Three full offseasons have elapsed since the Cubs signed Yu Darvish to a six-year contract, and the only multi-year arrangement they’ve signed with a free agent in the offseasons since was a two-year, $5MM deal to utilityman Daniel Descalso. Even including the in-season three-year contract Craig Kimbrel signed in 2019, the Cubs’ total free-agent expenditures over the past three years comes to just under $82MM — about 65 percent of the total figure they gave to Darvish alone. Suffice it to say, they haven’t been especially active — at least not by the standards of a former $200MM-payroll club that plays in one of the game’s largest markets.
Team chairman Tom Ricketts has attributed the downturn in spending to myriad factors. As far back as 2019, he claimed that the Cubs “didn’t have any more” resources to commit to payroll, and in the years since he’s referenced the “dead-weight loss” associated with paying the luxury tax and “biblical” losses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 2021 season, of course, saw the Cubs blow up the core of their World Series-winning 2016 team. They traded Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez (as well as several other veterans) prior to the deadline. Now, with a much cleaner payroll slate, Ricketts has publicly indicated for the first time in several years that the club plans to spend to some extent this winter.
“We have the resources necessary to compete in 2022 and beyond, and we will use them,” Ricketts wrote in a letter to season ticketholders Friday. “We will be active in free agency and continue to make thoughtful decisions to bolster our roster.” He goes on to stress that the organization “respects” the “high expectations” of fans and shares their desire to win. “We commit to fielding a competitive team reflective of your unrivaled support,” Ricketts added.
Cubs fans will surely be relieved to see any ownership mention of spending after a few seasons marked by payroll cuts. That said, Ricketts’ use of “thoughtful” might not set the stage for major expenditures — particularly when taken in conjunction with president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer’s recent comments about being “opportunistic.” Hoyer noted that the type of flashy, aggressive moves made when teams strive to “win the offseason” can quickly become detrimental once the initial excitement fades.
Having gone out of his way to promise that the club will be active in free agency, Ricketts will surely push the front office to spend to some degree. The more meaningful question will come down to what constitutes an “active” offseason, particularly after Hoyer’s more measured comments last week. Gordon Wittenmyer’s recent interview with Carlos Correa over at NBC Sports Chicago will no doubt have Cubs fans dreaming of a mega-deal for a new franchise shortstop, but it’s hard to imagine the team going in such an aggressive direction not even a year into this retooling/rebuilding process.
Hoyer has been clear that this won’t be a full teardown to the extent of the Cubs’ prior rebuild, but Chicago is lacking depth all over the diamond. Pouring so many resources into one position at a time when there’s a dire need for starting pitching, outfield help and long-term options elsewhere in the infield would register as a surprise. The Cubs probably do have that type of financial wherewithal — we’ve seen as much in the past — but Hoyer’s comments portend a series of smaller-scale signings aimed at addressing many areas of need up and down the roster.