Team chairman Tom Ricketts addressed a number of topics Monday in Mesa, several of which we covered in a previous piece. The throughline with those was the failure — or perhaps it would be more fair to use a euphemism like “situational inability” — to get various initiatives launched in time for the regular season. I had planned to tackle the topic of payroll and extensions immediately after, but my brain and body had different ideas.
Nothing concerning, I was just tired. While I’m on that topic, I do want to digress briefly to address some concerns our readers have expressed over the past few days and weeks about some of our work here, or lack thereof. One of the problems with running an independent site as a mutual side hustle is that life and work tend to get in the way.
While that hasn’t typically been a big deal, we’ve recently found ourselves at the center of a Venn diagram in which just about everyone here has bigger things pulling them in other directions. Or maybe it’s more like the Bermuda Triangle, though I hope we haven’t lost any vessels. My belief is that we’ll get both The Rundown and The Rant Live back on a semi-regular basis later this month, and I thank you for bearing with us.
Now that I think about it, our situation isn’t much different from that of the team we’re covering. The Cubs likewise went through a period of doldrums and offered all kinds of excuses for why things weren’t better. Now, however, the tune seems to be changing a bit when it comes to spending. Not only have the Cubs added around $300 million in guaranteed salaries this offseason, but Ricketts has been much more bullish on their ability to keep spending.
“We always have the ability to add resources at the deadline,” Ricketts told reporters at Sloan Park. “We’ll make that decision as it gets closer. Obviously, you want to be careful going over the CBT because there are penalties. Some of them are merely financial, but over time they become draft pick slots and those kinds of things. So you want to be thoughtful about it. You want to be alert and manage around it if you can. If we’re midseason and we need a player, we’ll do what we have to do then.”
After adding reliever Michael Fulmer, the Cubs’ CBT payroll is at an estimated $224.96 million against a threshold of $233 million. That $8 million buffer might not seem like much, but it does stretch a bit when you consider that they’d only be on the hook for less than 40% of their deadline acquisitions’ annual salary. They’ve conceivably got room to add a player or players who will earn $20 million in total this season, which could have a significant impact.
That really only matters if the roster is maxing out its potential to the point where the Cubs are legitimate contenders. If that’s really the case, it would be foolish to have their decisions limited by fear of incurring overage penalties. The same holds true for next year and beyond, though Jed Hoyer should have both a lot of money falling off the books and an influx of prospects on rookie deals to provide even more payroll room.
After saying more than once this winter that he was comfortable getting close to the luxury tax levels, Ricketts took things a step further on Monday.
“If we see an opportunity or it’s the right time to go over for a year or two, we’ll have the ability to do that,” he explained. “But we’ll manage that year to year, I’m not going to promise top five or anything like that. But we will definitely put the resources we have on the field.”
It’s perfectly reasonable to doubt the veracity of this claim, but this is definitely something different from what we’ve heard previously. Even though Ricketts continued to preach on the same old tropes about the evils of various penalties, he seems to have softened what had been more of a hard-line stance on never going over the CBT again.
Part of that almost certainly comes from the knowledge that jersey patch sponsorship should net the team another $10-15 million annually. And while I don’t think the new sportsbook will be nearly the financial boon they’d initially hoped for, it’s still going to generate plenty of additional revenue. Will all of that money be funneled directly back into player payroll as we’ve heard for so long? Doubtful, but it gives ownership more of a safety net and less of an excuse.
In addition to providing the front office a little more freedom to pursue big free agents, maintaining a high payroll should afford the ability to work out some of the in-house extensions that have proven to be so elusive to this point. Hoyer said repeatedly that he wanted to have those wrapped up prior to the start of spring training, yet nothing appears to be imminent now that camp has officially opened.
The limited space below the threshold shouldn’t matter when it comes to working out deals with Ian Happ and/or Nico Hoerner because both already have agreements for 2023 and the “new” money would start next year. So what’s the holdup?
“We have a couple guys that we’d love to extend,” Ricketts said.” But if that doesn’t work out, that’s okay too. I appreciate that they would rather test the market. It’s up to Jed, but it’d be great because some of the guys that we’d consider extending, we know them as players but we also know them as people. And they’re the kind of people you want to be around and you want in your clubhouse.”
Ricketts naturally referred reporters back to Hoyer when asked who those players are, not that we need anyone to tell us at this point. A deal for Hoerner is far more imperative given the team’s wealth of outfield prospects, though securing Happ’s services for several years into the future would allow the front office to make decisions based on certainty rather than hope.
As an aside, it’s amazing to me just how many people believe Happ is actually a bad baseball player and that Hoerner is too big a risk to extend.
I don’t often take much away from anything Ricketts says because it’s typically just a regurgitation of the carefully rehearsed talking points he’s put together for that particular season. We’ve got more of the same here, except for the stuff about adding at the deadline and being willing to exceed the CBT. That’s very different from the usual murky language about being smart with spending, and it opens Ricketts up to the kind of criticism he’s previously taken pains to avoid.
That doesn’t mean the Cubs will follow through on all of it, just that they have left themselves no room to reasonably explain their way around any failure to keep spending.