The Cubs play in one of the game's largest markets, but they are in the middle of a massive rebuild and opened the season with payroll right around $90 million, placing them among the bottom third in the league. According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the players' union is concerned about the team's lack of spending:
Sources said the union is concerned about how the Cubs' business practices are affecting player markets. At least one agent met with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts this year, according to sources, to make the case for investing in the major-league team even as the club overhauls the scouting and player development system.
Whether the most powerful players union in American sports can do anything about the high-revenue team's years-long trend of spending cuts and roster purges is tricky. It might depend in part on how much longer it lasts and if the union can find grounds for action in Major League Baseball's debt-ratio rules for clubs.
MLB and the union forced the Marlins to increase spending a few years ago, but only because the team was violating the intended use of the revenue sharing agreement. They were receiving money but not spending it all. The Cubs are on the other side of the spectrum -- they pay into the revenue sharing system.
“Speaking generally, as one would expect, we monitor the spending of all Clubs on a regular basis, and if we have concerns we raise them with the Commissioner's Office," said an MLB spokesman to Wittenmyer. “We also understand the cyclical nature of the industry, but despite the ups and downs franchises face, we strongly believe that the best way to improve one's bottom line is to invest in Major League talent.”
According to Cot's, the Cubs topped out with a $144 million payroll in 2009, but have lowered it in each of the last five years. The club has made some modest free agent signings like Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, plus they've signed players like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo to extensions, but that's really it. MLB's revenues are sky high yet the Cubs have lowered payroll by $50 million since 2009.
I have no doubt the Cubs will increase payroll and sign more free agents when they are closer to contention, but that might be years away. How much longer will the MLBPA wait?