We seem to be in a market where the best available free agent position player is lucky to sniff even one legitimate nine-figure offer, and where the best available free agent pitchers are still looking for work. The Cubs have thrown a bunch of money at pitching this offseason, but most of that is tied up in the bullpen, which has been solidified on paper as we hope for continued good production from the new guys and some bouncebacks from the incumbents. It’s not quite official yet, but the Cubs are expected to welcome back Brian Duensing, and that helps their position some with a team-friendly contract and maintaining plenty of money to spend before they hit the luxury tax threshold.
So now what? Well, we know that the NL Central doormats are about to welcome another member, which suggests that the division race will be a two-team affair between the Cubs and the Cardinals. I’m still fairly confident that the Cubs can contend for the division crown easily with their roster as is. While it would be NICE if the Cubs could grab another starter (hello Yu Darvish?) or another reliever, and maybe a reserve outfielder and a capable backup catcher, there’s enough in-house to fill those roles. Of course, the Cubs have admitted that they would prefer more depth, but they are putting on a front that they’re comfortable going into 2018 as currently constructed.
We’ve seen various small signings like Curtis Granderson going to the Blue Jays for $5MM and Rene Rivera going to the Angels on a similarly cheap deal. Letting pieces like these go for such low prices is partly a function of the de facto “collusion” going on as teams wait out agents and players to make prices go down, but also reflects the comfort of the Cubs in waiting out the market for pieces that can help them on their own terms. It’s a difficult topic to broach as we would like billionaires to actually spend money to get talent that by all rights should be worth it, but at the same time you have to concede that modern baseball wisdom suggests that free agency simply isn’t worth it. This is something we can talk about later, but things like this probably wouldn’t happen if the MLB Players Union had taken a harder line against slotting, tanking, and what amounts to a salary cap. There is plenty of money flowing around MLB that the teams could spend…they just don’t seem to want to.
That means it’s very difficult to predict what will happen next, for any team. The Cubs could elect to spend on Yu Darvish after all. They could decide to just use Mike Montgomery as their fifth starter and hope for the best. They could trade someone to get another pitcher, or maybe go nuts and go after Manny Machado or Christian Yelich. I’m on Team Stand-Pat, but would certainly not mind an addition. I suppose there are plenty of good reasons for the Cubs to stand pat or wait for a bargain, but it is very strange to see the rest of MLB do the same. I imagine that the union will have a tough time undoing some of these mechanisms and we will see this type of offseason going forward until they negotiate the next CBA, assuming they actually want change. Right now, very few players are getting paid as they should be, and that may not turn out well for the game in the long run.