Chicago Cubs: Is the team operating under the Bryce Harper tax?

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

One valid explanation for the Chicago Cubs confusing and slow-moving offseason could be the team is, believe it or not, waiting on Bryce Harper.

Since Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago, he has always been aggressive, which makes it even more puzzling that the Chicago Cubs have yet to make many impactful moves during a critical offseason.

Reports earlier this week indicated that the Cubs would have to move money off the books just to acquire a middle-tier reliever. The team’s budget has been a hot topic, and many reports have surfaced that the Cubs are, indeed, in a financial bind.

However, when Epstein was asked about staying under the luxury tax, he didn’t make it sound like his primary objective.

"“We’re not governed by that,” Epstein said to 670 The Score. “There are times when strategically you want to make sure you’re under it or you don’t mind going above it. this isn’t one of those offseasons where strategically it makes a heckuva lot of difference to us.”"

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This certainly doesn’t sound like a president of baseball operations worried about budget constraints. Couple that with the fact that the Cubs brass met with Scott Boras (Harper’s agent) for an extended period of time at the Winter Meetings and things start to make sense.

Cubs making room?

The Cubs have not been shy about wanting to move money from their payroll. The general belief is that the team would like to lower their overall financial obligations before the 2019 season.

Even if the Cubs were to find a team to eat Jason Heyward‘s mega-contract, or take on the remaining year of Ben Zobrist‘s deal, they would still be adding a lot of money to their payroll before Opening Day.

Still a shot at Harper?

The Cubs’ involvement in the Harper sweepstakes has been subtle, but noticeable. They are not considered to be one of the favorites to land the superstar at this moment, but that could change. Harper has made it clear that he loves playing in Wrigley Field and would love to join his childhood friend Kris Bryant. None of that matters, though, if the Cubs can’t match the contract other teams are willing to give the former National League MVP.

For the Cubs to make a legitimate push for the slugging right fielder, they would undoubtedly need to move some of their current position players. Epstein knows that the addition of Harper would likely make the Cubs favorites to reach the World Series. Perhaps just as important, his bat could help provide some stability to an offense that sputtered down the stretch in 2018.

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The Cubs have plenty of other needs to address besides Harper, but before they’re officially out of the running, they may not make any other major signings out of fear of closing that door too soon.