Shohei Ohtani was a real possibility because his price was so incredibly low, but he didn’t want to play in the Midwest. Bryce Harper was a pipe dream because of his cost, though his friendship with Kris Bryant, his dog named Wrigley, and persistent reports that really preferred the Cubs made it feel as though there was a non-zero chance of him ending up in Chicago. By the time Gerrit Cole‘s free agency came around, it was pretty clear the Cubs didn’t have the money.
That song remains the same this winter, though a Twitter conversation from Friday morning has me pining for a player who’d be the absolute perfect fit for this roster if there was any room in the budget. George Springer is a bona fide leadoff hitter with contact skills and 40-home run power who can play center and who somehow manages to come off as a good dude in spite of the Astros’ cheating scandal.
He’s basically Dexter Fowler with a much better offensive profile, and who have the Cubs been trying in vain to replace since 2016?
There are, of course, some very big hurdles when it comes to pursuing Springer, the first of which is that he could fetch as much as $25 million AAV over 5-6 years. It might end up being a little less than that, but even a presumed $20 million hard floor on a deal for the 31-year-old is too much for the Cubs to swing. Or is it?
If we go with the higher figure, it’s possible to make a deal fit within the not-so-friendly confines of ownership’s edict to limit spending. The first mechanism is a back-loaded deal that could go 15-20-25-30-35 or something like that to keep the average at $25 million while providing a little payroll relief in 2021. Then you assume Kyle Schwarber and his estimated $8 million salary will be traded or non-tendered, more than halving Springer’s impact on the bottom line next year.
Springer takes over as the everyday center fielder, Ian Happ mans left on a regular basis, and Jason Heyward is in right. With anything close to similar production to what we saw this past season, that outfield offers improved defense and excellent results at the plate. The lineup would be more balanced due to the improved contact and having a leadoff hitter with significant pop who can also reach base at an elite clip instantly increases win probability.
It’s a no-brainer even for a team otherwise expected to shop in the clearance aisle. Except for one other problem that might be even bigger than salary. Springer turned down the Astros’ qualifying offer and the Cubs are competitive balance tax offenders, so signing him would mean forfeiting their second and fifth picks in the next draft along with $1 million in international bonus pool money. For a team that is looking to retool on the cheap, those are massive hits.
Not as massive as the hit the Golden State Warriors will take following their acquisition of Kelly Oubre, but still pretty big. As unfair as it is to compare across sports, I see this and shake my head when looking at a massive organization like the Cubs having to dial things so far back.
Golden State tax bill is currently $66M
The addition of Kelly Oubre would see it increase to $134M
$14.4M of Oubre + $68M in taxes= $82.4M
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) November 19, 2020
Now, there could be a whole lot more money coming off the books if the Cubs also part with Kris Bryant via either non-tender or trade, the latter of which seems far more likely. I don’t like that idea at all, but it’s a little late at this point to worry about my own feelings. Interestingly enough, Friday brought two reports of the Dodgers’ potential interest in trading for the third baseman.
One of those came from a disgraced GM who siphoned money from international prospects to line his own pockets, so I’ll stick with Jon Morosi’s breakdown of a potential blockbuster between the Rockies and Dodgers. Wait, that doesn’t make sense if we’re talking about Bryant. True, but in laying out the very real possibility that the Dodgers could swing a deal for Nolan Arenado, Morosi mentions KB as an option for a team looking to add right-handed power.
Justin Turner‘s $20 million has fallen off the books, so LA could easily absorb what is expected to be about that much for Bryant’s final year of arbitration. The acquisition cost would also be much lower than Arenado’s because of the lack of control and the Cubs’ transparent need to slash payroll, so that could be attractive to the Dodgers. Then again, they’ve managed to construct their roster such that assuming Arenado’s $35 million AAV would not cripple them even after giving Mookie Betts a 12-year, $365 million deal.
What must it be like to trade for two MVP-level performers, one of whom is extended on a monster deal and the other of whom already has one, to add to at least two other homegrown MVP-caliber players? Landing Arenado probably signals the end of Corey Seager‘s time in LA, though, as he will be in his final year of control and hasn’t made any headway on an extension.
If nothing else, it’s fascinating to see what the Dodgers have been able to do and what they’re still willing and able to pull off moving forward. Not that we should necessarily use their success and remaining payroll flexibility as a cudgel with which to strike Cubs leadership, since the Dodgers did just announce sweeping layoffs similar to those the Cubs and other teams have made. Still, seeing how they remain dedicated to the product on the field and being able to add legit superstars to a stable of homegrown talent is incredibly enviable.
But hey, at least Cubs fans can look forward to the possibility of maybe bringing Tommy La Stella back into the fold. Or maybe they gamble on a reunion with Chris Archer. Or, who knows, maybe something really wacky will shake out and they’ll end up as part of a huge trade that sees a big name or two coming to Chicago. For as much as everyone believes this winter will be hell for free agents, the financial circumstances could actually promote a few really wild deals.