The Chicago Cubs have made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, and over that span they've averaged almost 97 wins per year. Going into the offseason, they still have one of the NL's strongest rosters, so the expectation is that they'll move aggressively to try to win another ring with the current core. But are those expectations off base?
The Cubs on Friday picked up Cole Hamels' pricey option for 2019 and defrayed some of the cost by trading Drew Smyly to Texas, Here's this from Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required) .... But what if that's pretty much it, other than some improvements at the margins?
Theo Epstein's front office is forward-thinking and extremely creative. But Friday's salary-dump trade – moving Drew Smyly to the Texas Rangers in order to pick up the $20 million option on Cole Hamels – reinforced what multiple sources have told The Athletic: The Cubs have financial concerns that may limit their ability and motivation to make a huge splash this winter.
The Cubs have been widely rumored to be a leading suitor for free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, who would be a fit on a number of levels. As well, fellow premium free agent Manny Machado is also a hypothetical fit, assuming the Cubs move on from Addison Russell. Both of those players, however, are going to cost a lot of money -- in excess of $300 million each, very likely.
As for the Cubs, they're no doubt printing money, but they already have more than $200 million in payroll committed for 2019, and that's not counting massive arbitration raises for Kris Bryant and Kyle Hendricks. In addition, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Mike Montgomery will be arb-eligible for the first time. The Cubs, then, are certainly going to be past the luxury-tax threshold for 2019.
Does that mean they won't be in on the likes of Harper or Machado? When you have the Cubs' resources, it's a matter of choice, but the Ricketts family may not be willing to go much higher. Or perhaps this is some calculated posturing by unnamed sources. Whatever the case, the Cubs' aggressiveness or lack thereof on the free-agent market will be one of the most compelling subplots of the winter.