Chicago Cubs – MLB Trade Rumors 2019-01-23T15:44:23Z WordPress Steve Adams <![CDATA[Cuban Shortstop Yolbert Sanchez Cleared To Sign With MLB Teams]]> 2019-01-23T06:01:19Z 2019-01-23T06:01:19Z Shortstop Yolbert Sanchez has left Cuba and has been cleared by Major League Baseball to sign with teams beginning on Feb. 5, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs report. The 21-year-old (22 in March) will be subject to MLB’s international bonus pool system.

Sanchez’s stats in his limited professional experience won’t wow anyone — he’s a .297/.338/.345 hitter in 435 plate appearances — but McDaniel and Longenhagen nonetheless paint him as a likely seven-figure bonus recipient due to his raw speed, glovework at shortstop and arm strength — each of which are considered by scouts to be anywhere from above average to plus. Their report notes that scouts view him as the type of prospect who’ll typically command a bonus between $2-4MM.

Certainly, that bodes well for the Orioles, who still have upwards of $6MM in their international bonus pool after whiffing on prospects Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gaston when the trio signed early in the 2018-19 offseason (the Mesa brothers with the Marlins; Gaston with the Rays).

Of course, the mere fact that the Orioles presently have the most money at their disposal doesn’t by any means make Baltimore a lock to sign Sanchez. The O’s, after all, had the ability to make larger offers to the Mesa brothers and Gaston but did not ultimately ink any of the trio. It’s also possible that they don’t view Sanchez as a prospect who should command such an investment — or at least that they don’t like him to the same extent as another organization with millions remaining in its bonus pool. Beyond that, Sanchez could technically opt to wait until July 2 to sign, at which point bonus pools would reset and present him with a vastly larger list of suitors.

While Baltimore is the runaway leader in remaining pool space, McDaniel and Longenhagen write that the Dodgers, Cubs and Phillies are among the teams with the most resources remaining.’s Jesse Sanchez adds the Cardinals to the mix, noting that St. Louis has an estimated $1.85MM remaining in its pool. Sanchez pegs the Dodgers at about $1.4MM, the Phillies at roughly $1MM and the Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox in the $750-800K range. Sanchez will hold workouts for teams later this week in the Dominican Republic, per Fangraphs’ report.

Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Yadier Molina, Kris Bryant Exchange Barbs]]> 2019-01-22T15:37:10Z 2019-01-22T14:14:53Z
  • Elsewhere in the NL Central, the Cardinals and Cubs seem to be primed for a feud in the coming campaign. Both teams are dead set on getting back to the top of the division. And now things are getting personal. As Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch deftly explains, Chicago star Kris Bryant’s casual and mostly harmless jab at the city of St. Louis (“boring”) ignited a “scorched-earth response” from stalwart St. Louis backstop Yadier Molina. It might seem like much ado about nothing; it may turn out to be just that. But Molina promises “it will carry” into the season. And as Frederickson explains, the matter touches at something deeper in the psyches of Molina, the Cards, and even the city they play in.
  • ]]>
    Rob Huff <![CDATA[Projecting Payrolls: Chicago Cubs]]> 2019-01-21T21:50:21Z 2019-01-21T21:50:21Z Although substantial time has passed since the last installment in this series, only the reliever market has moved in a significant way. As such, we move on to the 12th piece while the biggest fish remain unhooked. Below find the links to the earlier posts in this series.

    Philadelphia Phillies
    Los Angeles Dodgers
    Los Angeles Angels
    Atlanta Braves
    New York Yankees
    Chicago White Sox
    Boston Red Sox
    Minnesota Twins
    Milwaukee Brewers
    San Francisco Giants
    St. Louis Cardinals

    If you have questions about financial information made available to the public and the assumptions used in this series, please refer to the Phillies piece linked above.

    Today, we look into a club coming off of its best four-year stretch in franchise history and flush with cash, yet one who also appears to be fully intent to sit out free agency this winter: the Chicago Cubs.

    Team Leadership

    Concluding 65 years of ownership by the Wrigley family, the Tribune Company purchased the Cubs in 1981. The franchise had, incredibly, missed the playoffs for 35 straight seasons prior to the transaction. The team went on to make the postseason six times under Tribune ownership, including three times from 2003-08. The final two years of Tribune ownership were executed under the direction of Sam Zell, a real estate mogul who purchased the Tribune in late 2007. Then, in October 2009, the Ricketts family famously acquired the Cubs for $845 million. Ownership of the franchise is managed by team chairman Tom Ricketts, who authorized an aggressive tank followed by the most successful time period in Cubs history.

    While the Ricketts family initially kept general manager Jim Hendry in place running the baseball operations department, they made the splashiest of splashy moves in 2011, relieving Hendry of his duties and replacing him with new President of Baseball Operations and renowned curse breaker Theo Epstein. Epstein got his band back together, bringing in former proteges Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod to be his general manager and vice president of scouting and player development, respectively, both after two years in San Diego. The results have been undeniable: the club averaged a putrid 67 wins per year during the first three years of the Epstein regime and flipped the switch in 2015, averaging 97 per year over the next four years.

    Historical Payrolls

    Before hitting the numbers, please recall that we use data from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, we’ll use average annual value (“AAV”) on historical deals but actual cash for 2019 and beyond, and deferrals will be reflected where appropriate. And, of course, the value of examining historical payrolls is twofold: they show us either what type of payroll a team’s market can support or how significantly a given ownership group is willing to spend. In the most useful cases, they show us both. We’ll focus on a 15-year span for the Cubs, covering 2005-18 for historical data as a means to understanding year 15: 2019. This period covers two competitive windows and two ownership groups for the Cubs, and it’s not terribly difficult to see where the Ricketts-authorized tank began. We’ll also use Opening Day payrolls as those better approximate expected spending by ownership.

    Payroll spiked from 2008-10 as the Cubs paid to keep their 2007-08 winners together. Publicly available reported revenue increases climbed to fuel the spending, growing from $179 million in 2005 all the way to $239 million in 2008. Of course, take all publicly available revenue figures with a significant grain of salt as only ownership and the front office truly know the finances. However, revenue largely stagnated in the following half decade, reaching only $266 million in 2013 during the tank.

    What followed is difficult to describe as I’ve never seen anything like it. Revenue climbed to $302 million in 2014, $340 million in 2015, $434 million in 2016 (!), and $457 million in 2017. While 2018 revenue hasn’t yet been reported, it is entirely possible that revenue has increased more than $200 million over just five years. Striking. Seen in that light, the 2016-18 payrolls are hardly surprising.

    Ricketts ownership and the Epstein-led front office have been keen to stay under the luxury tax threshold during their time in charge, exceeding the threshold only in 2016, incurring a tax of just under $3 million before staying under the threshold in each of the next two years. The Cubs have simultaneously been major players in the international market, throwing a $30 million guarantee at outfielder Jorge Soler in 2012 and following with a boisterous international class in 2013 that included young stars Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez and a massive 2015 class that yielded just under $19 million in signing bonuses. Major League spending captures a significant portion of Cubs spending, but international amateur spending has been a key facet of Cubs expenditures in recent years.

    Future Liabilities

    Cubs spending in 2019 will surely hit a new franchise high.

    That is a lot of guaranteed money.

    The 2019 Cubs are spending $88 million guaranteed on starting pitching, led by $20 million-plus salaries for Lester, Hamels, and Darvish. To say that these commitments are risky is a massive understatement.

    • Lester has been a paragon of stability, but he has seen his FIP rise each year as a Cub, from 2.92 in 2015 to 4.39 in 2018. He’ll enter 2019 with 2,520 combined regular season and playoff innings on his odometer. He just turned 35.
    • Hamels pitched a year and a half to the tune of a 4.87 FIP prior to joining the Cubs at the trade deadline in 2018. He was rejuvenated with the Cubs, but he’ll enter 2019 with 2,653 combined regular season and playoff innings on his own odometer, also having just turned 35.
    • Darvish largely enjoyed success since arriving from Japan before a disastrous debut season with the Cubs that ended in May due to an elbow injury.
    • Tyler Chatwood bombed in his first year as a Cub, losing his rotation job and throwing fewer than 10 innings for the club after the trade deadline.
    • Jose Quintana posted a career-worst FIP of 4.43, fueled in large part by a career-worst home run rate.

    Projection systems expect the Cubs rotation to be wildly successful in 2019, especially when the arbitration-eligible Kyle Hendricks is added to the fold. Still, Cubs fans are at least a bit anxious after the across-the-board struggles from 2018.

    A trio of lefty hitters figure prominently on the balance sheet, two of whom will be around for years to come. Rizzo and Heyward have been lineup mainstays for years, though Rizzo has obviously been substantially more productive on the field. Unlike Rizzo and Heyward, Zobrist finds himself in a walk year in a season in which he turns 38.

    The remaining notable deals are all for relief pitchers, at least four of which find themselves staring down free agency come November. In a highly competitive 2019 National League Central division, the team will need strong production from multiple arms in the group of Morrow, Cishek, Strop, Kintzler, and Duensing.

    Finally, Heyward’s signing bonus stands out as the only deferred money for the franchise. But it’s a big number: $20 million payable after his contract expires. Presumably franchise revenue will be so astronomical in the mid-2020s so as to see this amount as largely rounding error, but $5 million is still $5 million.

    As a result of stellar drafting in the early part of this decade and a trio of impact trades, the Cubs feature significant talent in the arbitration ranks, including multiple Most Valuable Player candidates and Cy Young contender.

    All seven players listed above figure to play key roles for the team in 2019, though Russell finds himself mired in a mess of his own making. As the arbitration chart shows, each player is controllable for at least one year beyond 2019 as well with offensive stars Bryant, Baez, and Schwarber each controllable through 2021.

    What Does Team Leadership Have to Say?

    So, so, so much.

    While ownership, the front office, and manager Joe Maddon have spoken at great length about the budget this offseason, comments from Tom Ricketts in recent days likely shed the most light on the spending plans. In response to questions about expected payroll, Ricketts suggested that “when you make any free-agent signing — not to pick on Darvish, but any of them — you know that you can’t spend that dollar twice and you have to budget that into the future, so that’s going to limit what you can do in the following year. And one of the things this year that we knew going into the offseason was that we weren’t going to have as much flexibility as years past.” When Ricketts moved on to discussing the team’s local tax burden, it seemed that the budget has very little, if any, room.

    As we will detail below, it’s close to inevitable that the Cubs will incur a luxury tax in 2019. However, Ricketts more or less stated that the budget is tapped out, jiving with what the front office has said for months now.

    In the face of big moves by the rival Cardinals and Brewers, the Cubs appear content to have their offseason largely dictated by their budget.

    Are the Cubs a Player for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

    Ummmm…honestly, I don’t know. Almost certainly not. But crazier things have happened.

    The Cubs haven’t been connected to Machado at all this offseason, and given their impressive collection of infield talent, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

    But Harper? The Cubs have been connected to Harper for years. This article humorously chronicles some of the 2017 nuggets that suggested Harper would — or wouldn’t — join the Cubs. These rumors have become par for the course. Many of the rumors have centered around the close relationship between Bryant and Harper, both Las Vegas natives.

    After the Cubs surprisingly bowed out of the playoffs in quick fashion, Epstein lamented that “the offense broke,” leading to significant speculation that the Cubs would seek to add a significant bat.

    Nevertheless, budgetary constraints combined with Maddon clearly stating that a Harper signing is “not going to happen” seemingly slammed the door shut on any pursuit.

    Despite all of the above, Chicago Sun-Times writer Gordon Wittenmyer commented in December that sources indicated that the Cubs front office requested that Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, come back to the team before Harper decides to sign elsewhere in order to give the Cubs a chance to make a final play for the young star.

    What Will the 2019 Payroll Be?

    Well, it’ll be a new team record, that’s for sure. But just how high will it go?

    Currently, team payroll comes in at $202.1 million before accounting for the luxury tax. If spending sticks approximately where it currently stands, the team figures to incur a luxury tax of approximately $4.4 million based on a luxury tax payroll figure of just under $228 million and a 20 percent tax on the overage.

    So how much room is there for additional expenditures? I suspect that ownership would push total spending up around $220 million given the need for an in-season acquisition or two. Given that, don’t expect to see additional expenditures prior to the start of the season save for a possible minimal commitment to a backup catcher or a reliever.

    Projected 2019 Payroll: $210 million

    Projected 2019 Payroll Space: $2.9 million

    If you’d like to go even further down the rabbit hole of Cubs payrolls, I refer you to my series of articles that have appeared on The Athletic going into tremendous detail on team spending.

    Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Cubs Excited About Young Pitching Depth]]> 2019-01-21T03:42:28Z 2019-01-21T03:42:28Z The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown pitchers during Theo Epstein’s regime, though senior VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that “this is probably the first year I can confidently sit here and feel like we have the guys that can help this team in the major leagues this year, if needed.”  The Cubs are already overloaded with veteran rotation options on the 25-man roster, with Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, swingman Mike Montgomery, and Tyler Chatwood all on hand to make starts.  Of course, those seven account for over $100MM in salary next season, as the Cubs have been forced to spend big on starting pitching to account for a lack of help from the farm.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Cubs Have Considered Trading Ben Zobrist]]> 2019-01-20T20:37:27Z 2019-01-20T20:37:27Z With the bullpen-needy Cubs facing a budget crunch, acquiring even a mid-tier reliever would require removing payroll from elsewhere on their roster, per Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic (subscription required). Thus, as the Cubs look for ways to improve this offseason with little to no spending space, the club has “bandied about the idea of trading” second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist, Sharma writes. In jettisoning some or all of Zobrist’s $12.5MM salary, the Cubs would give themselves some room to upgrade their bullpen – a unit that has lost Jesse Chavez and Justin Wilson to free agency while gaining no one this offseason – and hopefully not experience much an offensive drop-off, Sharma notes.

    “I don’t have a no-trade clause at this point, so I could be traded,” Zobrist acknowledged Saturday.

    Although Zobrist realizes he’s vulnerable to a deal, it may be unrealistic for the Cubs to better their roster while subtracting him. Set to turn 38 in May, Zobrist is the Cubs’ oldest player, but he’s also one of their best. Aside from a poor 2017, Zobrist has more than delivered on the four-year, $56MM investment Chicago made in him entering 2016 – a season in which he helped lead them to a World Series title. Zobrist is now coming off a year that saw him finish second among Cubs position players in fWAR (3.6), trailing only NL MVP candidate Javier Baez, and bat an outstanding .305/.378/.440 (123 wRC+) with nearly as many unintentional walks (55) as strikeouts (60). He also posted an 86.6 percent contact rate, the game’s 15th best, making him something of an outlier for a team that ended up just 22nd in the majors in that category.

    Between Zobrist’s offensive adeptness and defensive versatility (he was a plus player at second and in the corner outfield over fairly large sample sizes last year), it’s clear losing him would be a major blow for the Cubs. That’s especially true given that the Cubs’ middle infield is already down a regular, as Addison Russell will sit out the first month of 2019 because of a domestic violence suspension. To its credit, Chicago does have multiple other second base/outfield possibilities in Ian Happ and the recently signed Daniel Descalso, and those two could help fill Zobrist’s void.

    If the Cubs are confident in a Zobrist-less middle infield/outfield mix which would include Baez, Russell, Happ, Descalso, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Albert Almora for most of the season, perhaps we’ve seen the last of him in their uniform. But for a team whose offense “broke” in 2018, when the switch-hitting Zobrist put up above-average production from both sides of the plate and logged quality numbers in each of the season’s two halves, replacing his output would be no easy task.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Cubs Notes: TV Network, Maddon, Harper, Russell]]> 2019-01-20T04:43:30Z 2019-01-20T02:13:27Z The Cubs’ 15-year deal with NBC Sports Chicago is set to expire at the end of 2019, so they plan to launch their own regional sports network in time for the 2020 season, president of business operations Crane Kenney told Jordan Bastian of and other reporters Saturday. “We are going to have our own channel. We’ve got a seat at a much larger table, so we’ve been involved in conversations not locally, but more nationally, on how we’ll launch our channel and who we’ll launch it with,” said Kenney, who added the Cubs “will do it with a strategic partner” and that “the details of that will be more apparent in probably the next 30 days.” Kenney also hinted that another baseball team will be involved, though he revealed it won’t be a local club, according to Bastian.

    Here’s more on the North Siders:

    • Even though the Cubs won’t pursue an extension with Joe Maddon this offseason, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Saturday he wants the manager to stick around beyond 2019. “I sure hope so,” said Epstein, who, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune writes, is “betting that Maddon remains as manager past this season.” The Cubs have been resoundingly successful in their four years under Maddon, who will turn 65 in February, as they’ve gone 387-261 with a playoff appearance in each season, two NL Central titles and their drought-breaking World Series championship in 2016.
    • Maddon indicated earlier this week that the Cubs aren’t going to sign free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, and third baseman Kris Bryant threw more cold water on that possibility Saturday (via Bastian). “He’s not signing here,” Bryant said of Harper, a longtime friend who had been a speculative target for the Cubs entering the offseason. However, because the Cubs are seemingly maxed out on spending, they haven’t been in the Harper market this winter. The team’s easily slated to run a franchise-record Opening Day payroll in 2019, as Jason Martinez of Roster Resource estimates, and Epstein “emphasized” Saturday that he can’t go over budget, per Gonzales.
    • Epstein also spoke this week about shortstop Addison Russell, who, to the disgust of many observers, remains in the Cubs’ plans despite incurring a 40-game suspension for domestic violence. As Patrick Mooney of The Athletic relays in a subscription piece, Epstein stated Friday that the Cubs’ initial reaction was to move on from Russell. But they’re instead primed to keep the 24-year-old Russell and pay him a $3.4MM salary, in part because Epstein learned that “domestic violence experts do not believe in zero tolerance.” Rather, they advocate “a second chance if the offender is willing (to) do the difficult work of stabilizing his life and relationships and growing so this doesn’t happen again.” The Cubs are giving Russell that second chance, though Epstein noted “people have the right to boo” Russell, and the team’s prepared to “move on instantaneously” from him if he squanders his opportunity. Notably, Epstein added that Melisa Reidy, Russell’s ex-wife whose abuse allegations led to his suspension, was supportive of the Cubs’ choice to keep him in the fold, saying: “She felt like this was Addison’s best chance to get his life in order and get support from us with the incentive of earning his way back to the Cubs.”
    TC Zencka <![CDATA[Quick Hits: Padres, Red Sox, Cubs]]> 2019-01-20T01:38:35Z 2019-01-19T18:21:45Z The Padres have done a tremendous job in recent years growing the top farm system in the game, but the organization underwent a financial reshaping that was just as important to long-term stability, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Mired in the debt inherited from previous owner John Moores, Executive Chairman Ron Fowler led the charge in two important ways: refinancing the debt (thereby lowering interest rates and freeing up money to funnel into baseball ops), and opening the organization’s spending ledger to the public – an uncommon degree of transparency for an MLB club. Acee’s entire article is well worth a read as it paints a fairly complete picture of San Diego’s battle to build a winning franchise that is also fiscally sustainable. Essentially, the Padres followed the structural rebuilding approach popularized by Theo Epstein in Chicago: improve fan experience with additions/renovations to the ballpark while pouring roster resources into the acquisition and development of amateur and international talent. Epstein’s focus on improving the ballpark itself was a strategy he employed in Boston with Fenway Park, and again with Wrigley Field in Chicago. Speaking of…

    • The Red Sox are treading awfully close to the penalty-inducing $246MM tax threshold, and’s Christopher Smith wonders if that might be why they didn’t make a push to sign reliever Adam Ottavino. Dave Dombrowski has said there’s no mandate from ownership to avoid the highest tax bracket – but that’s still the goal. It’s easy to wonder why the Red Sox haven’t made more of a push to reinforce the back end of their bullpen, but it’s not totally fair to assume Ottavino was available to them for $9MM a year, as merely matching the Yankees offer doesn’t steal the contract like a white elephant gift. Still, with Joe Kelly in LA and Craig Kimbrel twisting in the wind, there is a surprising lack of urgency to add to the current stable of arms in the bullpen, especially considering the narrow margin for error in the AL East.
    • Much has been made of the Cubs lack of activity this winter as well, burnished by Theo Epstein’s early-offseason assertion that the offense was broken. Owner Tom Ricketts, however, doesn’t see any room for an addition in the lineup, writes the Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. Considering the overall youth of their core and the injuries that limited star Kris Bryant to 102 games last season, Epstein and Ricketts might both be right. The team clearly isn’t willing to give up on Jason Heyward yet, so you can pencil him into the starting spot in right, with Ian Happ in center and Ben Zobrist at second, Albert Almora Jr., Addison Russell, David Bote and Daniel Descalso make up the remaining bench unit, ostensibly filling the roster. Outside of fringe roster types, the Cubs offense might be a one-man-in, one-man-out situation for the rest of the winter.
    • There’s cause enough to be concerned about the Cubs offense in 2019, certainly, between Russell’s suspension, Zobrist’s age, and Willson Contreras’ obvious exhaustion near the end of last season, but internally, there’s much to be excited about. At the Cubs Convention this week, Bryant and Epstein both talked up new hitting coach Anthony Iopace, whom Epstein calls “the ultimate fox-hole guy,” per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). As the Cubs former minor league hitting coordinator, he has a rapport with many Cubs hitters already and should be able to hit the ground running. Bryant, for one, is excited about a new season under the infectious energy of “’Poce,” per’s Jordan Bastian. The Cubs brain trust appear firm in their belief that tinkering of internal processes is all the team needs to bounce back from a “disappointing” 95-win season and challenge for the top spot in the NL Central once again.
    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Epstein On Cubs' Offseason]]> 2019-01-19T06:39:31Z 2019-01-19T05:52:16Z Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein held an interesting chat today with Waddle and Silvy of ESPN Chicago (audio link). He likened his desire to acquire a premium free agent to a second helping of dessert — of course, he wants it, but he just can’t have it — and says the organization still believes it can find improvement from its current roster. Epstein insists there’s positive energy within the friendly confines; despite the lack of roster activity, he says, the offseason has otherwise been a proactive one in which the entire organization has focused on hitting the ground running from the start of the present season. At the tail end of the talk, the veteran baseball executive also gives a detailed account of the organization’s stance on embattled shortstop Addison Russell. It’s well worth a listen, regardless of one’s general viewpoint on that subject.

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Cubs To Sign Rob Scahill]]> 2019-01-18T21:56:07Z 2019-01-18T21:56:07Z The Cubs have agreed to a minors deal with righty Rob Scahill, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). It is not yet known whether Scahill will receive a spring invite, though it stands to reason that he would.

    Scahill, who’ll turn 32 right as camp opens, has appeared in each of the past seven MLB seasons, though he has yet to tally 35 frames in a given campaign. All told, the reliever owns a 3.85 ERA through 149 2/3 innings. He has managed just 6.0 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 in that stretch, but does carry a healthy 55.0% groundball rate.

    For most of the 2018 season, Scahill pitched for the White Sox’ top affiliate. Though he only provided Charlotte with a 5.64 ERA, Scahill did post an uncharacteristically robust tally of 10.5 strikeouts per nine.

    Barring injury, the odds seem long for Scahill to crack the Opening Day roster for the Cubs. Still, he could be a worthwhile depth piece for the Chicago organization and will enter Spring Training with at least a fighting chance at staking a claim to big league pen job.

    Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Cubs Owner Discusses Lack Of Offseason Activity]]> 2019-01-17T20:27:47Z 2019-01-17T20:27:47Z Cubs owner Tom Ricketts went on the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score this morning, making an attempt to defend the Cubs’ quiet offseason.  (Hat tip to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, who wrote an article here).

    Ricketts began, “First of all, we have spent money this offseason. We signed Cole Hamels, and we picked up Descalso, and I’m sure Theo’s got a few moves left in him.”  We’ll hit pause there to note that to allow for Hamels’ $20MM option to be picked up, the Cubs had to ship Drew Smyly and his $7MM salary to the Rangers.  That series of moves suggested that the Cubs felt they had to make a tradeoff to retain Hamels, compromising their rotation depth but saving money.  Beyond that, Descalso was inked to a two-year, $5MM deal, after Tommy La Stella and his (eventual) $1.35MM salary was dealt to the Angels.  So, the Hamels and Descalso moves added $13.15MM to the Cubs’ payroll.

    Ricketts continued, “But frankly, we have one of the largest budgets in all of baseball. We put that to work, we’ve definitely signed a lot of players over the years. We have a team that we like. We have a team that we think is going to go a long way. We have a team that won 95 games last year without a lot of help from some of the guys we picked up last offseason. And all the different things that we fought through last year – the injuries, everyone’s having kind of down years, some of the off-field distractions…we like our club.  And we’re among the very top spenders. So, I just think all that stuff’s kind of misguided.”

    Ricketts had two refrains in this interview: we are already spending a lot of money on players, and we have a great team already.

    Ricketts said that despite having unique stadium and tax expenses that other teams do not have, the Cubs are one of the “top few spenders” in baseball.  He suggested the club could never spend at the level of the Yankees or Dodgers, implying the Cubs sit third behind them in payroll.  Looking at 2018 end of season luxury tax payrolls from the Associated Press, the Cubs ranked fifth behind the Red Sox, Nationals, Giants, and Dodgers.  Why the Cubs cannot spend like the Red Sox is unclear.  Perhaps the problem is that the Cubs had for the most part set expectations of heavy offseason spending:

    So the Cubs signed a $126MM+ player in three of the last four winters.  It’s not that they haven’t spent money, it’s just that at this point in their competitive window, they’ve chosen an odd winter to stop spending.  The Cubs’ brief playoff appearance this year, Theo Epstein’s “our offense broke” comment the following day, and the once-a-decade availability of free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado led most fans to think the team would be firmly in the mix for a major offensive upgrade, particularly Harper.  Instead, Ricketts suggested the team had little room for improvement, saying, “The fact is we look at our lineup, and you look around the horn and who would you switch out?”

    Though this was intended as a rhetorical question, it’s one that has many good answers.  FanGraphs projects the 2019 Cubs at 87 wins, with the Cardinals coming in at 86 after the addition of Paul Goldschmidt.  There’s also the Brewers, who have handily beaten projections over the last few years and won 96 games in 2018.  I’ll take the over on FanGraphs’ 79 win projection for Milwaukee, while the Reds and Pirates also land in that 79-80 projection range.  All five NL Central teams should be competitive.  The Cubs hardly have the division locked down, so who would you switch out?

    The Cubs were expected to move on from Addison Russell after his domestic violence suspension came down and further details emerged, but he remains penciled in at shortstop after tallying 2.9 WAR over the last two seasons combined.  Their outfield consists of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist – hardly a crew that should block Harper or even Andrew McCutchen.  The bullpen has glaring holes, with closer Brandon Morrow starting the season on the DL and the Cubs choosing not to bring Jesse Chavez back.  The Cubs are looking at Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Kintzler, and Brian Duensing in the pen, with the expectation being that Epstein will continue to sit out the bidding for top free agents.  Craig Kimbrel remains on the market, while Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, Joe Kelly, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, and Joakim Soria are off the board.

    Though Ricketts has typically participated in a fan Q&A at the annual Cubs Convention, he won’t be doing so at the event this weekend.  He laughingly cited having the “lowest-rated panel” as the justification, but the cancellation of the panel coinciding with the club’s quiet offseason is a bad look for the team.  Fan frustration has reached a boiling point this winter, and that’s why the owner should be accountable.  While Ricketts noted that the panel could be brought back next year if people want it, why not just reverse course this year and field fan questions?

    With the Cubs’ core of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez in place for only three more years, Ricketts has decided to sit out the 2018-19 offseason.  Ricketts asked fans to withhold judgment on the choice, saying this morning, “We’re going to be great, and I think people people should judge us by what happens during the season, not what happens in December.”

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Maddon: Cubs Will Not Sign Bryce Harper]]> 2019-01-17T06:41:17Z 2019-01-17T02:17:41Z
  • Cubs skipper Joe Maddon isn’t the one calling the shots in the Chicago baseball operations department, but it was nevertheless notable to see his response when asked by a fan whether there was any chance of the team landing star free agent Bryce Harper. As Jesse Rogers of tweets, Maddon replied simply and directly: “not going to happen.” Meanwhile, Jim Bowden of The Athletic tells David Kaplan of Sports Talk Chicago (Twitter link) that the Cubs “never engaged” on Harper in the first place. Of course, reports have indicated that the club did at least ask for a chance to get involved down the line, though it has never been clear how realistic such a scenario would be.
  • ]]>
    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Cubs Claim Ian Clarkin]]> 2019-01-16T20:15:53Z 2019-01-16T20:14:47Z The Cubs announced today that for the second time this offseason, they’ve claimed lefty Ian Clarkin off waivers from the White Sox. The South Siders designated Clarkin for assignment last week after signing Kelvin Herrera.

    It’s the second time this winter that the ChiSox designated Clarkin for assignment. The crosstown Cubs claimed him from their south side counterparts back on Nov. 20 and promptly tried to pass Clarkin through waivers themselves (thus allowing them to keep Clarkin without giving him a 40-man roster spot), only for the White Sox to scoop him back up with a claim of their own.

    Set to turn 24 next month, Clarkin is a former first-round pick (No. 33 by the Yankees in 2013) whom the White Sox originally acquired in the 2017 trade that sent David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees. While outfield prospect Blake Rutherford headlined the Sox’ return in that swap, Clarkin was an interesting addition to the mix, even if his prospect star had dimmed by the time he was traded.

    However, Clarkin was hit hard in 68 innings of Double-A ball last year, turning in a 4.98 ERA with nearly as many walks (4.1 BB/9) as strikeouts (4.6 K/9). The Cubs organization is reportedly facing some ownership-mandated financial restrictions this winter and clearly sees some potential in Clarkin. The Cubs have again turned to Clarkin as a low-cost depth piece, though it’s possible they’ll again try to run him through waivers in order to maintain greater 40-man roster flexibility. At present, there are 39 players on the Cubs’ 40-man roster (including Clarkin).

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Cubs Hire Craig Breslow As Director Of Strategic Initiatives For Baseball Operations]]> 2019-01-15T03:17:53Z 2019-01-14T16:24:42Z The Cubs announced Monday that they’ve named former big league reliever Craig Breslow director of strategic initiatives in their baseball operations department. That, it seems, will put an end to a playing career that dates all the way back to the 2002 season for the 38-year-old Breslow, who spent the 2018 campaign pitching in the Blue Jays’ minor league ranks.

    Per the Cubs’ release, Breslow “will help to evaluate and implement data-based processes throughout all facets of Baseball Operations” and will also “support the organization’s pitching infrastructure in Player Development and the major leagues.”

    A Yale graduate with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, Breslow has long been heralded as one of the game’s brightest minds. The lefty spent parts of 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, pitching to a combined 3.45 ERA with 442 strikeouts against 226 walks in 570 2/3 innings. That body of work was spread out over seven organizations, including the Red Sox, Twins, Athletics, Indians, D-backs, Padres and Marlins.

    Breslow enjoyed what was arguably his most successful season in the big leagues with the Red Sox back in 2013, when he tossed 59 2/3 innings of 1.81 ERA ball for the eventual World Series champions. That season marked Breslow’s lone year of postseason experience, assuredly making the ring he won all the more treasured.

    Few, if any, can match Breslow’s combination of education and a playing career that spanned more than a decade and a half, so he’ll being a unique blend of skills and experience to a Cubs front office that is already regarded among the game’s most progressive groups. Best of luck to Breslow in the next chapter of his baseball journey.

    Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Cubs Sign Francisco Arcia To Minors Deal]]> 2019-01-14T15:18:57Z 2019-01-14T05:59:41Z
  • The Cubs signed catcher Francisco Arcia to a minor league deal, as originally reported by the Cubs Prospects Twitter feed.  Originally signed as a teenager by the Yankees in 2006, the 29-year-old Arcia finally cracked the big leagues last season, appearing 40 games for the Angels and hitting .204/.226/.427 with six homers over 106 plate appearances.  Arcia will provide the Cubs with some depth behind backup Victor Caratini, and Arcia could also battle for the backup role himself in Spring Training.
  • ]]>
    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Latest On Padres’ Third Base, Outfield Situations]]> 2019-01-13T01:26:22Z 2019-01-13T00:53:31Z Wil Myers was one of the Padres’ most popular options at third base last year, but it doesn’t appear he’ll factor in at the hot corner in 2019. On Saturday, Myers told reporters – including Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune and AJ Cassavell of –  that he’ll be a full-time outfielder next season.

    Of course, Myers’ shift back to the outfield will have ripple effects on the rest of the Padres’ position player group. Not only will it add to an outfield logjam – one that also includes Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes, Manuel Margot and Travis Jankowski – but it’ll make it all the more important for San Diego to find a starting third baseman. The Padres have been prioritizing third this offseason, as Cassavell reported last month and as Acee further emphasizes.

    One potential third base target could be free agent Mike Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer’s longtime Royals teammate, though Acee casts doubt on the Padres signing him. Meanwhile, they have “explored” trades for the Yankees’ Miguel Andujar (previously reported), the Reds’ Nick Senzel and the Cubs’ David Bote, according to Acee. Speculatively, both Andujar and Senzel may be unrealistic targets for the Padres (or just about anyone else), given their importance to their current teams. The 25-year-old Bote could be easier to land, on the other hand, as he’s stuck behind Kris Bryant in the Cubs’ pecking order at third base. An 18th-round pick of the Cubs in 2012, Bote debuted in the majors last season with a .239/.319/.408 line and six home runs over 210 plate appearances. He carries a much more imposing .281/.355/.502 slash and 15 HRs in 299 Triple-A PAs.

    Regardless of whom the Padres pick up to handle third in 2019, it doesn’t seem as if their entire contingent of outfielders will stick around for the foreseeable future. Except for Myers, the Padres could option anyone from the group to the minors. Nevertheless, the team’s “motivated” to part with at least one of its outfielders either prior to the season or before July’s trade deadline, Acee suggests. Should a trade happen, Cassavell contends one of Myers, Renfroe or Reyes would go, as they’re all relatively similar players. With a guaranteed $64MM coming his way over the next four seasons (including a $1MM buyout in lieu of a $20MM club option in 2023), Myers may be the most difficult of three to move. Indeed, as of last season and earlier this winter, trading Myers likely would have required San Diego to take on another team’s undesirable contract, Acee relays. So far, though, the Padres haven’t found a deal to their liking for the 28-year-old.