When will the Cubs and White Sox act like major-market teams? How about never?
Neither gave much thought to going after Aaron Judge, who re-signed with the Yankees for $360 million.
There was no way the Cubs or the White Sox were going to wade into the bidding war for Aaron Judge. There was a better chance of the federal tax code adding a section for jokes.
I don’t want to get into a debate about whether Judge is worth the $360 million the Yankees spent to keep him. The market says he is, so he is. Nor do I want to argue whether the slugger was right for either franchise at this point in their respective journeys.
I would like to bemoan an unfortunate truth: Neither team has ever committed to spending big money year after year, the way the Yankees and Dodgers have. That’s a sin, given that Chicago is the third-largest city in the country and given what the Cubs and Sox have put their fans through historically.
Both franchises have spent decades pushing the message that doling out large sums of money is not the way to build a winning team. Chicago is a major market, but it has two baseball teams that want you to think you’re living in a dusty town where carneys go to retire.
By this way of thinking, giving a massive contract to a free agent is an extravagance that borders on immorality. All that cash! Scandalous! Baseball was played during the latter part of the Victorian Era, but I didn’t think the time period’s prim-and-proper mindset would carry through to today. Maybe the corsets impede spending.
I’m ready for you contrarians. You’ll give me examples of both teams opening their wallets over the years. In 1996, the Sox handed Albert Belle a five-year, $55 million contract, a record at the time. In 1987, when teams were colluding against players to limit salaries, the Cubs landed superstar Andre Dawson for a pittance. In 2006, they gave Alfonso Soriano an eight-year, $136 million contract. And more recently, they gave Jon Lester a six-year, $155 million contract to help them turn the corner on their first rebuild. He did, leading the Cubs to the 2016 World Series, its first title since 1908.
But it’s always a surprise when the Cubs or Sox work up the gumption and money to go after a star. The public reaction often has as much to do with the rarity of it as it does the player. The Cubs did what? Really?
Three years ago, the Sox tried to sign Manny Machado. He went to the Padres instead. Unless we’re in the business of applauding failure, that isn’t a positive. Trying isn’t succeeding. Being perceived as the second-team in a two-team market, as the Sox are, doesn’t mean you have to act like it. The Angels and the Mets certainly don’t spend like they were left out of the will.
I’m sure the Sox will chide me for wanting to chase big names who will make a splash but could hurt the franchise in the end. You mean like Tony La Russa?
I’m sure the Cubs will tell me that signing Judge would have wiped out their budget for the next 10 years. But a budget is whatever a team wants it to be. If the Cubs’ 2023 payroll is etched in stone, it’s only because team chairman Tom Ricketts won’t let go of the chisel. He’s the guy who has put fans through two rebuilds. The first one led to the World Series title six years ago. The second, current one is a reminder to not get too comfortable with the whole spending and winning thing.
Earlier this year, Ricketts and his family tried to buy Chelsea FC for billions of dollars. The explanation to perplexed Cubs fans was that the pile of money for that proposed endeavor was separate from the pile of money the Cubs weren’t spending while tanking their way to another losing baseball season.
I get tired of this. I’m sure some of you do, too. Cubs and Sox ownership always seem to be proud of their prudence, as if fiscal restraint is an attribute you want in professional sports. As if they’re channeling Warren Buffett. Sometimes the only thing these people are channeling is the Cartoon Network.
I wish a Chicago sports franchise would get a new owner and start acting like the Yankees, with all the money and lunacy that goes with it. Most Chicagoans have spent their entire lives hearing that big spending doesn’t equal championships. But common sense tells us that outspending competitors year after year, decade after decade at least gives teams a chance of being good more often than not.
The winter meetings are on, and so far, the Cubs have signed 2019 National League Most Valuable Player Cody Bellinger, who struggled the last two seasons with the Dodgers, and veteran pitcher Jameson Taillon, who won 14 games with the Yankees in 2022.
The Sox signed veteran pitcher Mike Clevinger, but general manager Rick Hahn said the team would be “open-minded’’ to the possibility of a blockbuster move.
Like any miracle, belief will require visual proof.