After narrowly missing the postseason in 2023, the Chicago Cubs set their sights on the #1 star in baseball, Shohei Ohtani. Unfortunately, the Cubs misfired and couldn't acquire the superstar's services. Understanding that the Cubs had about $51MM in payroll before reaching the first tier of the luxury tax, you can easily envision a scenario in which the Cubs front office was more than willing to go over.
By acquiring Ohtani alone, the Cubs would have gone over, and they still needed other needs, such as a starting pitcher and at least one reliever. Nevertheless, have plans shifted away from purposely blasting past the luxury tax since the team couldn't land Ohtani? The answer is yes and no regardless of what feels like a standstill.
Given that the team does not seem intent on bidding for Yoshinobu Yamamoto and losing out on trading for Tyler Glasnow, the approach must focus on spending as smart as possible. There are still avenues in which the team can launch itself into postseason contention. Take, for example, the plethora of prospects the Cubs have in their system. Recently, MLB ranked the Cubs with the number two farm system in baseball, and with a glance at the team's top 30, you can tell not all of these outfielders will be simultaneously on the major league roster. Therefore, the Cubs are in a great position to trade.
Chicago Cubs: What's an example of what the Cubs look to pull off?
With Glasnow off the board, a hypothetical example of a move the Cubs can make would be with Cleveland regarding Shane Bieber and Josh Naylor. It's speculative, but this type of move makes sense financially for 2024. The pair will likely have around $20MM in arbitration this winter. What it would cost for a rental in Bieber and two years of team control for Naylor remains to be seen, but the Cubs have more than enough to pull any move like this off.
Can we assume that an AAV of around $26MM is reasonable if Cody Bellinger returns to Chicago? Back-end relievers in the market can be had for around $5MM. Add it all up: the Cubs come right up to the luxury tax for 2024, and how the team plays up until the end of July can determine if the club adds at the deadline and subsequently goes over the first luxury tax tier.
Granted, you want to see the Cubs field a competitive team and still have a few million to spend at the deadline without going over, but the team is so close, with more funds coming off the book next season, that they have to be willing to creep up there now. The reality is that given who's left on the free agent board, the Cubs aren't going to blast past the luxury tax. Set your sights on a free agent bat, hopefully, Bellinger, and a closer. From there, expect the Cubs to hit the trade market for the rest of their offseason shopping cost-effectively.