Aggressive Will the Chicago Cubs Actually Be This Offseason Anyway?

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So, How Aggressive Will the Chicago Cubs Actually Be This Offseason Anyway?

Chicago Cubs

When it came to the subject of just how “aggressive” the Chicago Cubs are going to be in free agency this offseason, we got some seriously mixed signals over the course of the GM Meetings this past week.

You had all kinds of mentions connecting the Cubs to the top shortstops in the market, which alone implies a certain level of spending. You also had Jon Heyman saying he could see the Cubs being the most active team in free agency this year. That was, perhaps, an extreme version of what we’d been hearing over the past month, but it did track with the theme: the Cubs have a lot of money to spend this offseason and they’re going to spend it.

But you also had considerable reservations expressed.

For example, early in the week, Jesse Rogers jumped on the Carmen and Jurko show (ESPN 1000) and became the first pundit to really push back on the idea that the Cubs are going to spend with any sense of urgency or aggression this offseason. Mind you, this is not just about restraint on one of the top free agent shortstops, which Brett got into in detail right here, but pretty much just about their expected spending patterns in general:

“I think the Cubs strategy is kinda similar to last offseason, ‘Yes, we will spend. But we’re gonna be nimble, we’re gonna be deft, we’re gonna be not necessarily locking ourselves into an 8-10 year deal.”

… That’s the strategy, more of the ‘Stroman and Seiya Suzuki’ kind of signings, not the ‘Let’s push all our chips in.’ And I’m not sure Cubs fans want to hear that, but it’s another building year. It’s not ‘We’re going for it,’ just yet.

…Both sides of town, I’m not hearing the big big allocation in terms of dollars.

Sure, we all knew that the Cubs might refuse to hand out a “mega deal” for one of the top shortstops (or go over the top for someone like Jacob deGrom), but I think we also hoped that even in that event, they’d be more aggressive than the way Rogers framed it above. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with the Suzuki and Stroman tiers of free agency – I think we let that get away from us, Cubs fans, a little too often – but *planning* to max out at that tier this winter would be disappointing news.

Rogers also completely rejected any pursuit of one of the “big three” free agent starting pitchers (Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon). Again, maybe those guys were always a long-shot, but you never want it to be because of a blanket unwillingness to spend.

But then things kinda changed again. The day after Rogers’ initial ESPN interview, he hopped back on the mic in what sounded like a response to the reaction he got after his first interview. And while he wasn’t singing an entirely different song, he certainly did change his tune.

This time around, he said the Cubs aren’t going to do what the Rangers did last season at shortstop (signing both Marcus Semien and Corey Seager to monster deals for a combined $500M), but that doesn’t mean they can’t get one. He maintained that the Cubs spending is still going to be closer to what it was last season than “all in,” but they doesn’t mean they won’t be spending. Indeed, they did spend last offseason, possibly just less than what some people wanted. It very much sounded like he wanted to make sure people understood that he wasn’t saying the Cubs were out on the shortstops, or out on impact players entirely.

Okay. Well. That’s certainly better. And the fact that he jumped back on so quickly after his first oration does make me wonder if he got some pushback behind the scenes, like, hey man, that kinda came off wrong. That wasn’t precisely right. Still, even in that case, you can take only mild encouragement if your hope was that the Cubs would blow everyone out of the water in spending this offseason. That’s not expected.

Jed Hoyer, himself, suggested that the payroll will go up in 2023, but as Brett pointed out, (1) he also implied that it will go up bit by bit after this season, and (2) it wasn’t exactly sky-high last year, so it kinda has to go up.

And that’s sorta where my general frustration comes in (which, I concede, at this point is merely anticipatory).

According to FanGraphs, the 2023 Cubs have an estimated real payroll of $126M and CBT payroll of $142M (nearly $100M below just the FIRST luxury tax tier) at the outset of free agency this year, and that number will drop by another $50+ million after the 2023 season with expiring contracts and/or buyouts for Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, Ian Happ, and Yan Gomes, just to name four players.

Yes, they’ll sign some guys this winter (and possibly extend some others along the way). But the point is there is STILL money coming off the books from the last era of spending, so refusing to open back up now just doesn’t really make any sense, no matter what they think they’re building.

And while we’re on it, it’s not like the Cubs will be crushed in arbitration in 2024, either.

Rowan Wick: Arb 2
Rafael Ortega: Arb
Nico Hoerner: Arb 2
Codi Heuer: Arb 2
Nick Madrigal: Arb 2
Adrian Sampson: Arb 1
Patrick Wisdom: Arb 1
Adbert Alzolay: Arb 1

Not all of those players are locks to even be ON the team at that time, and none of them are going to be making the sort of money Kris Bryant or Javy Báez was at the end of their arbitration runs. It’s just a totally different spending picture than it was in 2014 or 2015 or 2016.

So any self-imposed financial restrictions this offseason based on some false promise of building something “sustainable” is a bad deal for Cubs fans. This is a big market team from the city of Chicago, who hasn’t spent “big” in YEARS, at the outset of a new collective bargaining agreement, with a deep farm system finally percolating up into the majors. If players CHOOSE not to sign here because they don’t quite see a path to contention in the near-term, so be it. But you have to at least put yourself in the game.

Okay. Deep breath.

Let’s remember that we aren’t hearing everything. Also, there are conflicting reports. Also, the Cubs aren’t going to telegraph spending plans in any case. Telling the world “you’re definitely going to spend a ton of money this offseason” is rarely a good strategy.

Or, who knows … maybe the Cubs find a way to have a successful offseason even without landing one of the top bats or arms (though that one is a bit more difficult to imagine).

But if the Chicago Cubs DO try to play it cheap this offseason, it should be met with a ton of resistance. We’ve waited long enough. We’ve paid high enough ticket and cable prices. And there’s plenty of salary space available near-term and long-term. Quality young players are coming. It’s time.

Brett Taylor contributed to this post.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami