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.
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.
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.