I'm just going to go ahead and call this baseball's winter of discontent. Maybe because I just like the phrase, maybe because I want to appear more poetic/well read than I actually am. Much like Bart Simpson, I hope that simply using those words gets the rest of the kids in the class to applaud.
From what I can gather, most of the angst of the lack of activity is simply springing out of boredom. We can't sit here and actually dream about Yu Darvish in the rotation, so we get a lot of "It's Time For The Cubs To Do Something Because I Have Nothing Else To Write About!" articles. We want something to talk about, something to dissect, something to get excited about. From what I can tell, not having that is causing everyone to lash out.
Because honestly, I'm not sure what the difference to us peons really is. It's not like we're in spring training at the moment. It's not like those players that haven't signed yet aren't doing their offseason training anyway. This isn't football, where they're missing out on time to learn a playbook. You can throw/swing anywhere if you need to. And if you're a prime free agent waiting on a deal, it's not like you're missing out on a ton of coaching that's going to alter your career. You already got it.
Sure, there's intriguing and perhaps dispiriting labor battles being waged here, and the ground for future ones being prepped. It isn't fair that players who have waited for free agency for years and worked as hard as possible to maximize it and become the best in the world. It isn't fair that they're not getting the deals they were promised by agents and others. Then again, Darvish and Arrieta and Cobb could sign right now for money that will set generations of their families up. That sympathy just doesn't run that deep. Scott Boras will never be a sympathetic character. It's not just you're on one side or the other.
All of that aside, a big reason for the lack of activity has been the idea that the big market teams are trying to stay under the luxury tax. And that's for a couple reasons. One is that teams simply don't want to pay the highly punitive penalties for going over the threshold, and some of them might have to in the years to come anyway (we'll circle back to this in a sec). The second is that they all want to keep the powder dry for the class of '18 which includes Harper, Machado, possibly Kershaw, Donaldson, even Charlie Blackmon. Ok, fine.
Some of that I get, and some of it locally I'm not sure I do. The Dodgers have been over the threshold for four straight years already, but cleared out enough dead weight to get out from under it this time. They've kind of proven they don't mind if it comes to it. The Yankees just picked up Stanton who gets paid in actual trucks of money every month. The Red Sox don't have that many needs, honestly, and are staring down the barrel of paying a lot of kids soon.
So my eye turns locally. The Cubs are also one that's being considered to be trying to stay under the tax because they don't want to pay the penalties. While they also may be trying to keep their powder dry for Harper or Machado next winter, they also know that it's not far away from paying Bryant a ton and maybe Russell or Baez or even Hendricks and Contreras down the line. If Schwarber isn't traded and continues to put up 35 homers a year? You get it. It's not immediate, but it probably should be planned for. The Cubs might not be able to avoid that tax quite soon. They may not be able to avoid the repeat offender penalties, too. If it's going to happen anyway... you know how that finishes.
And yet we just accept that and no one seems to ask if that really should be the case. As far as I can tell there's been no directive from Tom Ricketts that they have to stay under this figure or that figure. It's just what we're told. Did anyone ask him?
The Cubs have the most expensive ticket in baseball. The most rudimentary estimates would have them taking home somewhere between $160-180 million in gate receipts alone. Throw in all the other events now at Wrigley, and merchandise, and all the other things, and you start to wonder, don't you? What about the luxury tax has the Cubs so fearful? If the Cubs had to shell out $230 million a year as the Dodgers have, would it cripple them? That's without the TV deal the Dodgers have to be fair, but isn't that coming for the Cubs?
It's just strange for a team that's been so transparent in everything else they've done. They told you they were going to tear it down to the studs. They told you to be patient. They told you when they were going to dip into free agency. They've told you when they screwed up. They told you this winter that they would likely trade a player you've come to love (which they haven't yet). And now they're telling us they have to stay under the tax, though not really why. They just have to because.
I don't need the Cubs to spend money to spend money. I saw what that's done to teams in the past, both good and bad. And yet this team seems a starter short. Darvish is sitting there, even if you think his decline is coming. What's clear is the Cubs are interested. Do we really believe that a few million over six or seven years really makes a difference to the Cubs and the money they're already printing over there? It's curious.
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