There was a time when the offseason was less stressful than the actual baseball season. It hasn’t been that way in a long time, but I know I remember it. I know there was a time in my life when it was cold and I didn’t think about the Cubs and what they were or weren’t doing. I’m sure I had a segment of youth where that kind of thinking was mostly restricted to March-October. Long time ago, I’m sure. There are moments when I long for that serenity again.
It’s been a time of trepidation for Cubs fans. There have been multiple reports that the Cubs simply can’t spend the money they had made noise about for months or years to bring in a Manny Machado or Bryce Harper or another shiny bauble. And to a large section of Cubs fans, whose method of problem solving is somewhere around, “KILL IT WITH FIRE!,” this is a crisis. Apparently, the Cubs are a superstar away from being contenders again. Which is weird because I thought they just won 95 games with an injured roster, but that drug use in high school and college and after tends to bite me at the strangest times.
It’s hard to know where to start with all of this, because there are so many layers. So I’ll try and pick them off as best I can one at a time.
– One, there could be myriad reasons the Cubs want this sort of thing out there. Yes, it could very well be to prep the fanbase for what it would consider B- or C-Level signings. It could be just part of the negotiating game, making it clear to people like Scott Boras and… well, Scott Boras, that the Cubs A) don’t have to spend every dollar they have or B) don’t have that money anyway. We’ll circle back to this.
– In addition, while it would be awfully enjoyable, the Cubs don’t need Harper or Machado to reign in the NL Central or National League or MLB again. As I’ve stated many times, you could roll this roster out again just as is and it would very likely boast one of the two best rotations in the National League and maybe three or four in baseball, and with a healthy Kris Bryant and a rebound season from Willson Contreras score more than enough runs. Sure, it would be a touch thin and an injury to Bryant again, Contreras, Javy Báez, or Anthony Rizzo very well might leave them where they were this past year, but on paper it could be fine. In fact, way more than fine. Panic signings are just not the order of the day. This is not a sinking ship. It’s not even close to one. It’s a lot closer to one of those monster ships in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag that blew your silly ass pirate ship up in like 12 seconds.
– That doesn’t mean I’m on board with the Cubs sitting this winter out again, nor do I buy their claims of internal budget constraints outright, if at all. And I don’t know that you should either. I don’t know that this kind of noise or smokescreen isn’t an attempt to placate other owners, who in no way engaged in collusion last winter or anything. It’s hard not to wonder if there isn’t some pressure in the owners’ room on teams like the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, or whoever else to not explode past the luxury tax thresholds, raising the ante on the other teams that also can pay more for players, but are more reluctant. Don’t put anything past these swine.
– There may be other reasons this is coming forth now, and one might be the Cubs have come to realize that their own TV station coming in the next year isn’t going to net them the monthly oil tanker of cash they might have thought. This is actually feasible, given what has happened with the cable television/cord-cutting nexus of recent years. A TV station just might not be as valuable as it was. Though I’d have to think if MLB were smart, and we know the Cubs are, they would be on top of a new ploy of streaming rights. But that’s above my pay grade, and this has been a bone of contention with fans and league alike.
I wouldn’t get fooled too much by this. Or I wouldn’t take their word at face-value, let’s say. It can get dizzying when you see the numbers $206 million, or $226 million, or $246 million as those are the thresholds for 2019. Then you start throwing percentages in there and Mom I just want to get off this ride. Zack’s taken you through the numbers already.
The other factor is that the Cubs lose a ton of cash off the payroll next year. Ben Zobrist comes off. So does Cole Hamels. So do Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek. You could even choose to not pick up José Quintana’s $10.5M option, though I would be shocked if they don’t unless he turns into Judge Doom out there this year. It’s somewhere around $50M clearing. Now obviously it doesn’t work totally that way. Some of these guys will be brought back, though for cheaper, or their spots will have to be filled with more than a smile. Arb-eligible players like Bryant and Báez and Kyle Hendricks and Kyle Schwarber will get raises. Still, it’s hard to see just that gobbling up all of that $50M in newfound space, especially if you unearth some cheap relievers because y’know, that’s a thing that everyone does now.
And the Cubs are headed for the second-time offender penalty before 2020 anyway, unless they strip this thing down to near the studs. So it’s just that amount they’re paying, and however you feel about what they’re telling you, they can afford it.
If the Cubs follow the more conservative path they at least want you to think is the realistic possibility now, and carry just a $240-$245M payroll next year, that comes with penalties somewhere around $10.4M at the highest, which we know they’ve got. When all that money clears off the decks after the 2019 season, the Cubs will have a base of somewhere around $200 million. They could stay under the luxury tax entirely if they wanted, avoid repeat-offender penalties and the like.
Or they could kiss my ass.
I wouldn’t pretend to know the Cubs inner-finances, though Forbes’s estimate of an operating income of $100 million or so seems on the conservative side, given the rate of construction around the park and whatever that television station is going to be worth starting next year. Even if we were to take that number at face-value, and jumping the payroll some $70 million next year from this one past along with the penalties to come would still see them turn a profit. I guess I’m not allowed to say how much the Cubs should make or not make, but we all know they’ve got more than enough to get by whatever that number is.
These are the facts as best as I can find them. You decide for yourself what you want to believe.
Lead photo courtesy @Cubs on Twitter