The Chicago Cubs are one of two teams without a guaranteed signing this offseason, and there’s a good chance their caution continues. By all accounts, the Cubs should have a chance to return to National League prominence in 2020, only if they make significant strides internally, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times.
On that front, there are definitely issues to address.
Star shortstop Javier Baez made the point clearly: "The biggest problem to fix? I think everybody was being there for the team but at the same time for their own numbers." Wittenmyer also provides a quote from new manager David Ross, who strikes a similar tone in saying, "I think we’ve got to let everybody talk about us like it use to be — not us talking about other people."
Given the success for the Washington Nationals last season, driven by a persistent narrative of clubhouse camaraderie, coupled with the clear morale questions at the heart of the Astros’ controversy heading into the season, soft skills are having a moment in MLB right now. The Cubs will give the 2020 season another test case. That is, if they can make the clubhouse adjustments the team has been talking about for two seasons now.
As has been the case for most of the offseason, however, the conversation never veers far from the grievance filed by third baseman Kris Bryant, according to The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. The Cubs continue to wait for a resolution.
President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein answered questions about the open case — as he has all offseason — at the outset of the Cubs Convention this weekend. “Our role was to show up when they told us to show up, answer questions truthfully, which we did, and sit back and wait for a decision," Epstein said to Sharma. "There were a lot of documents and a lot of arguments involved in the case. We respect the role of the arbitrator. He’s gotta work through everything methodically until he’s confident in his decision. Then, he can move forward. It’s out of our control; we’re not going to worry about it. Whenever it happens, it happens.”
A ruling would theoretically free the Cubs to take final offers on a Bryant trade and consummate a deal, if there’s one out there to Epstein’s liking. Moving Bryant would get the Cubs under the luxury tax, clearly a benchmark they’d like to clear prior to the 2020 season.
That said, don’t expect the financial floodgates to open. Removing Bryant’s contract ducks the tax, but not enough to create space to sign, say, slugger Nicholas Castellanos. Other than Castellanos, who took a definite liking to Wrigley Field last season, there aren’t a lot of free agents that make sense for the Cubs at this time. Not anymore.
There’s certainly nobody available that comes close to matching Bryant in talent. There are other ways the Cubs could sneak under the tax that would be less harmless to their on-field product in 2020, so moving Bryant only makes sense if the return satisfies Epstein’s asking price.
For now, the waiting game continues on the Northside, much to the chagrin of the fan base. Their inactivity is well-documented, addressed yesterday by MLBTR’s Anthony Franco here, but it remains one of the stories of the offseason. The only imaginable impact move left for the Cubs is dealing Bryant for a young collection of players that can help now and in the future. Whether a team like the Braves or Diamondbacks pony up talent enough for Epstein to pull the trigger is the unknown variable that won’t come to light until after the resolution of the Bryant case.
“I think we’re realistic about it," Epstein told Sharma. "It’s been a few years with some of these guys that we’ve tried to get something done. It hasn’t happened, but that doesn’t mean it can’t in the future. It’s really hard to predict the future. Sometimes you’re only one phone call away from signing a guy to a long-term contract. Sometimes you’re one phone call away from a deal. What’s most likely is the status quo.”