Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has said time and again that he is content to oversee what happens off the field with the Cubs while letting Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer run the team itself. But since he controls the purse strings, any major additions to the payroll would need ownership’s seal of approval.
That was the case with Jon Lester, the Cubs’ first real foray into big-money contention since Epstein took the reins prior to the 2012 season. And with the organization balancing competitiveness with a payroll that remains under the competitive balance tax threshold, the front office might have to ask for the big boss’s blessing to make another blockbuster deal.
From the sounds of it, though, Ricketts has already given his execs carte blanche to do pretty much whatever they want.
‘‘We leave all the baseball decisions up to the baseball guys,’’ Ricketts told the Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer recently. ‘‘To the extent there’s a window where they want to sign more guys or not sign more guys, that’s their decision.’’
The most immediate and obvious impact move the Cubs could make would of course center around Manny Machado, to whom they’ve been connected in reports and speculation since this past winter. The rumor mill got cranked up again in April when FanRag’s Jon Heyman wrote about the Cubs being a good fit for Machado.
Were they just to acquire the slugging shortstop as a rental for the remainder of the season, payroll implications wouldn’t be a concern. Assuming he’d be swapped for at least Addison Russell, the prorated remainder of Machado’s contract would not subject the Cubs to any luxury tax penalties. But given their wide-open window of contention, it makes sense that the Cubs might try to extend Machado.
And even though Machado, who will only be 26 this July, has stated publicly that he wants to experience free agency, the Cubs have a unique advantage that might soften his stance. He and Albert Almora Jr. are best friends dating back to their childhood days in South Florida and even refer to one another as cousins. They dreamed of one day playing big league baseball together, so the chance realize that could change Machado’s mind.
There’s also the concept of playing for a winning team after the last two seasons in Baltimore. The O’s actually had records of .500 or better in Machado’s first five seasons, but they’ve tumbled over the last two and sit 18 games under and 17 games out of first as of post time. In addition to a friendly face and their renowned recruiting skills, just knowing that he would be part of a team that projects to win for the next several years would be a huge mark in the Cubs’ favor.
So if Epstoyer does re-engage in those “spirited attempts” to bring Machado to Chicago, you can imagine they’ll also be talking about a new deal that could well exceed a quarter-billion dollars. Mr. Ricketts may as well just hand MLB blank checks for each of the remaining years of the current CBA and just let them fill in the tax penalties when they’re calculated.
One more thing we should note here is that, while Machado is the rumor du jour, we can’t allow the shiny object to distract us completely from the pipe dream of Bryce Aron Max Harper. While Wittenmyer’s column was written with the Machado talk as a backdrop, you’ll notice that Ricketts isn’t directly addressing any one player. Rather, he’s confirming that his “baseball guys” have the freedom to pursue whomever they think best helps the team.
And that means the Cubs could theoretically pursue both Machado and Harper, though probably not concurrently. I had written about this a while back, but the team could see Machado as yet another big-ticket rental to aid their offense and give them a better chance against playoff pitching. And even though parting with core players for someone who’s going to leave posthaste is tough, bringing Harper in for the following several seasons would soften the blow.
Besides, trading for Machado and then letting him walk to sign Harper actually fulfills four players’ dreams of playing together. Almora and Machado get to be teammates, albeit for an abbreviated time, then you get the Harper/Bryant connection (Harpant? Bryper? Ooh, I know…Bry Bry™) through at least 2021.
However they do or don’t end up pursuing either or both of these elite players — or others, Lord knows free agency consists of dozens more talented individuals — the moral of the story is that the Cubs are willing and able to spend on a massive scale moving forward.[poll id=”26″]