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Cubs must decide whether they want to be a big-market team

The trade of right-hander Yu Darvish to the Padres and other moves — or lack thereof — more resemble those of a small-market team.

Right-hander Yu Darvish, whom the Cubs traded to the Padres, was the runner-up in NL Cy Young voting last month.
Right-hander Yu Darvish, whom the Cubs traded to the Padres, was the runner-up in NL Cy Young voting last month.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Are the Cubs a big-market team?

Based on their city, fan base and resources compared to other major-league teams, the obvious answer is yes, which is why their most recent moves have been a tough pill for fans to swallow.

Since the arrival of the Ricketts ownership group in 2009, the Cubs have been on record about their commitment to winning, creating a strong culture and being successful in business and baseball operations.

They have had success on the field, winning the World Series in 2016 and reaching the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. On the business side, the area around Wrigley Field has prospered and the team launched its own regional sports network, Marquee, in 2020.

The Dodgers are the model most teams want to emulate, and, given the resources at their disposal, the Cubs have had the ability to do that. Not only have they had that ability, but the decisions they have made and the money they have spent have shown that’s what they strive to be.

But the trade of right-hander Yu Darvish to the Padres, which became official late Tuesday, and other moves — or lack thereof — in the last three seasons don’t resemble those of a big-market team, such as the Dodgers, but of a small-market team, such as the Royals, Rays or Pirates.

Since signing Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal in 2018, the Cubs have done little in the free-agent market and have had to rely on minor-league deals, waiver claims and other creative strategies to bring in players. Last offseason, right-hander Jeremy Jeffress was the only player the Cubs brought in who signed a major-league contract.

The 2020 offseason offers different challenges for the Cubs. With player salaries increasing and the team’s success decreasing since the 2016 World Series title, it has put a larger focus on the team’s spending.

The Cubs have been among the top five in payroll in each of the last three seasons, only to have disappointing finishes in the playoffs. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economics have been evident around the majors, with many teams following the same path as the Cubs.

According to sources, getting below the salary cap was a priority for the Cubs this offseason, and their decisions to trade Darvish and to non-tender left fielder Kyle Schwarber will help them accomplish that.

When chairman Tom Ricketts met with the media to discuss the offseason last month, he didn’t seem too concerned about the Cubs’ long-term outlook.

‘‘I don’t think anybody’s tearing anything down,’’ Ricketts said.

But the fans will hold Ricketts and the team accountable if that turns out not to be the case.

After the Dodgers acquired outfielder Mookie Betts in a trade with the Red Sox, they didn’t tell him Major League Baseball was suffering massive losses. They paid him what he was worth because they could and others couldn’t.

Jed Hoyer has been the Cubs’ president of baseball operations for a month, and there’s a lot of time for him to reshape the roster between now and spring training.

But if the Cubs truly hold themselves to the standard of being a big-market team, they need to be committed to that. Not just sometimes or during the good times but all the time.