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What to do with the Cubs Perceived Financial Constraints

With what seem to be self-imposed financial constraints surrounding the Cubs this winter, Matt Schoolfield gives his thoughts on how they should add to their infield depth.

As members of a dignified and distinguished society we are often times driven to believe and blindly accept what is presented before us, regardless of diving into the context of the information or the matter in which it is delivered. We often times don’t question the content a preferred news anchor delivers or perhaps the message a respected teacher or professor conveys in our classrooms. This is not limited to one part of life – it happens in politics, in our daily activities, in situations at work, and even something as menial as social media. But as a large and rabid fan base of a professional sports team in a major American market, Chicago Cub fans may have taken the bait as well.

On Tuesday, October 6, 2009 an indisputable event took place that forever changed the course of the Cubs organization and their loyal-to-a-fault fan base. The family of Joe Ricketts, he of TD Ameritrade fortune, purchased the controlling interest of their family’s favorite sports team, the Chicago Cubs for the modest sum of $845 million. Along with the team, the Ricketts’ acquired the rapidly crumbling Wrigley Field, desperately in need of upgrades but always charming and historic as well as a quarter-interest in Comcast SportsNet Chicago (now known as NBC Sports Chicago).

Fast forward to April of 2018, and according to Forbes, the Cubs are now worth an insane 2.9 BILLION DOLLARS. Three consecutive NLCS appearances, the 108 year drought ending World Series Championship in 2016, combined with massive neighborhood and stadium upgrades and renovations transformed Wrigleyville into a tourist destination and an assumed cash cow in and of itself.

And here we are now, eight months later being told there is no more scratch to invest into improving a roster that helped make all of the above possible. Since 2015, the Cubs have finished no worse than sixth in home attendance all while rebuilding a decrepit outdated stadium with a max-capacity in the middle of the pack. Over the last three years, the Cubs have led the league in overall attendance, meaning the road games they play yield crowds unmatched by any other franchise in the league. One can in turn deduce that overall popularity for the team is at an all time high.

The Cubs have rebuilt the grounds in and around Wrigley making for a top-notch game day experience for fans, and those fans have clearly responded in kind, often making a full day out of just going to a game. The hotel, awesome local bars and restaurants, the Park at Wrigley field, and hosting major concerts have all made going to Wrigleyville a destination for the common man and woman, let alone for the die-hard baseball fan. It sure seems like business is booming for the North Siders.

Furthering this idea, for the 2018 season, according to mlb.com, the Cubs had three players in the top seven of jersey sales for the year – no other team had more than one. Riding the wave of guys like Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the Cubs have familiar faces who are generally likeable guys. This is a marketer’s dream when you account for the appeal the organization carries without many recognizable faces in the sport elsewhere.

  • A booming neighborhood economy.
  • A financially and spiritually invested fan base.
  • A completely refurbished and improved “office.”
  • Marketable assets on the field.
  • National appeal and a television rights deal nearing expiration.

I am having a hard time accepting the fact that there is no money to spend. Yes, the off-season signings prior to the 2018 season were expensive mistakes. Frankly, those can and should be absorbed. Yes, the absence of expected revenue from a fourth straight postseason run can take a toll – but I can’t buy that it’s this sort of toll. I am all for not wildly and blindly throwing cash at problems hoping to strike gold without doing the necessary due diligence in finding talent. But there aren’t many questions with this year’s top free agents in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The top teams in MLB will all be checking in on both young stars at the very least and there is absolutely no reason the Cubs can’t be involved in making a run at one of them.

Shedding salary like they did in the Drew Smyly deal to the Rangers screams small market. Trading for Ronald Torreyes only to non-tender him days later is perplexing at best. Something isn’t adding up. I am failing to see how this team, carrying success the likes of which the franchise had not come close to seeing, is now setting up shop in a Hooverville. I have no other choice than to wonder what the hell Crane Kenney, the Ricketts family and the rest of the business operations are doing with the goldmine they appear to be sitting on.

How do you all of a sudden have no money to spend? Did the stadium renovations exceed the budget? Did the Chatwood/Darvish/Morrow off-season destroy the economic framework of this team? These questions deserve answers which will likely never come. We are forced to just accept the “facts” as presented and move on like the pre-2015 Cubs.

However, all is not lost. This is still a squad that won 95 games and finished the 162-game MLB schedule in a tie for first place in the NL Central. Even with that record and seemingly strong roster built to win, 40 times in 2018 the Cubs scored one run or less. This was omnipresent in the last two games of the season when the Cubs did just that, needing to win only one of the two games against Milwaukee and Colorado to garner a spot in the NLDS. Still though, this team can and should be a contender in the National League in 2019 but adding to the roster is necessary to win another ring.  For a team appearing unable unwilling to spend big again, there is a cost-effective move that could pay huge dividends.

The Cubs have a need in the infield. The Addison Russell situation has left a void that was not anticipated until all that long ago. A looming suspension and the likelihood Russell has played his final games on the north side along with perceived budget constraints are forcing the Cubs to get creative in filling a hole at second base. Baez being able to slide to short to replace Russell opens the door for David Bote and Ben Zobrist to likely man the keystone as the roster currently stands. I still however think both are best suited in super-utility roles – Bote as a rotating infielder and Zobrist filling in right field at times with both being huge assets in case of injury or future roster movement.

What this means though, is the Cubs must look to the outside for help – and they can look no further than to their neighbors to the north in the rival Milwaukee Brewers. On Friday, the Brewers non-tendered second baseman Jonathan Schoop meaning the 27-year-old former All-Star is now free to sign with any team. Schoop though is coming off his worst full season in the big leagues. After a trade deadline move from the Baltimore Orioles, Schoop struggled mightily with the Brewers slashing .202/.246/.331 with a surprisingly low four home runs paving the way for Milwaukee general manager David Stearns to say “Look, it was a bad deal, and that’s on me. We made a trade for a player we thought was going to be here for basically a year-and-a-half, and I was wrong.”

Pretty strong words from a general manager in assessing a player they sought out who in turn struggled upon arrival. Schoop has produced a ton though in his time as a big leaguer with the Orioles. In over 2,500 plate appearances with Baltimore, Schoop slashed .261/.296/.450 with 106 home runs and over 300 RBI. He strikes out more than you’d like and is an average defender at best, but for a team short on offensive production, Schoop could be a huge supplement to the infield and bottom of the Cubs’ order.

In his All-Star campaign of 2017, Schoop hit .293 with an OPS of .841 and OPS-plus of 124 according to Baseball-Reference.com. He walked a career high 35 times and hit 32 bombs while garnering a few MVP votes for a bad Baltimore team. A 5.2 WAR season as a 25-year-old is something that cannot be ignored. Even in an awful 2018 season, Schoop tallied a 1.4 WAR meaning he’s at least above replacement level at his worst. The Cubs don’t even need everyday production like that from him – though it would be huge to get him back to his peak.

A one year, $7.5 million deal should be more than sufficient to land a guy looking to rebuild his value and land the large contract he appeared destined for in 2017. This reminds me a bit of Ian Desmond taking a one-year, make good deal in the prime of his career from the Texas Rangers in 2016 after leaving Washington without the contract he expected to receive. Desmond had a solid season in Texas leading to the long-term payday he received from the Colorado Rockies in 2017.

Hitting on a high ceiling player on a cost-effective contract is exactly what the Cubs need right now if they truly are unable to dance with the big prizes this off-season. The 2017 version of Jonathan Schoop or even something resembling that could be exactly what the Cubs need to regain control of the National League. Another option is for the Cubs to start acting like the franchise they portend to be. The time to decide who you really are is now. Are the Cubs going to try to win at all costs or buy the cheap lotto ticket and hope for the best?

Follow Matt Schoolfield on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Fox Sports

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