How will the MLB lockout impact the Chicago Cubs moving forward?
Chicago Cubs, like every other team, will feel the impact of a new CBA
Raising salaries for younger players
The CBA effectively divides players into three categories: pre-arbitration, arbitration eligible, and free agents. The sabermetrics revolution taught that, under the current system, the first two player categories are often underpaid compared to the value they produce. The Players Association gets this, and while they continue to fight restraints on free agency, they also recognize the need to fight more vigorously for the younger players who increasingly form the core of winning franchises.
The Cubs’ next postseason roster will be considerably younger than the current one. Any agreement that tends to increase players’ salaries earlier in their careers will probably raise the cost of that roster compared to the current baseline. That isn’t necessarily all bad for the Cubs; the Cardinals aside, the Cubs play in a division of financial minnows. Raising the price of younger talent will probably hurt the Pirates, Reds, and Brewers more than the Cubs, unless the salary rises are so high they push Chicago toward the new luxury tax threshold, and exceedingly unlikely prospect.
Unlike the luxury tax, the players may win some ground here; the owners do not seem ideologically opposed to some adjustments, particularly if those can come at the expense of older players’ salaries. However, the owners’ oh-so-snarky opening salvo on this issue doesn’t bode well for a swift resolution.
However you define “tanking” (and whether it is still even possible), owners and players now agree that it is about as likable as Bill Belichick. The details are devilish, mostly involving a rejiggering of the June draft, but there seems to be general agreement that something should be done.
Even under the current system Jed Hoyer has said the Cubs are not tanking, and I believe him. Over the last five complete seasons (i.e. excluding 2020) the worst MLB team has lost an average of 110.6 games. The only way the Cubs could lose that many next season is if they sign Hal Chase. The Crew and the Cards will be good in 2022 but not dominant, and the Pirates and Reds will lose at least 90 apiece. There just won’t be enough wins in the NL Central for the Cubs to absorb 110 losses. Unlike drinking, tanking works best when you tank alone.
So the draft fixes, which could include (among many other possible options) introducing an NBA-style lottery system and limiting how often a team could have the number 1 pick, will likely prevent the Cubs from repeating the Epstein Tank. But circumstances have probably made that harder anyway. To the extent the draft changes reward mediocre teams at the expense of awful ones, the changes would probably help the Cubs. However, if the fixes include placing small-market teams in a preferential draft tier, that would obviously hurt. Given where the Cubs are on the rebuild curve, Len Kasper’s highly innovative solution wouldn’t help at all, and it seems too outside the box for an industry that lives in a pretty small box.