The Chicago Cubs were rumored for years to be a possible suitor for free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper. Even this winter, the expectation was that the Cubs would surface in the bidding eventually. Yet Harper remains unsigned here in mid-February, and the Cubs are still out.
Instead, the Cubs have used every opportunity to tell everyone they're tapped financially. On Monday, owner Tom Ricketts was the latest to deliver the message. Here's what he said:
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was asked why more money wasn't invested in the on-field product this off season (Bryce/Manny etc) : "That's a pretty easy question to answer. We don't have anymore."— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 18, 2019
At least Ricketts didn't provide a bogus answer about how the Cubs feel good about their group players, or how they don't intend to disrupt team chemistry by bringing in an outsider. That doesn't make his answer any easier to accept, however.
The Cubs have a good bunch of players -- but not so good as to wave away additional help. FanGraphs projects the Cubs to win 88 games and the National League Central by two games over the St. Louis Cardinals. Baseball Prospectus, conversely, has the Cubs coming in last (albeit one game back of a tie for third) at 80-82.
No matter which projection system you trust more, it's clear the Cubs could stand to add a few more wins to solidify their standing. Which is why the Cubs' offseason has been disappointing. Keeping Cole Hamels was a good step, but Chicago has since done little more that will impact their Opening Day roster than add Daniel Descalso, Brad Brach, and Xavier Cedeno. With due respect to each of those three players -- each useful -- they're not likely to be difference makers.
The Cubs are set to open the season around $208 million, per Cot's. Their luxury tax calculation puts them between $20 and $21 million over the threshold, meaning they'll be subject to a surtax for exceeding the threshold though they reset their overage penalty by avoiding the tax in each of the previous two seasons. The Cubs wouldn't have their first draft pick dropped 10 spots unless they went more than $40 million over the threshold. Shy of that, the penalties are trifling in nature: consider that the Cubs paid all of $3 million in overage fees back in 2016 -- that despite exceeding the CBT figure by more than $16 million..
Remember, the Cubs are one of the most valuable franchises in the sport, worth about $3 billion per Forbes' estimate last April. The Ricketts were said to be worth $4.5 billion back in 2015 -- and they've reportedly seen their wealth increase since the 2016 election. Just last week, the Cubs announced plans to launch a regional sports network before next season -- a move that will further boost revenues over the coming years. Spending more, then, would seem to be a matter of desire rather than ability.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to ask his players what's important now. For Chicago's ownership, the answer seems to be "saving money."