What is going on at Clark and Addison this winter? I am confused to the point where I feel more than mildly disappointed. I never thought I’d stoop to the lowest from of journalism — conspiracy theories — but in my exasperation I’ve slipped into that quagmire and I don’t think anything short of a trade or a free agent signing on the North side will pull me out. You are going to have to follow my rant here and I urge you to formulate your own opinions, because I feel like I’m going slightly mad.
All quotes below are from the Richard Linklater classic, Dazed and Confused.
Conspiracy Theory #1 – It is not Tom Ricketts who won’t increase the payroll, it’s Theo Epstein.
“George Washington was in a cult, and that cult was into aliens, man.”
Hey, the Ricketts have money to burn and they’ve proven it every single year since they hired Epstein. Every time the Cubs baseball boss has asked for money, he’s only had to justify the spending to get that bump. The first family of Chicago has spent their own money to improve Wrigley Field and the Lake View neighborhood. They’re charitable to the point of excess. They are a top five team as far as payroll is concerned. And the more they spend, the more they make. They bought the Cubs for $900 million in 2009. As of April 2018 the team is worth just shy of $3 billion dollars.
About a month ago, Bruce Levine reported “rumblings” that Tom Ricketts had signed off on the possibility of a big expenditure this winter. Prior to and since then, we’ve heard that the Cubs are in serious penny-pinching mode, to the point where Ken Rosenthal suggested the team would have to move money to sign one of free agency’s misfit toys, Adam Warren. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. It doesn’t add up.
Now, Epstein has been known to be deliberately coy and ambiguous. The most conviction he’s used since coming to Chicago was back in November when he said that the team’s offense broke at some point. He’s not been as forthright since and I’m positive of that. This freeze lies squarely on his shoulders, and not on ownership, if Levine’s report is accurate.
Conspiracy Theory #2 – Don’t blame Theo, Jed or Joe, blame the coaches.
“I’m just trying to be honest about being a misanthrope.”
Have you ever seen a MLB team go through coaches the way the Cubs do? This borders on ridiculous. Imagine showing up for work and your entire management team has been replaced. Now imagine that a similar purging occurring on an annual basis. Consistency and continuity help build championship teams. The Cubs are severely lacking here. My idioms dictionary defines this as passing the buck.
The last time the Cubs had this type of a revolving door with coaches was in 1961-62 when the team employed the dubious and unorthodox strategy of using an eight-man committee to run the team instead of a traditional manager. The only thing the Cubs burn through faster than coaches is bullpen arms.
At some point the blame for any shortcomings in the organization has to start with the manager and move upward. The coaches the team has hired in recent years have been some of the best minds in the game. It seems peculiar that they’d come to Chicago and immediately fail for the most part. Joe Maddon should be on the hot seat this season, but so should Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
Conspiracy Theory #3 – The Cubs are stuck with Addison Russell.
“You act like you’re so oppressed. You guys are kings of the school.”
There is some eerie truth in that quote, which shows that baseball’s bro-mentality is still stuck in the 1970’s. Athletes commit criminal acts and most don’t go to jail for it. Addison Russell belongs in jail. He is not deserving of a major league roster spot.
True, he is probably too hot to trade at this point. Why would a team want to acquire Russell anyway? It’s easier for other GMs to force the Cubs to cut him. He will have more value to other teams after the Cubs suck all the bile out of the situation. Once the Cubs formally sign him, his next employer will look almost sympathetic for truly giving him a second chance, whether it’s by trade or free agent acquisition if he is cut.
Why they would go to arbitration with Russell is a mystery for the ages. If they cut him now he becomes a free agent who can sign with the highest bidder. If he is assigned a salary by an arbitrator and the Cubs sign him and release him, he becomes a free agent that only costs another team $555,000 to sign. That makes him far more attractive. It seems to me exchanging arbitration numbers means the team fully intends to go to battle with “their guy” (my quotes, not the organization’s) in 2019. And that’s a shame.
The Cubs should set the bar for all of baseball and cut Russell, then spare no expense in rehabilitating him. Enjoy that cesspool.
Conspiracy Theory #4 – The Cubs are limited to the constraints of their baseball operations budget.
“I’d like to stop thinking of the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else.”
Let me consult my idioms dictionary again: This takes the cake.
Only one player has signed a contract for over $100 million dollars this winter. The two biggest free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, look to leave a significant portion of their $400 million projections from a year ago at the negotiating table due to a very limited number of potential buyers. Most GMs have chosen to sit out of free agency this season. Baseball earned $10.3 billion dollars in revenues last season and payrolls were down. All of this is occurring after last season’s frigid hot stove which actually looks quite temperate in comparison to this offseason.
The Cubs aren’t spending any money because nobody is spending money. Except the Nationals, who must have lost the secret memo that went out to the other 29 front offices. If you believe there isn’t some type of like-minded agenda freezing the free agent market, you should probably conduct a deeper dive into the executive side of baseball over the last 15 months. At this point, it seems almost blatant that the owners and front offices are going to make things as uncomfortable as they can for the MLBPA between now and the end of the 2021 season, when the current CBA expires.
Conspiracy Theory #5 – The Cubs need to sign Bryce Harper.
“It would be a lot cooler if you did.” –
Though the front office has asked Harper to wait on them before signing elsewhere, this team does not need baseball’s reigning Home Run Derby champion. But it would be really, really, really, really awesome if they signed him.
Imagine BryBryzzo manning the 2-3-4 slots of the lineup card. The all-star right fielder would do more for the marketing side of baseball operations than he would for the roster in consideration of the cost to sign him. Sure, he could be great. His 10-WAR 2015 season is proof of that potential. However, Jason Heyward was worth more wins than Harper last season (1.6 to 1.3). So there’s that, too. Imagine giving Harper $35 million per year and then getting another barely-above-replacement season from him. Ouch.
No, the Cubs do not need Harper. But I still think he will be playing right field for the Cubs come spring training, and I am standing by that prediction, as much as I oppose it.
Okay, rant over. Thanks for sticking around. Oh wait…
Conspiracy Theory #6 – Kris Bryant will leave the Cubs when he hits free agency because “Theo doesn’t have the money.”
Sorry, Gordon, but no. I know greed, for lack of a better word, is good (oops, I switched movie references on all y’all). If anything, Wittenmyer gets the 2018 award for Clickbait of the Year. It is way, way too early to be talking about Kris Bryant’s free agency in this context.
Cubs News & Notes
- THIS! Cubs fans have started a fundraiser to launch Russell out of the organization. I’d contribute an entire paycheck, but it probably wouldn’t make a difference in whether the shortstop stays or goes. However, the money goes to a great charity, so I will. I hope ownership takes notice of the initiative here.
- Kris Bryant is on a mission and the third baseman looks like he intends to take no prisoners.
- The Cubs have a plan in place to recover from last season’s second-half slump.
- If the Brewers acquire Madison Bumgarner, would that really be the Cubs biggest nightmare of 2019? Um, no. He’s a marginal starting pitcher on a team loaded with marginal starting pitchers.
- The organization announced all of their staffing assignments yesterday.
- The Cubs had MLB’s third-highest payroll in 2018.
- Laura Ricketts gives a full-throated defense of her family’s attempt to stop 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney’s re-election bid.
- Piersen Gibis, a 19-year-old Wauconda native who had to pass on being drafted by the Chicago Cubs after a cancer diagnosis, is now focusing on college and getting stronger.
- As if you needed another reason to love Kyle Schwarber:
.@Cubs OF Kyle Schwarber has already hit 72 major league HRs.
— MLB Players Media (@MLBPlayersMedia) January 10, 2019
Do the signings of Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso give White Sox fans reason to be optimistic that Machado will sign to play for Chicago’s American League team this season? I truly believe Machado will be the team’s starting shortstop in 2019.
The Phillies are headed to Las Vegas to meet with Harper this weekend.
The evolution of free agency is hurting players. Not a shocker.
The Athletics believe Kyler Murray, their top draft pick in 2018 and Heisman Trophy winner this season, will enter this year’s NFL Draft, where he projects to go among the top 50 players selected.
I am not the only frustrated fan of baseball, there are many like me suffering similar anguish. Players are upset, too, including Nationals’ relief pitcher Sean Doolittle.
Thursday Walk Up Song
Waiting on a Friend by The Rolling Stones. A smile relieves a heart that grieves. I really, really miss you, baseball.