Our Pledge To You

Cubs

The Cubs have money to sign Bryce Harper, but ownership doesn’t want to spend it

Somebody at the Weather Channel has impeccable timing and, quite possibly, a mean streak. The network names winter storms, and it has dubbed the one currently moving across a large part of the country Harper.

On Tuesday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said that primo free agent Bryce Harper would not be signing with his team, dashing any hopes fans had of a New Year’s revelation at the annual Cubs Convention, which starts Friday.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

The Cubs had been tamping down public enthusiasm about Harper for quite awhile, but Maddon’s frigid “not going to happen’’ comment seemed to put an end to the dream of the talented, popular and spectacularly-maned outfielder roaming Wrigley Field in 2019 and beyond.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

That’s too bad, primarily because there’s no good reason for his not being there.

The Cubs have the money to sign Harper. They don’t want to spend the money to sign him.

It’s not because they don’t think he can help them.

It’s because they don’t want to spend the money.

Team president Theo Epstein has said multiple times that the luxury tax is not the cause of the team’s budget restrictions. That needs to be pointed out again because the luxury tax is often used as a stop sign when the discussion turns to signing big-ticket free agents. In this case, that stop sign is a mirage.

The Cubs have the money. They just don’t want to part with it.

By the way, the only time the Cubs went over the tax was in 2016, the year they won the World Series. They’ll be over it again this year. It should mean nothing to a team with pockets as deep as the Cubs’.

You say Javy Baez and Kris Bryant will soon need to be paid in a very significant way?

You bet they will, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t money to keep them and add a superstar such as Harper. It means that the Cubs don’t want to pay out any more money.

To sum up: It’s not that the Cubs can’t have it all. It’s that they don’t want to pay for it all. That’s a huge distinction, especially for an outfit estimated to be worth $2.9 billion.

We can’t talk about the team’s puzzling, line-in-the-sand budget stance without resurrecting two famous quotes.

“All I can tell you is when Theo and (general manager Jed Hoyer) get to the point where they need more resources to execute their plan, the Ricketts family will be there for them,” team spokesman Dennis Culloton told the Sun-Times at the beginning of the 2013 season. “It’s as simple as that.”

“Basically, my job is fill a wheelbarrow with money, take it to Theo’s office, and dump it,” Cubs finance guy Crane Kenney told Bloomberg Businessweek before the 2015 season:

There’s a reward for anyone who can find that wheelbarrow.

The Cubs had the fourth-highest payroll in baseball last season, a whopping $189 million. Even if they keep the roster intact from last year, they’ll be above $200 million for 2019. To which I say: So what?

What does that have to do with Cubs fans who have spent and spent and spent over the past century-plus? Tickets, souvenirs, parking, apparel, beer, hotel rooms, bad teams – whatever the Cubs were selling, their fans bought it.

Those paying customers deserve to be served. They’re the people who kept coming to games when the Ricketts family agreed to follow Epstein’s rebuilding plan. They’re the people who sat through prodigious losing for four seasons. They’re the people who watched the Cubs go the cheap route for decades.

RELATED
Bryce Harper in Cubs’ future? Joe Maddon says it’s ‘not going to happen’
• Addison Russell won’t be at Cubs Convention this weekend

Don’t the Cubs owe it to their fan base to do whatever it takes to get better? Hasn’t ownership squeezed every last bit of disposable income out of the team’s fans? How about a little something for the effort?

For those of you out there who are hung up on the luxury tax (and I don’t know why you are): Winners don’t care about the luxury tax. They care about winning. Ask the Red Sox, who won the World Series last season and had to pay $11.9 million for going over the limit.

The luxury tax does indeed get more punitive if a team continues to step over that limit. It involves more money and the possibility of losing draft position.

And, again, so what? What does that have to do with the Cubs, a franchise that was worth almost $3 billion in 2018, a franchise whose worth increased 8 percent from the year before?

They won the 2016 World Series and want another championship. If Harper is the superstar he’s expected to be for the next seven years or so, he’ll help keep the Cubs’ competitive window open a long time.

They had a fine team in 2018, winning 95 games but not coming close to their goal of winning another World Series. They’ve stood pat this offseason, while their National League rivals have spent money in the hopes of getting better. The latest to strike were the Brewers, who signed Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal to a one-year deal worth $18.25 million.

“Improvement from within’’ is the Cubs’ mantra heading into spring training. Maybe it will work. The Cubs still have a lot of talent. But if there isn’t improvement, blame it on Winter Storm Ricketts. And prepare to bundle up in August.