Report: Cubs want a shot at Bryce Harper, but ownership 'unlikely' to provide approval

Report: Cubs want a shot at Bryce Harper, but ownership 'unlikely' to provide approval

Mid-January is approaching, the Cubs just announced their spring training report date (Feb. 13) and yet Bryce Harper remains without a team for 2019 or beyond.

The market for Harper will make your head spin, as any interested teams have public holdups and front office executives around the game are spending a lot more time shooting down rumors than stoking the flames. 

His former team, the Washington Nationals, were once considered to be out of the Harper Sweepstakes, but now appear to be back in the mix. Meanwhile, the Nats have continued to make the rest of their roster better, including the signing of free agent second baseman Brian Dozier Thursday.

In talking about where the Nationals' financials stand after the Dozier deal and whether they can even afford Harper, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal mentioned the other teams in the mix for the superstar and wrote:

The Cubs would love a shot at Harper, though ownership approval continues to appear unlikely, sources say. 

Now, this is essentially a non-update update. We know Theo Epstein's front office has had their eyes set on Harper for a while, they clearly appreciate his skillset and he would be an immediate fit on a team that could absolutely use an offensive upgrade.

But Epstein has been touting the Cubs' budget issues since the first week of November, pointing to how much money the Cubs already have committed to the 2019 roster. Barring a crazy turn of events, the Cubs are projected to fly by the $206 million luxury tax threshold this season.

The key word in Rosenthal's sentence is "continues" as it represents no deviation from the status quo that the Ricketts family does not want to push the payroll to astronomical proportions in 2019.

Maybe all the talk of the budget is just posturing by Epstein and Co. to keep their cards close to their chest, but if so, they're doing a damn good job of selling it. To date, the only addition the Cubs have made to their big-league roster this winter is a $5 million deal for Daniel Descalso, and only $1.5 million of that is owed in 2019. (They also picked up the $20 million option for Cole Hamels, but traded away Drew Smyly and his $7 million salary to create room for Hamels.)

The Cubs' 2019 Opening Day luxury tax payroll is projected at north of $228 million (Roster Resource); the previous record for Opening Day payroll in franchise history was $182 million set last season. 

Here's an entire breakdown of where the Cubs' financial situation stands this winter.

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Cubs and Kyle Hendricks agree to 4-year, $55 million contract extension

USA Today

Cubs and Kyle Hendricks agree to 4-year, $55 million contract extension

Apprently the Cubs had one last bit of business to take care of before the season started. 

On Tuesday afternoon, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported that the Cubs and Kyle Hendricks had agreed to a 4-year extension: 

Hendricks, who had one more year of arbitration left, will now be signed through the 2023 season, with an option for 2024: 

Hendricks has been a mainstay in the Cubs' rotation since coming up in 2014. Over the last five seasons, the 29-year-old has pitched 789 innings while posting a 3.52 FIP, 1.11 WHIP with batters hitting .232 against him. 

The move makes a ton of sense for both sides. This spring has seen a whole lot of players sign extensions with their current teams, and Hendricks -- who will make $7.4 million this season -- did well to get a sizeable raise. On the Cubs' end, locking up one of baseball's more reliable (and frankly, underrated) starters is a no-brainer. From 2014-2018, only 20 starters in all of baseball have been worth more wins above replacement than Hendricks (15.0) , with Cole Hamels technically being the only Cubs with more. 

The deal also provides Chicago even more roster stability during this current window. Now, 4 of the 5 current Cubs' starters are locked up through the next two seasons. 

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19 for '19: What version of the Cubs' offense will show up in 2019?

USA Today

19 for '19: What version of the Cubs' offense will show up in 2019?

We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.

Next up: How much better will the Cubs offense be in 2019 compared to the second half of last year?

After the Brewers caught the Cubs from behind and vaulted into first place in the division last fall, Theo Epstein classified his team's offense as "broken."

That's a fair assessment, as the Cubs scored only 2 runs in 22 innings when their season was on the line in Game 163 and the NL Wild-Card Game. After posting the best offense in baseball prior to the All-Star Break, the Cubs suddenly lost the ability to drive the ball, ranking 27th in slugging percentage in the second half.

So how much of a step forward can we expect for 2019?

A healthy Kris Bryant should do wonders for this lineup. He had a career .915 OPS coming into 2018, but saw that number dip to .721 from mid-May on last season. And that's when he was able to even be in the lineup while dealing with the shoulder injury.

Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez carried the Cubs offense for most of last year and they figure to be huge factors in the lineup again this year, too. This team probably can't afford Baez to take much of a step back after his career season, nor would they want to weather another storm of Rizzo hitting .177 with a .561 OPS through the first six weeks of the campaign.

But Bryant's return takes the pressure off both those guys. It's adding an MVP level hitter - one of the best hitters in the entire game - to a lineup on an everyday basis.

That alone should make the Cubs' offense better this year.

But they also might be able to factor in steps forward from young players like Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ (when he returns from the minors).

Contreras admitted he got complacent last year, Schwarber continues to prove development isn't always linear, Happ was sent down to the minors to fine-tune his game and Almora is working to add some more power to his game instead of hammering everything into the ground.

On sheer talent, the Cubs lineup has the capability to be the best offense in the NL.

When you factor in the age - Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso are the only position players over 30 - it paints an even rosier picture about the potential of this group.

- Tony Andracki

This will hopefully be, by the grace of the Old Gods and the New, the last time we have to talk about the Cubs' two-faced 2018 offense. Sing along with me! 

1st Half: Top-3 in WAR, top-5 in wRC+, wOBA, OPS, and top-10 in SLG. They were good. 
2nd Half: 17th in WAR, 24th in wRC+, wOBA, 23rd in OPS and 27th in SLG. They were bad. 

Tony lays it out pretty perfectly; Kris Bryant makes this engine go. Teams spend $30 million a year to get players of Bryant's caliber into the lineup, and for now, the Cubs are getting that for less than half market value. 

You COULD look at Javy Baez's numbers and predict some negative regression, I guess. Though as we went over earlier in this series, Baez's otherworldly season looked more like The Next Step than a one-off, career-best campaign. You can probably bank on Kyle Schwarber not having a .210 BABIP with runners in scoring position again. Rizzo, Byrant, Baez, and Schwarber at even their career-norms is a Top-5 offense in baseball. 

It's outside that core where things get ... dicey. Ian Happ's gotten all the attention this week, and maybe some time in Iowa helps him out, but there's also the fact that he's [whispers as quietly as humanly possible] not that good a hitter. What's more, he's going to turn 25 this season, an age that hasn't been considered young by baseball standards for, what, a decade?

While we're talking outfielders, Albert Almora Jr. has almost 1,000 plate appearances with a 96 wRC+ and not a lot of optimistic peripherals to show for it. He's a singles hitter with diminishing power and a league-average on base percentage. He's also a real liability against right-handed pitchers, which in a league where 60% of them are right-handed is, you know, a problem. 

The good news is that the Cubs have 3 or 4 insanely talented hitters that are capable of carrying the team. The bad news is that, like we saw in 2018, they're going to need each one of them to perform up to expectations. The ceiling is high, but the cliff is steep. 

19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?

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