There haven’t been any Earth-shattering kabooms for the Chicago Cubs in the offseason. The lack of activity and the nature of the noise is leaving some restless.
For a portion of Chicago Cubs fans, it’s been an agitating…well, late fall, so far. It’s not even officially winter yet, so let’s try to hang on for dear life. From everything you read and hear, the Cubs are content to be the wall-flowers of the free agency dance, sipping on the free punch and claiming that cooties are keeping them from getting involved in any of the fun.
There have been whispers and rumors left and right that the Cubs have to shed payroll to add anything, even a middle-reliever. There have been so many you start to wonder if the Cubs themselves, with a front office that are experts in controlling what messages they want in the bloodstream, haven’t been preparing the ground with them to give a softer landing for their fans.
This is a group of fans that consoled themselves after a cold and vicious ending to the season with visions of press conferences of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper slipping on the blue pinstripes — over a suit that cost more than any of our said cars that don’t start. Maybe, just maybe, the September that seemed to be stuck between gears could be swiftly and violently amended with the kind of financial might only a select few can swing around like Mjolnir. And the Cubs are one of those select few.
It’s hard for a fanbase to drive by Wrigley these days, and see either the in-progress reconstruction or finished products around the parks, and then reconcile that with the image of ownership turning its pockets out and saying, “We only have so much.” Especially when a simple Google search turns up the Ricketts Family are worth $2.3 billion (and some of us balk at the money thrown at political campaigns that are quite simply inherently evil, but let’s leave that for now), and their concerns over luxury tax penalties come in at somewhere between 8-to-10 percent of that, total.
And that’s if you buy into paying luxury tax penalties over a certain amount would cause the Cubs to lose money…as you pore over your season ticket invoices quoting prices that are the highest in baseball… Under an ad for the new club the Cubs are opening at Wrigley that is for only, like, Elon Musk or something.
And now the latest salvo is that the Cubs aren’t being thrifty or cheap, they’re just waiting for Nolan Arenado. Which is fine, I guess, except it doesn’t really make as much sense. They have a hole in the outfield which Bryce Harper fills. They don’t have a hole at third, even if Kris Bryant could seamlessly shift to the outfield. And if you’re the suspicious sort, this kind of sounds like an organization trying to quiet a restless fanbase and media about the present by assuring us it has a plan down the road (though this ignores a bit that if you include defense, Arenado is just about as valuable as Harper). It feels a bit like, “Hey, look over there!”
While the Cubs certainly know of the voracious appetites of their fans, it wouldn’t hurt to try and remind everyone this is a team that won 95 games with half of a Kris Bryant. That it’s a team that looks to be returning probably the best rotation in the National League, even if it is a touch on the old side. That it only needs Bryant and Willson Contreras merely to return to form, not be better, and be healthy, for it to be better than it was. That it really only needs tweaks instead of splashes.
Sure, Theo Epstein set the tone in his post-mortem with something of a fire and brimstone act. It felt good at the time. It sounded right at the time. And perhaps Theo still meant that before checking what the accountants had to say.
The simple truth is that it’s likely the Cubs can spend the money a lot would like to see them spend. They just don’t want to. And they don’t have to. Which leaves everyone grasping for something, as more and more players and teams head to the dance floor and there are less and less to talk to (totally not from personal experience at all).