Transactions are frozen as baseball awaits a return — with a June 10 spring training and July 1 Opening Day still merely optimistic targets ($) and not at all definitive — which means the Cubs don’t get extra time to negotiate extensions. Though no rules exist against it, players typically prefer not to conduct contract discussions during the course of the season, hence several deals getting done late in spring training as we saw with Kyle Hendricks last year.
The coronavirus shutdown effectively shaved two weeks off that window and has prevented any conversations at a time when most people would be more than willing to just have a little human interaction. Now, I don’t think any of us are naive enough to believe certain levels of back-channel messaging aren’t still taking place, but numbers aren’t being exchanged at this point.
Had things remained open, it’s entirely likely that the Cubs and Javy Báez would have continued talks the superstar said were “progressing” back in March. That was a week before camps were shut down, so everything remains in stasis for now. But from what Báez shared with ESPN’s Marly Rivera, it’s entirely possible they’ll sit back down at the table as soon as they get the green light to do so.
“I’m very happy in Chicago. I believe it’s one of the best organizations in the major leagues,” Javy said. “We had several conversations but never focused on a deadline. They were very amicable conversations where we communicated well with each other.”
Before you go getting too giddy, though, you’ll want to see how Javy qualified his desire to stay in Chicago. This is very similar to what we’ve seen with Kris Bryant, at least from the business side of things, but Javy takes it a step further.
“It’s a blessing when a player can wear the same uniform their whole life – but it’s a business,” El Mago admitted. “For me, it’s about loyalty. This is the team that has seen me grow up. Of course, many great players have played for many different teams in their careers. My favorite player, Manny Ramirez, has been on a lot of teams. Even though everyone identifies him with Boston, when he left, Manny was always Manny. That’s how it’ll be for me. I’ll always be myself.”
That loyalty he’s talking about, it cuts both ways. The Cubs drafted him and helped him to become the type of iconic player who can grace video game covers, but he has done a helluva lot for the organization as well and his brand is incredibly strong. Just as he wants to remain in Chicago, Javy understands full well what he’s worth and he’ll want to Cubs to show him a little loyalty as well.
What that looks like in terms of time and money is anyone’s guess at this point, though I tend to believe he’d be willing to extend for a more reasonable deal than might be expected for a player of his magnitude. That almost has to be the case if the Cubs want to be able to lock up more of their star players who are rapidly approaching the conclusions of their current contracts.
Wait, let me rephrase that to “if Theo Epstein wants to have enough money left in the budget handed down to him.”
There figures to be a lot more room next season as the salaries of José Quintana and Tyler Chatwood fall off, since both pitchers can be replaced at a lower aggregate cost. Jon Lester‘s salary will likely be gone as well, since his 2021 vesting option is triggered by reaching 200 innings pitched in 2020 (prorated based on eventual season). The possibility exists that the lefty will become a free agent without pitching for the Cubs at all this season, and what a shame that would be.
Like Báez, Lester acknowledged the possibility of playing elsewhere after this season should the Cubs not pick up his $25 million tab for next season. He recently told WEEI’s Rob Bradford that he is “open-minded to anything” as a free agent, even saying that “it would be cool to go back and finish my career where it all started.” He was being asked about the Red Sox, just in case you hadn’t picked up on that.
One way or the other, this Cubs team could look very different by 2022 or even earlier depending on how things shake out. A more pessimistic person might call that chickens coming home to roost, since the organization’s business focus has predictably pushed several players to adopt the same mentality. More accurately, it’s a matter of having intelligent players who experienced the height of success for a team that hadn’t won in over a century.
You want to talk about putting yourself on the map and increasing your public visibility? Winning a World Series title with the Cubs did that for a lot of players. Now it’ll be a matter of how both the organization and those players view each other as it comes time to create the next era of Cubs baseball, whenever that can begin.