The Rundown: Pandemic Changing Chicago Sports Landscape, Cubs Trade Speculation Continues, MLB Planning for Fan Attendance
“Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.” – Arthur Miller
Jed Hoyer is probably thankful for the Chicago Bears organization this morning. The alleged decision by the McCaskeys to retain GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy gives the Cubs president of baseball operations a slight reprieve as the most beleaguered sports executive in Chicago.
The ongoing pandemic has given sports franchise owners carte blanche to really stick it to fans. Whether it’s simply a crutch or not, the nation’s feeble battle against the spread of COVID-19 has given franchise owners a forum to decry competitive spending. The running joke among Chicago fans these days is that it’s difficult to imagine disliking anything as much as the McCaskey and Ricketts families hate spending money.
In truth, the pandemic has put up a giant curtain that hides the fact that owners and players were already planning for a rough 2020-21 winter. The current collective bargaining agreement has always been expected to expire without a new one in its place, so the coronavirus has merely made the excuses for the dearth of player movement a little more convenient. Pitchers and catchers report in just over a month, and with little to report in the way of an actual plan, especially when it comes to expected attendance numbers, franchises have a ready-made excuse for stifling spending.
That said, there remains a golden opportunity for Hoyer to dive in and make less than reasonable – but likely acceptable – offers to middle-tier free agents who would fill his current roster holes. Those types of players include Michael Brantley, Tommy La Stella, Jon Lester, Jurickson Profar, and Justin Turner, all of whom would not only help the Cubs win the division, but possibly aid in an extended postseason run.
It’s not going to happen, though, because Ricketts is going to parlay the nation’s health and economic emergencies as an offset to losses caused by the 1060 Project and, to a lesser extent, the financial failure of the team’s first year on Marquee.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, on the cost of Wrigley Field renovations: “We probably missed our budget by around 100%.” #SBJDEALMAKERS pic.twitter.com/NmYZ89gPih
— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) December 4, 2019
Younger readers may not understand the reference to the 1983 movie Trading Places, but it’s almost like the McCaskeys and Rickettses are running a social experiment to see which fanbase will crack first. Mortimer and Randolph Duke would be proud of both families. If I had to make a prediction, it’s that the spoils of that $1 bet will eventually find rest in the vault at Clark and Addison. Bears fans seem to be far more forgiving and I offer Ted Phillips’s three-decade run with the storied football franchise as exhibit A.
As a former wage-earner in the commodities industry, I still find it delightful that the Dukes would try to corner the market on something as far-fetched as frozen orange juice futures.
“Looking good, Louis! Feeling good, Billy Ray!”
Not so much if you’re a Cubs or Bears fan these days.
Cubs News & Notes
- I believe Hoyer would need to eat a significant amount of salary to trade Craig Kimbrel, but the market for closers is trending upward. Kimbrel is owed $16 million for 2021 plus a buyout of at least $1 million on a $16 million club/vesting option for 2022.
- It was reported yesterday that the Marlins have engaged in trade talks with the Cubs for catcher Willson Contreras, though nothing appears to be imminent.
- One reason Contreras might be considered expendable is the rapid development of prospect Miguel Amaya. He won’t be ready for the bigs this season, but Hoyer could find a cheaper option while Amaya gets more seasoning.
- Extensions for Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Báez seem less and less likely with each passing day.
- A potential Bryant trade has been reportedly discussed by the Cubs and Blue Jays.
- The Braves are indicating they’d rather keep Austin Riley than trade for Bryant.
- Kyle Schwarber admitted that being non-tendered by the Cubs was a “little bit of a gut punch.”
- Don’t forget, Yu Darvish expressed similar sentiment after he was traded to the Padres. Alas, there’s no loyalty in baseball.
- Though Hoyer has not been active in free agency, the Cubs are expected to make as many as five significant signings in the IFA market, including the addition of heralded young shortstop Cristian Hernandez.
- On a scale of 1-5, the Cubs have a tank rating of 4 and seem likely to punt the season.
- Theo Epstein could help MLB with its “entertainment value” problem.
Odds & Sods
Why buy a baseball team unless you’re in it for the profit? I think most of us take no issue with that fact, but from day one Tom Ricketts has pledged that winning was his family’s only objective. That may have been slightly misleading, at least as far as his father is concerned.
The Ricketts Plan pic.twitter.com/JRkTAijFbp
— Drew Silva (@drewsilv) December 30, 2020
The league is planning on a 162-game schedule and will not mandate vaccines for fans once they are allowed to attend.
Memos distributed to teams Monday reportedly allow for the possibility that spring-training tickets could be sold in small groups of pods, providing those groups are seated at least six feet from one another.
The Reds are planning to host fans at Great American Ball Park this season and have set rules for seating (subscription required).
Corey Kluber will throw in front of scouts fin what amounts to a mass tryout of sorts, and is confident he’ll impress just about everybody who attends.
The rumors of a potential 10-year extension for Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. are now said to be false.
It’s possible the White Sox will be Chicago’s biggest draw for the near future, and the signing of Liam Hendricks may have cemented that.
The Red Sox are supposedly preparing to make “a series of moves,” with outfielder Andrew Benintendi oft-mentioned in recent trade speculation.
Cardinals fans believe signing free agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu will guarantee a division title for the Redbirds.
According to a report from the New York Post’s Joe Tacopino, Constantine Scurtis, ex-brother-in-law of Álex Rodríguez, alleges that the retired third baseman was part of a “racketeering and embezzlement” scam in a real-estate deal. Scurtis’s sister, Cynthia, was married to Rodriguez from 2002-2008.
Apropos of Nothing
Remember those Birds-Eye orange juice concentrate cans in the frozen foods section? Maybe older generations refuse to “follow the science” because of 1970’s “flavor enhancers” and the like. Did you know Turtle Wax used to make a hard shell topping for ice cream?
But will Kluber accept a minor league deal?
Some were wondering and yes, the Cubs will have a presence at Corey Kluber's workout tomorrow. Kluber has struggled to return to form after battling injuries the last two years, but the Cubs have up to three rotation spots to fill and they're undoubtedly looking for upside value.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) January 13, 2021
You’ll need a paid subscription to access the full story, but Dave Schoenfeld of ESPN speculated on a couple of trade proposals involving Contreras and Bryant that actually make some sense, at least as a starting point in consideration of financials, physicals, and how front offices value their prospects.
- A trade to the Angels that revolves around outfielders Brandon Marsh or Jordyn Adams.
- A deal with the Yankees for Gary Sánchez and prospects. New York would actually save money in that type of deal based on arbitration projections, so the prospect return would presumably be much better.
- The Phillies could be persuaded to give up one of Mick Abel or Bryson Stott for Chicago’s backstop.
- Pairing Contreras with Kimbrel in a trade to the Blue Jays that would save the Cubs significant payroll in exchange for one of Toronto’s post-hype catching prospects, like Reese McGuire or Danny Jansen.
- A deal with the Astros for some of their young starting pitching depth.
Though Schoenfeld didn’t mention any specific names, he indicated the Dodgers, Nationals, Braves, Blue Jays, and Red Sox may all have varying degrees of interest in pursuing a trade for the former MVP and Rookie of the Year.
They Said It
- “At first, it definitely was a little bit of a gut punch. It’s not the way that you want to end your tenure with the team, especially for all the things I went through there and all the history that we made. And it was the only thing I knew. I was drafted by the organization; I came up and we were all a bunch of young kids and we made history together.” – Kyle Schwarber
- “We all love you but we’re going to go ahead and non-tender you. We’d love to have you back. We gotta see what happens down the road, but we’d love to have you back. And if it’s not this year, we’ll definitely keep interest in the following years down the road.” – Jed Hoyer, as quoted by Schwarber
- “I care for those guys over there and I hope that whatever happens, they go out there and they win the division, and hopefully we get to meet them in the playoffs at some point.” – Schwarber
Wednesday Walk Up Song
You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi – When the theme of the offseason bumps up against fan betrayal, it becomes more and more difficult to love the Cubs.