Chicago Cubs were fourth-worst team in baseball in free agency this winter

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Last winter, Tom Ricketts handcuffed Jed Hoyer and locked him deep in the depths of Wrigley Field to make darn sure his Chicago Cubs didn’t spend any money coming off the pandemic-shortened, fan-less season at Wrigley Field.

Then, with the thaw of spring approaching, he let a scraggly bearded Hoyer out into the sunlight, where the Cubs president of baseball operations quickly attempted to salvage his offseason, bringing in the likes of Joc Pederson, Jake Arrieta, Trevor Williams to make up for the losses of Jon Lester, Kyle Schwarber and the salary dump of Yu Darvish.

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That approach clearly didn’t work well. Williams was thrown in to sweeten the pot in the Javier Baez trade at the deadline, Joc Pederson was the first move Hoyer made in July, trading the outfielder to the Atlanta Braves and, after a disastrous three months, the team outright released Arrieta this week.

As if you needed confirmation, Fangraphs has a piece detailing the value each club extracted from last winter’s free agent signings and the Cubs come in fourth-worst among the 30 MLB teams. In fact, if you added up the value Chicago got from free agent signings (specifically players who were not on the team in 2020, so you don’t include the re-signings of Andrew Chafin or Ryan Tepera) last winter, you end up with a negative WAR.

That’s fun.

Chicago Cubs cannot afford any more offseasons of this caliber moving forward

At this point, you can’t dwell on the past. The team made the moves it made and that rings just as true for the flurry of activity at the July trade deadline. Watching Kris Bryant come back to Wrigley in September as a member of the San Francisco Giants is going to hurt – badly – but there’s nothing that can be done about the decisions the front office made.

But it’s definitely worth keeping in the back of our minds as the 2021 season enters the home stretch and the Cubs continue their descent in the standings and rapid ascent in the projected pecking order for next year’s MLB Draft.

Chicago could go out and drop a cool hundred million-plus this winter and still not touch the luxury tax threshold (barring any major changes in a new CBA). Of course, that CBA is the wild card in all this and has kept Hoyer from making any sort of clear comments on the team’s plans.

Right now, you probably have to give the front office the benefit of the doubt. Ricketts made certain Hoyer was playing with one hand behind his back and blindfolded last winter. If ownership doesn’t give you what you need, there’s only so much you can do.

Next. We're back to embracing the suck in Wrigleyville. dark

But if the coffers are replenished this winter, the Cubs president should be on a short leash when it comes to the success of the moves he makes. Because Chicago cannot afford to swing-and-miss in free agency as badly as they did last winter.