Cubs

Where the Cubs stand financially as Hot Stove season heats up

Where the Cubs stand financially as Hot Stove season heats up

CARLSBAD, Calif. — There are three different ways to look at the Cubs offseason after what we've learned over the course of the last week.

There's the optimist's view: The Cubs were able to shed some salary in 2019 and they can still afford to sign a guy like Bryce Harper in free agency.

There's the pessimist's view: The Cubs absolutely cannot afford Harper or any of the top free agents because of financial constraints.

Then there's the realist's view, which is probably the best way to approach the offseason: The Cubs still may be able to impact their roster in a major way this winter, but it would be difficult to see them outbidding all 29 other teams for the services of Harper or Manny Machado.

Is it possible the Cubs are talking up their money issues as a bit of posturing to play things close to the vest in terms of their interest in the likes of Harper? Sure, but it's unlikely.

And there's no denying the Cubs do have money issues, especially after picking up Cole Hamels' $20 million option for 2019. That leaves the team right around the $206 million luxury tax threshold for next year even after shedding Drew Smyly's $5 million AAV (average annual value) in the trade with the Rangers. And that's before Theo Epstein's front office adds any talent on the roster via free agency or trades.

So it doesn't really matter what Bryce Harper names his dog or how many Bulls hats he wears in his free time or even if he stands outside Wrigley Field holding a hand-written sign that says "Cub for lyfe," that doesn't mean the Cubs suddenly will be able to afford paying him what he's owed and still be able to field the rest of the roster. 

At the moment, no team has more money committed to their 2019 team than the Cubs, though the Cubs are probably further along than nearly every other MLB team in that they essentially have a complete roster ready for Opening Day. It just might not be the roster Epstein and Co. feel gives them the best chance to win a second World Series in four years.

"We've had a Top 6 payroll each of the last three seasons," Epstein said at the beginning of the GM Meetings in Southern California this week. "We certainly expect to have another Top 6 payroll this season and going forward. That investment in the club by our ownership has been everything we could ask for. It's been enough to win more games than any other team the last four years.

"It's more than enough to win and on top of that, this is an ownership group that's poured in $750 million in private investment in fixing Wrigley Field. I appreciate and understand the desire for more every winter. That's part of the fun of winter — Hot Stove. 

"And we should do everything we can to make this team better and there are some great names out there and we're not ruling anybody out, but I think it's important to have some perspective, too. Like every other team, we're gonna have our budgets, but as a result of looking at revenues and looking at expenses and doing everything we can to put a winning team on the field for the fans."

Epstein praised the Ricketts family several times for supplying his baseball operations department with enough salary to go out and sign Yu Darvish and Jon Lester to megadeals to form the rotation over the last few years plus the $184 million investment in Jason Heyward ahead of the 2016 campaign. 

Last winter, the Cubs front office committed $185 million to a trio of pitchers — Darvish, Brandon Morrow and Tyler Chatwood — who combined for just 0.3 WAR, a 4.54 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 174.1 innings in 2018. 

The Cubs are hopeful Darvish and Morrow can return from their respective bone bruises and can play a big role in 2019, but no matter what way you look at it, last offseason was not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Ricketts family to turn right around and invest another $200 or more million of their money into free agency this winter.

"Some offseasons are going to be more challenging than others and if that means anything, it means I need to do my job better," Epstein said. "And we need to do our job better as a baseball operation to continue to put a top level team on the field and feel secure in that for years to come. That's how I'm looking at our payroll situation."

While a large faction of the Cubs fanbase believes the team should have unlimited funds to sign whoever they want, it doesn't work that way. The team narrowly avoided paying the luxury tax in 2018 and all those young position players are now starting to get exponentially more expensive in arbitration.

Which goes back to Epstein's comment from the end-of-season presser last month where he said the Cubs need to start evaluating players on production and not simply talent.

"In order to keep this thing going with the realities of the business and what happens as players move through the service time structure and escalating salaries and everything else, the time for that talent to translate into performance is now to get the absolute most out of this group," Epstein said. "Or else we're going to be looking at some hard realities and the need for a lot of change going forward."

A big part of the reason the Cubs are even in this current spot financially is how much money they've had to invest in the pitching staff over the last few seasons. 

And now those position players are making much more than the league minimum — Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Tommy La Stella are set for their second year of arbitration while Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber are slated for a huge jump in salary in their first year of arbitration.

"There were days where you looked out on the field and you got minimum salary, minimum salary, minimum salary," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "We had such a payroll efficiency offensively, but we've always had somewhat payroll inefficiency pitching-wise because we've had to go outside and have veteran guys.

"And listen, we've had really good pitching staffs. It's not as if our major-league pitching has struggled, but it has been inefficient if you want look at it from a financial standpoint from a trade standpoint because we haven't had the Bryant-Baez-Almora-Happ versions of the pitchers."

Because there is so much talent on the roster and the Cubs have invested so much in all these guys, it's not quite as simple as just going out and adding one of the game's richest contracts. 

Hoyer admitted Tuesday he is probably going to spend more time talking to opposing GMs this week about potential trades than Scott Boras or the other agents representing the top free agents.

"We do feel like our answers are internal," Hoyer said. "We need to focus on getting our players to maximize their potential. With that said, I think we're open to business and listening and that will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the market."

Still, that doesn't mean there's no shot at the Cubs signing Harper. 

"I'm not ruling anything out," Epstein said. "I think we have a lot of moving parts and we have an open mind and we have a lot of desire to get better. So I'm not ruling anything in or anything out."

Forget how the optimist or pessimist look at the comments from Epstein and Hoyer. 

The realist views those statements, looks at the facts and discerns that it's possible the Cubs could still sign a guy like Harper, but the more likely option is a cost-effective solution to help the team's offense take a step forward in 2019.

Remember That Guy? Gary Gaetti

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AP

Remember That Guy? Gary Gaetti

There have been 1,052 players in MLB history born in Illinois (or at least that’s how many we know of).  And of those players, the one with the most home runs is… Jim Thome with 612.  But the player who’s second; the player who had the “record” prior to Thome was Gary Gaetti with 360. 

Gary Gaetti homered in his MLB Debut (in his first at-bat) on September 20, 1981 for the Twins.  As a rookie the following season he hit 25 long ones. He was a mainstay at the hot corner for the Twins in the 1980s, winning four Gold Gloves (1986-89) with two All-Star selections (1988-89).  He was part of the 1987 World Champions (and was ALCS MVP).  By the time the Twins won their second World Series in 1991, Gaetti was in California with the Angels.  In 1995 at age 36 he had a renaissance for the Royals with 35 home runs and collected his lone career Silver Slugger before moving onto the Cardinals for the next few seasons. 

After being released by the Birds in mid-1998, Gaetti arrived on the North Side where he hit 17 home runs in 150 games (in 1998-99). In that 1998 season, he was a teammate of both Mark McGwire (who hit 70 HR for the Cardinals) and Sammy Sosa (who hit 66 HR for the Cubs). He remains the last player age 40 or older to homer in a Cubs uniform (all 17 of his home runs with the Cubs came after he turned 40).  Gaetti even made an appearance on the mound for the Cubs to close out what would end up a 21-8 rout at the hands of the Phillies on July 3, 1999 at the Vet.  He allowed two runs, including a solo home run by Marlon Anderson and an RBI triple by Doug Glanville. Gaetti concluded his MLB career with five games for the Red Sox in 2000.

After his retirement as a player, Gaetti had some coaching gigs in the minors and majors. In 2012, when 50-year old Roger Clemens came back to make two starts for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, Gary Gaetti was the manager, as he was three years later when 50-year old Rafael Palmeiro played a game for the Skeeters. Gaetti led the team to the Atlantic League championship in 2016.

Quite a career.

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

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AP

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

My mom’s father, my grandfather, in his North Carolina accent, used to ask me nearly every time I saw him.

“You still hittin’ that ball?!?!”

He knew my brother took extensive time to groom me in the game of baseball as soon as I could walk. So he recognized early on that my passion for the game only grew with time. So when he passed away during the offseason nearing midnight into Dec. 23, 1997, it was tough. I could no longer answer his question with a baseball career update.

He passed away in the same hospital where the legendary Negro League player, Buck Leonard, would pass away less than a month sooner. It is just so happened that Leonard’s passing coincided with the day my grandfather was first admitted into the same facility. I took it as a sign as I reviewed baseball and family history thinking about how I could honor my grandfather through both.

1997 was not the offseason I had envisioned. After coming off my breakthrough major league season, my first full season as a major leaguer with the Chicago Cubs, I had hit .300 and earned a chance to be in the starting lineup nearly every day. We had an exit meeting that year in the Astrodome. Cubs general manager at the time, Ed Lynch, was blunt and honest.

He explained very clearly that the organization tried to give the everyday job to “everyone else but you,” but was complimentary in how I was able to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.

I was a speedy center fielder that was in left field for most of the season after a revolving door of our top outfield prospects didn’t quite do enough to lock down the every day role. A platoon gave me a chance to play against lefties, which grew into against righties too.

The talent was deep from my vantage point: Ozzie Timmons, Robin Jennings, Pedro Valdes, Brant Brown, Brooks Kieschnick, Scott Bullet and so on. There were a ton of a good outfielders, and when the smoke cleared, I was the one holding the starter trophy. I was hoping the offseason was a time where I could cement that status as a Chicago Cub.

So I went into the offsseason with hope. Hope that only strengthened while I was on Lake Shore Drive and heard Ed Lynch on the radio talking about my season and how the expansion of the league (1998 the league added the Rays and the D-Backs) was going to force him to make tough decisions about who to protect from the expansion draft.

He conceded that I would be seeking a significant raise after my season. Then, the minimum salary was $109,000 (I made a little more than that in year two) and because of my strong year as a second season player, Lynch was making a reasonable conclusion. I knew my agent was happy.

My grandfather’s health had been declining over time, so his passing was not a shock, but before I fully digested the loss, the phone rang around 12 hours after I got word that he was gone. Who was calling?

I took the call in the basement of my parent’s house. This was while I was in the midst of a sea of unwrapped Christmas gifts strewn all over the ping pong table, the main wrapping station in the Glanville household during the holidays. My first thought was it must be my mom, who was in North Carolina pivoting from savoring his last hours to working on funeral arrangements. My brother was with her. It already was an awkward holiday from our geographically broken family.

It was Ed Lynch on the line, telling me that I had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

What?

I fielded all of the media calls the rest of that day. It was an all-day affair. Between the fresh news of my grandfather’s passing, the shock of being traded after finally breaking through as a starter, and the exhaustion at the idea of learning a new organization, I was not that thrilled.

In fact, one member of the Philadelphia press core finally asked me why I was sounding so unenthusiastic about being traded to the team I loved growing up as a kid. So I had to tell him about my grandfather’s passing and the reality sinking in that I was about to celebrate my first family Christmas with our nuclear family broken into pieces.

For the first time during the holidays, there was this divider in my family. Separated by life’s harsh terms. My father and I were home and my mother and brother were not. My dad and I celebrated at a long-standing friend’s house, a thousand miles from my mom and big bro, and a million miles away from truly accepting that I had been traded.

I had just completed my sophomore year in Major League Baseball and it was a moment when I felt like I had figured out some of my mechanics of the game. I was learning how to be consistent, learning the ropes about managing life in season and now offseason.

I was being traded to a team whose organization brought me great joy in 1980 as a die hard fan, a place where I could start in center field, but this was different. This was the business of baseball. The day I became a movable commodity, traded away for present value in Mickey Morandini. The Phillies were betting on my next chapter being my best years.

Can they do that? Just trade me away without asking me? Of course they can. Wait, why can they?

My 1980s memories of that Phillies championship was more than about the trophy. It framed an era. By my following that team since I was five or six, I saw that team build, I pulled my hair out when the Dodgers kept knocking them out in the ‘77 and ‘78 NLCS. But most of all, they had the same personnel. A core of players, nearly untradeable. Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and so on. They were practically glued together for several seasons.

But in the modern game of the late '90s, that dream of being drafted by a team, growing up with that organization, winning with the Cubs and retiring a Cub was no longer possible. That was how the game was evolving.

Although I was a big leaguer, I still was a fan. I still was caught off-guard even after I knew the Cubs protected me in the expansion draft. I understood that at all times, lurking were many ways in the game where I could change teams. Some voluntary, most not.

I realized that the offseason was not just this big training session to get ready for the next season. It was also a chess match of competing value. What you are worth versus what you think you are worth. The 2018 Cubs have many players asking that question. Will Kyle Schwarber be traded? Will Kris Bryant sign?

All players will experience life hitting them in the face when they least expect it. During that downtime, the reflection time, the break. That is why it can sting so much. And loss spares no one in this game, even after you hit .300. The rumors alone can eat you up.

I would attend my grandfather’s funeral and reunite with my mom and brother days after the trade. I took a moment during the time with family to make one simple declaration to the sky above.

“Granddad, I am still hitting that ball.”

Just this year, instead of Cubs blue, I would be wearing Phillies red.