The Rundown: Luxury Tax Cost Higher Than First Thought, Bryant Market Could Solidify Soon, Center Field a Top Priority

It has always seemed to me that there was more to the Cubs’ decision to remain on the sideline this winter than paying another $8-10 million in luxury tax penalties. The fact that Theo Epstein seems intent on trading some of his best players has raised more than a few eyebrows, too. With frustration running rampant because the Cubs have made just a handful of moves that won’t likely make their 2020 team any better than the one that folded down the stretch last season, fans haven’t had much to cheer about since the Nationals beat the Astros to win the World Series.

As it turns out, the financial ramifications of exceeding the competitive balance tax threshold for the second straight year could cost the Cubs $50 million or more. That comes via some exhaustive and complicated research into the intricacies of the collective bargaining agreement by Bleacher Nation‘s Brett Taylor, who found that losing out on rebates and revenue sharing would be far more costly than tax penalties alone.

Whether you’ve become disgusted with Tom Ricketts or not, that’s a big chunk of change to eat just to extend their players or go out and sign a player like Nicholas Castellanos, let alone Eric Sogard. That likely reinforces the fact that the Cubs will need to make changes to the roster via trade before they can spend any money, something we’ve heard ad nauseam since the start of the hot stove season. I mean, Epstein is basically limited to two options:

  1. Sticking with the team he has, with a few peripheral changes designed to keep the Cubs from exceeding the $208 million cap in 2020.
  2. Trading short term assets away for cheaper, longer term assets, with the idea that they could extend some of their core players next winter. At least the ones they do not trade away in the next month or two or at the trade deadline in July.

All of which sheds a crap-ton of light on the fact that the front office has considered trading Kris Bryant and/or Willson Contreras, has yet to meaningfully engage Javier Báez on an extension, and has publicly stated that extension talks with Anthony Rizzo will have to wait until another time.

The Cubs are by no means broke, but the penalties for exceeding the league’s de facto salary cap have certainly handcuffed its front office. That said, all hope is not lost. I’m sure Epstein discussed such limitations with David Ross before hiring him, and there was no shortage of candidates who expressed an open desire to succeed Joe Maddon. I’d say that means that each interviewee at least partially bought into Epstein’s plan for 2020 and beyond.

In the meantime, look for the owners to request changes in the next CBA that eliminate some of the strangling limitations that exist for teams that have the means to spend money but cannot. I’d say that the loss of the market disqualification refund for teams that exceed CBT thresholds in consecutive years will be something baseball’s team owners would like to see changed or eliminated.

Cubs News & Notes

  • While the Cubs have been connected to the possibility of a reunion with Castellanos, Steven Souza Jr. and Dallas Keuchel are roster upgrade options as well, if — say it with me — the Cubs can eliminate some of their current payroll obligations.
  • The organization will have some competition if it wants to sign Keuchel, as several teams are also interested in the free agent starter.
  • A post over at Bleacher Report lists six of the better options the team may consider if Epstein pulls the trigger and trades Bryant.
  • If the Phillies are truly interested in Bryant, talk of a potential trade between the Cubs and Yankees for Kyle Schwarber could hurt their chances of landing the all-star third baseman. If a Schwarber to New York deal that includes Miguel Andújar goes down, Philadelphia’s best and most logical trade chip, third base prospect Alec Bohm, becomes much less appealing to the Cubs. Andújar is a terrible defender, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
  • Josh Donaldson reportedly has four-year offers in hand from the Twins and Nationals, and is expected to sign very soon, which would give the Cubs a number of options in trade discussions for Bryant. One would think if Donaldson goes to the Twins, admittedly a longshot, the Cubs may have a veritable bidding war for their third baseman on their hands.
  • Center field continues to remain a primary focus for Epstein and his entourage this winter, ideally someone who can bat leadoff, whether it is Shogo Akiyama or an internal option like Ian Happ.

Friday Stove

Veteran starter Gio González has agreed to terms with the White Sox. Take away the pitcher’s five starts against the Cubs last season and he is a completely different pitcher, statistically speaking.

The Reds have had trade discussions with the Indians on a potential Francisco Lindor deal.

The Nationals and Braves are said to be the favorites to sign Donaldson.

Free agent starter Julio Teheran has agreed to terms with the Angels on a one-year deal.

The Anges are also engaged with Keuchel and free agent starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The Brewers made another under-the-radar signing, inking a one-year $5 million deal with first baseman Justin Smoak.

Third baseman Maikel Franco is moving from the Phillies to the Royals on a one-year deal. Kansas City has done quite well with slugging change-of-scenery position players in the past.

The Mets may consider trading outfielder Yoenis Céspedes now that the outfielder has agreed to contract concessions. Céspedes is unlikely to play in 2020.

Shohei Ohtani has been cleared to pitch this season.

Apropos of Nothing

The continued downfall of Western Civilization never ceases to amaze me.

Extra Innings

Well this is just too adorable.

They Said It

  • “Yeah, we met with [Shogo Akiyama]. Listen, a lot of teams were involved. Obviously he’s a very good player and he’s gonna have a good role on a major-league team this year, but I can’t comment beyond that.” – Jed Hoyer
  • “We have two young players who are still trying to establish themselves as more full-time players in Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr., so it would be an opportunity for one of those guys – or a combination of those guys – to grab the center field role and then we’d need somebody to step up in the leadoff role.” – Theo Epstein

Friday Walk Up Song

Money (That’s What I Want) by Barrett Strong. Do I really need to explain today’s choice?

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