SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years may change everything about the Cubs – except the plan of attack for this offseason.
After winning 97 games and two playoff rounds last year, team president Theo Epstein worked with chairman Tom Ricketts and business operations to capitalize on that momentum and hedge against the shallow pool of free agents this winter, bursting open investments that totaled almost $290 million.
It paid off with: the World Series MVP who set an example for the entire lineup (Ben Zobrist); the you-go, we-go leadoff guy (Dexter Fowler); a Gold Glove outfielder (Jason Heyward); and a Big Boy Game pitcher (John Lackey).
Don’t expect another “extravaganza,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. This championship run hasn’t necessarily changed the immediate financial outlook or the appetite for a big-ticket closer like Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen or how strongly the Cubs feel about their core players.
“We have fewer holes now, in part, because of the offseason we had last year,” Hoyer said Tuesday during the GM meetings at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa. “We were aggressive for two reasons: We felt like we had a chance to be really good in ’16. And we also felt like the free-agent market this year was weak.
“So keeping powder dry for this offseason might be kind of fruitless, because there might be nothing that is really tempting.”
Fowler will probably cash in elsewhere after rejecting the $17.2 million qualifying offer, the Cubs looking at a combination of options like Albert Almora Jr., Matt Szczur, Heyward as a part-time center fielder and/or an outside addition for matchups.
Heyward will have to break down and rebuild his swing after the worst offensive season of his career. And Lackey is 38 years old and only signed for one more season (in the same way Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta could be getting close to free agency and the point of no return).
But the Cubs probably already made their biggest moves for the 2017 team, drafting two monster hitters for the middle of their lineup (Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber), trading for All-Star infielders (Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell) and another Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher (Kyle Hendricks) to go along with homegrown players (Javier Baez and Willson Contreras) and the group of free agents who followed Jon Lester’s $155 million leap of faith to sign with a last-place team at the 2014 winter meetings.
“It was a strategic decision we made – and I’m glad we did,” Hoyer said. “In some ways, it does inhibit some of our flexibility this winter. But that was the price of doing business.
“Listen, there’s good players out there. But this is probably the weakest free-agent class (that) we have seen and probably will see for a while.”