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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Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi steps down as manager for Olympic qualifying team to pursue MLB openings

Joe Girardi’s name has come up for just about every managerial opening in Major League Baseball and it sounds like he is all in on pursuing that opportunity.

Girardi was set to manage USA Baseball’s Olympic qualifying team. He was named the manager of Team USA in August. His first tournament was going to be the upcoming Premier12 tournament, which is the first chance to qualify for the Olympics. Camp was set to begin on Oct. 21 and the U.S.’s first game is Nov. 2.

Instead, Girardi has stepped down. USA Baseball broke the news with a press release that announced Scott Brosius, a former teammate of Girardi’s on the Yankees, will take over.

The reason is the interesting part. He stepped down “as he pursues open managerial opportunities in Major League Baseball.”

At the very least, it sounds like Girardi is interested in at least one of the openings in MLB. He interviewed with the Cubs last week so this won't quell any speculation that he would come back to the North Side as a manager.

David Ross may still be the odds on favorite to fill the Cubs’ vacancy, but Girardi’s apparent interest in rejoining the ranks of MLB managers is certainly noteworthy. One would think if Girardi wants to get back into managing in MLB, at this indicates, he will get a job. Now the question is where he will land.

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Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.