Chicago Cubs: This team seems unwilling to break the bank this winter

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) /

This offseason’s free agent class is one of the best in recent memory. But the Chicago Cubs seem more concerned about finances than adding big-time talent.

Let me begin by saying this. I’m concerned about what the Chicago Cubs potential spending limits could mean for the team going forward. Baseball observers have been looking forward to this year’s free agent class for years. The Cubs have a few needs on the roster that the front office will address this offseason.

But if the spending limits are real, those needs might not get filled in the way that makes the most baseball sense. Instead, those roster adjustments might need to be dealt with in a messy mix that prioritizes finances first and baseball fit second.

In my last two posts I wrote that if the front office knew how much money they would have to spend this offseason, then last year they should have begun the season with Mike Montgomery in the rotation instead of signing both Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood. In the same line of thinking, not picking up Cole Hamels’ option might have been a better play, as well.

But perhaps the front office didn’t know just how much (or how little) they would have to spend this off season until very recently. Perhaps revenue is down or not as high as it was at one time expected to be. Perhaps the Cubs new television deal isn’t looking as good as we had hoped. Perhaps ownership, the Ricketts family, has decided that the Cubs aren’t going to spend like the Yankees.

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Usually, I try not to take anything for granted when it comes to signing potential free agents. I followed very closely the Cubs’ pursuit of Jon Lester, Russell Martin, David Price, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish. In some cases, it worked out. In other cases, the player ended up going elsewhere.

However, the potential signing of Bryce Harper has been something completely different. All of Harper’s flirtations with the Cubs and the city of Chicago shifted potentially signing him from a possibility to an eventuality in my mind and the hearts of many Cubs fans.

But as fans, we should know better. We have been here before. Before the 2016 season, Price was a free agent who was supposed to make all the sense in the world. The Cubs were a team in need of starting pitching. Price was a relatively young and healthy free agent. He was a Cy Young award winner. Price is a fun loving guy, who used to play for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and presumably wanted to do so again. But ultimately Price went to the Red Sox and the Cubs signed John Lackey and Heyward instead.

This season the Cubs still need to retool their bullpen. Free agent, left-handers Andrew Miller and Zach Britton are two pitchers this front office has tried to acquire in the past. Signing them would cost nothing other than millions of dollars (yes, I know how that sounds). But Jed Hoyer has said that they expect to be active in the trade market instead of free agency.

If the right player is available via trade, then there is nothing wrong with making deals. But if your team is supposed to be one of the biggest market teams in baseball and they are making trades to save money, when an equivalent free agent is available without giving up baseball talent then something has changed. That’s not the way the Cubs were conducting themselves before this offseason.

After putting up with 108 years of losing, I thought this was supposed to be a golden era for the Cubs. In this era, I thought that not only would the team win a World Series and enjoy a competitive window. I thought Chicago would be the kind of organization that just perennially reloads.

After going through their own championship drought and curse, the Boston Red Sox have now won four World Series in the last 14 years. Last offseason, they signed J. D. Martinez, the best free agent hitter available. Are there financial limitations to what the Red Sox can do? Yes, of course.

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I expect the Cubs to work with some limitations of their own too. But prior to just a weeks ago, all of the signals were that those limitations would not prevent the Cubs from signing the best free agent hitter available this offseason. But signing Harper is not Chicago’s birthright. Or are Theo Epstein and Hoyer trying to fake everyone out to set up the big move?