Delayed Gratification, Or Why Haven’t the Cubs Spent Money Yet?

In Commentary And Analysis by Rice Cube53 Comments

There are a million things we can probably rehash about the whole thing where Shohei Ohtani basically wasted everyone’s time, but aside from acknowledging that the most consequential free agent in MLB history was the rate-limiting reagent for the offseason reaction here, let’s not do that rehash and instead figure out what the Cubs are doing (or not doing). Of course, we have to also say that we can’t tell the Cubs what to do (as the front office led by Jed Hoyer has implied many times before). And finally, we also must note that it would be somewhat disingenuous and foolhardy to just assume Craig Counsell can squeeze a few extra wins out of this club that might be without Cody Bellinger (if he doesn’t re-sign with the Cubs, as is rumored to be his preference).

Why So Slow?

This isn’t just the Cubs, by the way…it’s a lot of MLB that hasn’t really done much, and there are a lot of names still on the board to welcome to the North Side (or elsewhere, because not everyone will or should be signed by the Cubs). Here’s a fun Passan tweet:

If you click through, you’ll see the Cubs have spent $0 in MLB free agency (the minor league deals don’t count even if they might turn out to be impactful), and given that they had a huge deal on the table that they probably just abandoned because they knew Ohtani wouldn’t seriously consider, they theoretically have a lot of money. They could push to next year, but that again would be dumb particularly if you don’t trust PCA to hit right away and there are multiple positions that need to be upgraded. Me being the eternal optimist, there is most likely a plan in the works, they just haven’t fully executed it yet.

It is also noteworthy that among the teams that haven’t spent, a few of them include the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Yankees, two of which are rumored to be in on big free agents, and the other is a Jerry DiPoto trade blitz away from being interesting. The Cubs have been linked either by concrete reports or by quantum string theory to said big free agents, including Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto and their own (hopefully non-departed) Cody Bellinger. The issue is probably just agent maneuvering and haggling with front offices to maximize their client pay, which they absolutely should do, even if we’re bored as hell.

The Timing

As of this writing, we are at December 17, a week from Christmas, even though Jed Hoyer isn’t Christian so he probably wouldn’t care, but many free agents are so maybe they try to get something done. However, pitchers and catchers don’t need to officially report to Spring Training until around Valentine’s Day, and players a few days after, so there is time to get stuff done.

I went back and looked at some big signings I can recall and when in the offseason it happened. Keep in mind that as analytical front offices have become more prevalent, there may be a bit of schmollusion going on, but at some point a team knows they want a guy and they need to pay up, so perhaps it isn’t as big of a deal as I joke about.

  • Alfonso Soriano – I thought he was a perfectly fine player, warts and all, he just kind of aged poorly and couldn’t lay off those frisbee sliders. Anyway, he signed on 11/20/2006 before the Cubs won back-to-back NL Central titles, which was earlier than I thought but maybe they just wanted to get it over with before Thanksgiving.
  • Milton Bradley – ironically one of the reasons I found this here website, the much-maligned mercurial outfielder signed on 1/9/2009 so at least one major signing so far has taken until the new year before being finalized.
  • Edwin Jackson – I’m sure many are still annoyed with this particular signing, EJax signed on 1/2/2013 and hey, he did his best and he’s an Immaculate Grid Hall of Famer. By the way, Kyuji Fujikawa (remember him?) signed a month before on 12/7/2012.
  • Jon Lester – this is the first evidence of the Cubs hype video working to snag a marquee free agent, as Jon signed on 12/15/2014. Objectively, this is the best Cubs free agent contract of all time.
  • Jason Heyward – the Cubs paid handsomely for the most impactful speech in postseason history as Heyward signed one year after Lester did on 12/15/2015. John Lackey signed a week before Heyward did, by the way, as did Ben Zobrist (after the Cubs cleared some money or something with the Starlin Castro trade).
  • Yu Darvish – Berselius’ favorite pitcher was signed after I guess his market cratered a bit and he needed to be somewhere before spring training, on 2/13/2018.
  • Craig Kimbrel – To skirt the QO, the Cubs waited until after the Draft and signed Kimbrel on 6/7/2019, as an example of a deal that could happen in-season if, say, Matt Chapman somehow found himself unemployed by Draft time, which would be more difficult now that the Draft happens during All-Star weekend.
  • Seiya Suzuki – I don’t know if he posted late or something, or maybe it was because of the lockout, but Seiya signed officially on 3/18/2022. The other Japanese stars coming over don’t have that long as they are already posted and they only have the 45 days, so expect guys like Yamamoto, Shota Imanaga, etc. to be signed by early to mid-January.
  • Dansby Swanson – our most recent big fish signed on 12/21/2022. Just for fun, I looked it up and Trea Turner signed on 12/8, Xander Bogaerts signed on 12/9, and Carlos Correa finally signed the following January because of the ankle time bomb thing. For those wondering why I forgot, Cody Bellinger officially signed the week before on 12/14.

Because MLB has no deadline (and really, they shouldn’t, because we don’t want to remove leverage from the players side), the next big signing could happen anywhere between now and Spring Training, so we don’t have much of a choice but to take a wait-and-see approach.

Whither Plan?

In our experience, the Cubs tend to keep things close to the chest and once details leak, the transaction is completed almost immediately afterwards. This was true when Theo Epstein was in charge, and appears to also be true under Jed Hoyer. The agents have to leak things to reporters to try to generate momentum for their clients, but Hoyer and friends are disciplined (probably to a fault, but maybe it serves them well) and basically seem like they just don’t care what Scott Boras or whoever is saying that might eventually be misquoted by a Bob Nightengale.

If you asked me to make a prediction (I kinda hate doing this because I’m risk-averse and I don’t really gamble), I’d say the player preference was to know where they stand before Christmas so we might see something happen before next weekend. Trades are also possible so there could be news on that front to augment this lineup, making it possible that the Cubs actually spend no free agent money but still improve the team substantially. You also never know if the Cubs already Zoomed with Yamamoto and invited him to the Winter Wonderland in a Santa costume. We don’t have any choice but to wait and it’ll happen. Or it won’t, it could go either way.

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  1. Author
    Rice Cube

    BN bullets today had quotes from Jed and Carter re: transitioning players to the big leagues, and perhaps that is the minimum benefit of a Craig Counsell if they decide to let it ride, but boy would it be annoying if they actually did that even if Counsell squeezes those extra wins out of this group.

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  2. Author
    Rice Cube

    It (allegedly) begins

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  3. Perkins

    Lots of former Cubs today. Actually I guess three isn’t a lot.

    ⚾️ Immaculate Grid 261 9/9:
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    IMMACULATE!
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    Play at:
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  4. Perkins

    Wasted a guess before I realized the no-hitter one meant “threw it while with that team.”

    ⚾️ Immaculate Grid 262 8/9:
    Rarity: 185
    🟩🟩🟩
    🟩⬜️🟩
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    @immaculategrid x @baseball_ref

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  5. dmick89

    Rice Cube,

    That too. I hate telling teams they can’t spend, but this shit is ridiculous. It seems to only be getting worse and the Ohtani contract is a joke. I’d probably be less pissed if the Dodgers weren’t making a joke of MLB luxury tax with that contract.

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  6. andcounting

    There has to be more to circumvent the kind of player-side collusion that plagued the NBA for so long. I don’t see this offseason as an issue of non-Dodger teams failing to spend. Ohtani’s contract was a chickenshit noncompetitive maneuver, the financials of which other teams had offered as well. That shit is underhanded and shouldn’t be allowed.

    This latest deal is more a case of bad international policy. If a player who had never been subject to an MLB draft becomes eligible, hasn’t history shown they’re going to Chicago, LA, or New York, or at least somewhere along the Pacific coast? That’s noncompetitive. Kansas City isn’t getting any of those guys. There should be a draft that covers negotiating rights, and those rights should be eligible to trade if a deal can’t be worked out between the player and the drafting team.

    And there needs to be compounding penalties for teams who sign multiple giant free agents who were extended qualifying offers. Maybe one pick for each FA signed in a five-year period, but two for the 4th and three for the 5th. If a team stockpiles the best veteran players (whether because they offer more money or if the players conspire to play for the same team), that should absolutely bite those teams in the ass, and not in a good way.

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  7. Author
    Rice Cube

    It could be straight FA, but if they did that nobody would ever want to rot in KC or Pittsburgh barring some significant change in behavior on the ownership side.

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  8. Author
    Rice Cube

    And there needs to be compounding penalties for teams who sign multiple giant free agents who were extended qualifying offers. Maybe one pick for each FA signed in a five-year period, but two for the 4th and three for the 5th. If a team stockpiles the best veteran players (whether because they offer more money or if the players conspire to play for the same team), that should absolutely bite those teams in the ass, and not in a good way.

    I assume you mean more penalties than the existing loss of sequential draft choices. I believe there is forfeiture of international spending pool and future draft position as well.

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  9. Perkins

    Rice Cube:
    It could be straight FA, but if they did that nobody would ever want to rot in KC or Pittsburgh barring some significant change in behavior on the ownership side.

    Didn’t Jung-Ho Kang go straight to the Pirates from KBO? Obviously he wasn’t at the level of Ohtani, Darvish, or Yamamoto and turned out he liked drunk driving at least as much as baseball, but still he went through the posting system.

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  10. Smokestack Lightning

    Perkins:
    When the Dodgers get bounced in the NLDS again, this will all be hilarious.

    Unfortunately, the natural variance of baseball will likely help prop up this kind of nonsense. Because the Dodgers will probably not lay waste to the entire baseball world to the extent these moves indicate they should.

    Still bad for the sport, methinks.

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  11. Author
    Rice Cube

    Smokestack Lightning: Unfortunately, the natural variance of baseball will likely help prop up this kind of nonsense. Because the Dodgers will probably not lay waste to the entire baseball world to the extent these moves indicate they should.

    Still bad for the sport, methinks.

    I think it’s fun every now and then to have a Murderer’s Row (non-racist edition) but the fact is no team has ever won more than 116 in a season so while this team might win over 100 easily, much more than that is unlikely, and that new rotation is also full of risk.

    As for being bad for baseball, I think the ultimate result here is the small time owners (who are still loaded btw) will just make it even more unpalatable for the big bosses to go all in like that, rather than punishing themselves with a spending decree.

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  12. Smokestack Lightning

    Rice Cube,

    I agree that baseball is more fun when there are overarching narratives to drive it, and since 2016, there really haven’t been any. Dodgers as Neo-Evil Empire will be fun to root against, even though I admire what they’re doing by and large. Hey, if the sport gives you an advantage like this, exploit the hell out of it while you can. It’s “bad” for baseball, yes, but it’s hardly the Dodgers’ fault for why that is the case. They actually prioritize the object of the game above all other factors, which is more than can be said for a lot of other organizations, including the Cubs.

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  13. andcounting

    The Dodgers’ mega-core is very much all up in their thirties, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see some of that star power turn into dead weight. I don’t want to say I’m rooting for that despite the undeniable fact that I very much am.

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