Friday morning brought another twist in the story of will they or won’t they when it comes to the Cubs spending big this winter. Ken Rosenthal reported late Thursday night that the Cubs might want to clear salary prior to exercising Cole Hamels’ $20 million option, which many took to mean they were going to be frugal. Others understandably viewed it as a matter of simple necessity, since the Cubs would have way too many starters to keep them all around.
But Rosenthal was pretty specific with his phrasing and the idea that the Cubs could be thrifty is something I’ve been fearing more and more lately. That idea gained a little more credence when Buster Olney tweeted that “other teams’ read on Cubs’ situation” is that they “will have to spend very carefully to affect upgrades for the 2019 season.”
Other teams' read on the Cubs' situation this winter: They have very little payroll flexibility, and will have to spend very carefully to affect upgrades for the 2019 season. The days of having a cheap core of young players are over for the front office.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 2, 2018
Olney went on to cite the contracts of Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, and Tyler Chatwood — which make up a combined $60 million for next season — as reasons for frugality, though I don’t think it’s that simple. Theo Epstein spoke at the end of the season of needing to devote all his energy to fixing an offense that “broke somewhere along the lines.” The Cubs also have a new broadcast deal in the offing, which, even though it won’t start until 2020, figures to provide more than a little credit for the coming year.
Given all that, free rein of the checkbook seemed inevitable. At the same time, those construction projects in and around Wrigley Field aren’t being completed on a pro bono basis. And while Hickory Street Capital, the real estate development company responsible for those endeavors, is wholly separate from the Cubs, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether it’s left the Ricketts family with liquidity issues.
Please note that that is purely speculative on my part and, mainly due to my lack of experience with billionaire financing, could be waaaay off base. But it does figure that any need to spend carefully, if that is indeed the case, would not come as a result of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wanting to prove a point. Limitations would come from on high.
The Cubs are a veritable monster when it comes to profitability and they’re at a juncture in their competitive window in which it makes sense to spend big on a star who could boost them back into the stratosphere. Just look at what JD Martinez did in Boston. And now I’m walking again on a carpet I’ve worn threadbare, so I’ll tread lightly.
While I’m not advocating for frugality, I will note that there’s more to winning than just stockpiling superstars. And the Cubs do have a core that won 95 games despite poor health and that aforementioned broken offense. So small tweaks could yield big results next season, though that alone is no reason to limit your options if the resources exist to go bigger.
But perhaps I’m wrong and other teams are wrong about this whole thing. Maybe the smoke signals are really a smokescreen. Fingers crossed.