We all have things we look forward to in the spring. Pitchers and catchers reporting, the first televised game of spring, and of course Opening Day. An odd quirk I've had since my childhood is keeping my eyes on the dormant ivy, eagerly awaiting those first visible pops of green. That's usually a few weeks into the season, and often after my hopes of Cubs' domination had been dashed, but that's when wrigley was about to become Wrigley. Over the past several seasons I've developed another confine fetish: watching that ivy turn colors and fade away while we're still playing ball. I'd really like to make that a habit. We didn't quite make it this year, but we should be set for years to come. The question is, how many?
The offseason carousel has already begun. Chili is out and Iapose is in. Other coaches and FO personnel are being interviewed by competing organizations and we may lose some, but that happens when you stack your staff with competent people. Some of these losses will hurt, but shouldn't be franchise-altering. What we do in signing potential free agents could be. The real fireworks begin after the World Series ends.
We know the offense underperformed in 2018. Theo said it and we watched it. There just so happens to be a couple stud bats available that could instantly help alleviate some of those woes. Harper and Machado will be available for "only" money, but we're talking "back up the Brinks truck and don't forget the address for a long, long time"-type money. Both are projected to land contracts that would make A-Rod blush. There will be many other clubs bidding on their services, and either signing with the Cubs is uncertain, to say the least. Even if we don't ink one of these half-billion-dollar deals, I expect us to surpass the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold in 2019 and beyond to extend our current competitive window. The Cubs have the money to do so, with much more on the way, and I think they will. But there are consequences and long-term ramifications to consider.
The CBT threshold for 2019 has been set at $206M, a slight bump from the 2018 limit of $197M. In layman's terms, which I speak (and comprehend) most fluently, we're already there. With the guaranteed contracts, options picked up by the team and/or player, and arbitration raises for the players we keep, I think we're right around $200M.
Theo has said we are deep in starting pitching but does not expect to subtract. Hamels has expressed his love of this organization, and vice-versa. He may go elsewhere, but I'd be surprised if we didn't pick up his 1 yr/$20M option. There is the possibility he hits free-agency and we sign him to something like 2 yrs/$28M or even 3 yrs/$36M to lower the AAV, but I expect him to return. If he does and we don't shed other significant salary we've already busted the bubble, and haven't even paid the tab for our drink and a date with Harper or Machado to discuss a long-term commitment.
So what do we do? Head to Mesa with the same team we ended 2018 with and play it safe? Of course not. We will add and subtract. That means we will add talent and salary and subtract potential talent yet add more salary. We're the Cubs and we can, except we, or any other team, may not be able to do so. At least long-term. Which leads me to my broader point.
The current CBA runs through 2021. Does that year ring a bell with anyone following the current "competitive window" narrative? That's when a large portion of our current core hit free-agency. Many fans reflexively blame management for a down year yet fail to recognize the the brilliance of the build. I don't. But I do question the plan going forward. I'd like to know if I should plan on watching that ivy die on the vine for years to come or if I should set my DVR to capture this momentary magic.
The Ricketts family bought the Cubs, and that is, IMO, the best thing that has happened in franchise history. We've all heard the stories. Billy Goats, Black Cats, and a dude down the third-base line. That's all BS. The reason the Cubs hadn't won in 108 years was because of poor ownership. Not "poor", but "bad". They were corporate owners who only cared about selling Old Style. They gave us the College of Coaches and Dave Kingman. I bought tickets, and so did you.
This is different. The first thing the Ricketts' did was realize they owned a baseball team but didn't know how to run a Championship-caliber baseball organization. So they hired Theo.
Theo took over a dilapidated, pathetic infrastructure and rebuilt it from the foundation up. He is brilliant at that, even Hall-worthy, having ended droughts and "curses" in Boston and Chicago. He is proven in building a franchise and identifying market inefficiencies. Jabbing when they punch and ebbing when they flow. And the Rings. Don't forget the Rings.
But for all of Theo's brilliance, he has a record of building to a bloated excess. In Boston, and maybe Chicago. He has stated bluntly 10 years is about as long as you want to stay in any one place. The Ricketts are fans and have brought the fan base, as well as the value of the franchise, to an all-time high. What happens if/when they decide to sell?
I think this offseason will tell a lot and still leave me scratching my head. If we land a big dog we extend our short-term window but possibly undercut our long-term viability and ability to extend the core. We work ourselves into the big-market conundrum of having to spend money to gloss over other inneficiencies and to overcome the system-building penalties built into the CBA. Do we blow our wad, going all-in along with the trajectories of our young core and knowing we're destined to burn out and need another tear-down and rebuild in a few more years, or pace ourselves for decades of mere possible competitiveness?
I think what we see in the next couple months will tell us more about that plan than any words from the FO will. We can push all our chips in, knowing we may lose and have to go home early, or we can play it safe and plan for the long haul. I'm conservative in my own life, so I'd like to see a prudent approach to decades of mild competitiveness. And of course I'm lying. In reality, I have another motto: "I flunked moderation". I say we blow it out and win a couple more before Theo moves on and the Ricketts flip this joint.