BOCA RATON, Fla. – When it comes to the Cubs, Scott Boras waited to “meet the parents” in the winter of 2013. He waited for the “all-day sucker” to dissolve last winter.
This time around, the baseball agent doesn’t even have a six-figure horse in the race when it comes to the Cubs, but he’s still shaking his head at Cubs ownership and still waiting — waiting to see what he says is the kind of financial commitment worthy of a top-five revenue, major-league team.
After the Cubs finished the season just four wins shy of a World Series, team president Theo Epstein opened the general managers meetings in Florida on Monday cautioning that he might have to “get creative” to land even one significant free agent pitcher this winter.
Boras puts the blame on Ricketts family ownership, which has increased revenues over the last year and would seem to have the revenue projections to support a full-speed assault on the free agent market to take the next competitive step.
“The Cubs have put themselves in a position where they’ve got really a budding garden of talent, and certainly they want to get better – and good for them,” said Boras, whose Cubs clients include Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.
“Whenever you look at ownerships and you evaluate them, it usually takes time,” he said, “because a part of that garden isn’t only the players. A part of that garden is ownership. And when you’ve been in the garden a long time you probably know a lot more about when to move and when not to move than someone who’s been in it a short time.”
In the sixth season under Ricketts ownership, the Cubs went from five consecutive fifth-place finishes to 97 wins and run to the National League Championship Series.
Epstein this week said: “We’re going to have more money down the line than we have right now. We have the ability to add a little bit from where we are right now, but arbitration raises cut into things quite a bit.
“Two sizeable things, we’d have to definitely get creative,” Epstein said. “Even if we want to do one really big thing, we have to get creative.”
The Cubs have more than $100 million committed in salaries next year, including projected arbitration settlements and retaining desired team free agents.
After getting their department budget last week and factoring in international amateur and draft signings, along with a reserve for moves during the season, they’re working with roughly $30 million in payroll space this winter.
The Cubs are expected to continue looking as hard at trade possibilities as big free agents to fill pitching and outfield needs, and might even seek to move salary to be able to take on more salary, Epstein suggested.
Whether that looks like the formula for a big-market championship club or not.
“This is a whole new phase for the Cub ownership,” Boras said. “It’s a championship phase. It’s not a rebuilding phase. It’s a championship phase. And how owners react to that and what they do to garner that is a completely different thought process.”
Boras figures to test that thought process when Arrieta nears 2017-18 free agency. And again as the service-time-delayed Bryant nears 2021-2022 free agency.
And despite a willingness of the Cubs to talk, don’t expect a multiyear extension with Arrieta to come anytime soon.
Boras said “I don’t really know” how serious the Cubs are about doing a long-term deal with Arrieta.
“All I know is that I would say it’s fair to say the Cubs are pleased with Jake,” Boras said. “And Jake’s happy playing there. So we’ll see where it goes.”