The Cubs have done a lot over the last few weeks to pull out of the nose-dive their perception was taking among fans, to the extent that cautious optimism now tinges most assessments. Highlighted by Dansby Swanson, several competent additions have raised both payroll and the performance floor, and team chairman Tom Ricketts indicated there is a willingness to add at the deadline if the postseason is still a reality at that point.
While you can’t be blamed for questioning the sincerity of those comments, particularly considering they came ahead of and during Cubs Convention, FanGraphs’ Roster Resource has them over $221 million in luxury tax payroll. That number will increase if and when they sign another lefty reliever, perhaps Andrew Chafin or Matt Moore, putting them close enough to the $233 million threshold that it’s possible a deadline deal could push them over.
Before I continue, I want to be clear that I’m not praising Ricketts for being willing to approach or exceed the CBT because that should be a given. The bigger point is that we’re being presented with pretty clear evidence that everything the business side said about Jed Hoyer having money to spend was true. And seeing as how a whole lot is set to fall off the books after this season, he should have a lot more to spend for 2024.
Exactly how that will all play out is yet to be seen, but recent information has allowed us to revise the Cubs’ narrative just a little bit. Patrick Mooney noted that the front office did its due diligence in checking back with Carlos Correa following the implosion of his deal with the Mets, though several factors prevented any real traction. Correa’s six-year guarantee with the Twins is for $33.33 million AAV, which would have put the Cubs about $15 million over the threshold before Trey Mancini was added.
Between the duration and creative nature of the deal, not to mention the comfort level Correa had already established in Minnesota, it just wasn’t going to happen. Even if you aren’t a fan of participation trophies, the Cubs at least tried. They also tried to land Xander Bogaerts, who appeared for a while to be their best fit on a number of levels before he shocked everyone by getting $280 million over 11 years from the Padres.
That’s one of those deals pretty much every Cubs fan was able to reach into a bag of nopes to justify walking away from, but it’s notable that the team was among Bogaerts’ top suitors. Super-agent Scott Boras shared as much with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale in a piece about how free agency played out for his biggest clients.
“They probably made a decision they were going to sign [Rafael] Devers, and were going to pay only one of them. So we knew at the forefront that Bogey would be somewhere besides Boston. Minnesota, the Cubs, the Blue Jays, they were really after him. But we kind of knew the Padres’ guy was Bogaerts. They wanted that personality, that leadership in that locker room.’’
We don’t know how high the Cubs were willing to go on an offer to Bogaerts and it’s possible they only got as high as the seven years and $177 they gave to Swanson, but they might have been north of $200 million. Assuming they were not comfortable with more than seven years, that could mean an extra $3-5 million AAV. Maybe that would have precluded them from adding Mancini and/or higher-end bullpen guys or maybe it’s a sign that they really are willing to at least kiss the CBT.
Even if that doesn’t mean being over as early as January, leaving less than $10 million in wiggle room puts you in a pretty tight spot when it comes to in-season acquisitions. Though only a few people know for sure, everything we’ve seen and heard over the last few days indicates that Ricketts is at least willing to go over by a little bit if the team’s performance justifies a late boost.
Of course, a whole lot more needs to go right to even make that a concern. I’ve been very critical of Hoyer here and I still don’t believe he has done nearly enough to improve the offense into a unit that can blow other teams out, but the Cubs have quietly gotten a lot stronger this winter. If nothing else, they’ve put themselves in a much better position to parlay bouncebacks, breakouts, and chemistry into a product that’s much more fun to watch.