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OK Cubs, time to put on your big boy pants
The post lockout free agent frenzy is an opportunity for smart teams, and the Cubs
Hey, the lockout’s over! After a frustrating Wednesday when it seemed like the players and owners were going to blow an entire deal over the owner’s insistence that the players’ counterproposal to negotiate an international draft came just a few minutes too late, cooler heads prevailed on Thursday. In the morning we got word that the two sides had met again and worked out a deal to form a committee to work up a plan for an international draft and if no agreement could be reached then the qualifying offer for new free agents would remain in the CBA.
And then the owners committed to drawing up their most recent offer into a formal agreement and delivering it to the players.
Then we found out the players were actually going to vote on it.
At that point, it was a foregone conclusion that the players would approve the deal.
Because the owners and the MLBPA both knew that any of the most recent owner offers would get a majority of player support for three pretty clear reasons:
Nearly 25% of the MLBPA membership are currently free agents and they are shitting themselves worrying that they’ll be able to find jobs when free agency restarts, and the longer they go without jobs the easier it is for teams to convince themselves to just stick with their own prospects instead of paying them more to take those jobs. An overwhelming number of them were sure to vote yes.
More than 60% of players are on league minimum deals and the owners finally wised up and proposed a sizeable increase in the minimum salary, and those guys wanted their raises.
The offer the owners made didn’t have everything in it that the players wanted, but that’s not how this works. Neither side gets everything, but the players were finally able to get increases to the CBT thresholds, an arbitration bonus pool, large increases in the minimum salary and new revenue for them from the expanded playoffs, and advertising on helmets and jersey. Yes, those last three things are all bad. But they are the kind of bad that cuts checks to the players.
We learned that the process that the players approve a deal is weird. There are 1,200 members of the MLBPA and unlike the way the NFLPA does it, they do not all cast one vote and the majority rules. Instead they have their own half-assed electoral college that consists of the 30 teams plus the eight members of the executive committee. So instead of needing 601 votes to approve the CBA you needed some combination of teams plus executive committee members that added up to 20. The executive committee guys like Max Scherzer, Francisco Lindor, Andrew Miller, etc. all were pissed off about the mean things the owners said to them (which I get) and they all voted against the proposal, which was not great. Though, I’m nearly certain they knew that enough teams would approve it so they could basically vote no as a protest.
And, they did. Twenty-six of the 30 teams voted to approve the new deal with only the Yankees, Mets, Astros and, of fucking course—the Cardinals voting no. The Yankees and Mets players voted against it because they wanted even higher CBT thresholds. In fact, the new fourth level was created just because the other owners are so scared of how Mets’ owner Steve Cohen can spend them into the ground. The Astros voted against it because they’re still a bunch of cheating assholes, and the Cardinals? Who gives a shit why they did. Who gives a shit why they do anything?
Actually, I’m pretty sure the Cardinals players hoped to kill the deal and keep the lockout going to try to avoid the awfulness that will be the Yadi Molina-Adam Wainwright farewell tour. I can’t really blame them for that.
With the deal finally agreed to, the league reopened for business at 5 p.m. Central time and miraculously, the photos of actual players reappeared on MLB team websites and on MLB Network. Players can return to team facilities today, and spring training officially begins on Sunday. Free agency has restarted, though nobody announced any deals right away, mostly to avoid tampering charges because, come on, we know teams and agents have been talking all along, they just can’t admit it.
Jon Paul Morosi keeps trying to attach the Cubs to Carlos Correa, which would be great, but it’s really hard to believe. It’s a move the Cubs should make. Why splurge on Marcus Stroman right before the lockout on a short deal (two years with an option) if you don’t intend to try to compete right away? And why not commit long term to one of the best players on the planet since you have well more than a HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS between you and the lowest CBT threshold.
The Cubs will keep trying to sell us on all their hot young prospects, but that shouldn’t stop them from going after Correa. The Cubs current roster is bad. They don’t have an outfield, they have three big question marks on the infield (and one tiny little one in Nick Madrigal) and they sure seem like they’d love to trade their only proven position player—catcher Willson Contreras—for no fucking good reason.
Even if the Cubs don’t shop at the high end (which they should) the shortened, frenzied free agent period should be a perfect opportunity to find several useful pieces at a discount. Nobody wants to the be the last players without a chair when the music stops.
A lot of things broke well for the Cubs in these CBA negotiations, though they aren’t good for those of us who want them to act like the big market team they are. The expanded playoffs create an easier path to the postseason. The draft lottery means you can halfheartedly tank and have a shot at the top pick (though big market teams like the Cubs can’t be in the lottery in consecutive seasons) and you would think the new avenues for young players to get paid will affect their four small-market division rivals more than them. For example, Brewers’ ace Corbin Burnes will pitch on a minimum contract, but because he won the Cy Young last year his salary would jump by $2.5 million. For teams like Milwaukee and the Pirates who want to have as many minimum salary guys as possible, their plans can be foiled by those young players actually being good.
A smart plan for the Cubs would be to sign one big ticket player this year. (and it should be Correa since as we’ve discussed before, the shortstop market isn’t good the next two years) and then load up on as many depth pieces as possible. Though, with the DH in the NL now, also bringing back Nick Castellanos wouldn’t hurt.
Now, if they were to act like a real big league team, they would keep a very close eye on the free agency of a certain, versatile, still young, power hitting former Rookie of the Year and MVP. Scott Boras is likely going to slow play Kris Bryant’s free agency and wait for one team to be left sitting on a pile of money they just have to spend. But what if it comes down to Seattke and Toronto? Bryant might not want to go either place. The Cubs could just scoot in and bring him back.
It’s a smart strategy, but, of course, not one they are likely to follow.
But whatever they do, I’ll fire off special editions of the Pointless Exercise newsletter to cover all of their signings and trades as they, like every other team, try to frantically scrape together a roster on the fly.
This will be fun. And exasperating. And man have we missed it.
Khalil Mack deserved better that what he got in his four years with the Bears. The trade that brought him from the Raiders came with a very nice contract extension so he can’t cry poor, but the rest of it was frustrating. The trade was another huge miscalculation by now deposed general manager Ryan Pace. And, it was another part of the chain of misfortune that started when he traded up for Mitch Trubisky.
Trading for Mack before the 2018 season was a move the Bears made because they thought they had a young quarterback that was going to lead them to repeated playoff appearances and cracks at the Super Bowl. When you have a stud QB on a rookie deal you can make a move like trading two number ones for a stud edge rusher like Mack.
But, as we know, Mitch was bad, and after a fun first season when the Bears won 12 games, largely because of Mack and the defense, it all fell apart. But, Mitch wasn’t good enough, and the draft picks foolishly cast away for him and Khalil and to trade up for Leonard Floyd and David Montgomery and Anthony Miller and Cole Kmet left the Bears without enough inexpensive, quality depth to maintain a viable roster. And so they had to package more draft picks to take another whack at a young QB in Justin Fields.
And so when Ryan Poles took over as GM he was left with a decent amount of cap room but way too many holes to fill and only five draft picks in 2022.
Mack was so good in 2018, but was then less impactful in 2019 without Vic Fangio scheming the defense (and without Brandon Staley who will now be his head coach), and then the Bears paid to bring Robert Quinn in to take the pressure (and double teams) off of Mack in 2020 but Quinn was hurt most of the season. Last year, it was Mack’s turn to be injured.
Because Mack is still potentially a game wrecking player the Bears were able to find a team in the Chargers who would take on his entire contract. So while the Bears only got two draft picks for him (a 2022 second and sixth) they need those picks and they’ll get a little salary relief this year ($6 million) and a LOT going forward. The Bears are currently projected to be $121 million under the cap next year. That’s a lot. And they’ll need it to fill a lot of holes on the roster. And, they can actually use some of that to create even more room for this year’s free agent class if they restructure some current deals.
Mack had to be happy to be sent to LA to play for the Chargers. He’ll line up opposite Joey Bosa, and he’ll be in LA and playing on a field that doesn’t come up in clumps anytime anybody steps on it.
He was a very good player that was very impactful for one season, and then was mostly wasted the rest of the time. But hey, at least he convinced the Bears to carry his little brother on the practice squad (and in a few games) for a couple of years. That’s something.
The move us the kind of clear eyed, ruthless maneuver it’s going to take to start the long process of fixing the Bears’ roster. It’s a sign that Poles knows what to do and how to do it.
We’ve had a couple of good podcasts this week and more are on the way. But make sure you check out the latest edition of Remember This Crap. We start with a quick discussion of the end of the lockout and then we end up with the glorious mess of Mike Quade’s 2011 Cubs.
And check out the pod from earlier this week where I talk with Kevin Kaduk about the launch of CHGO and have a very fun chat with Jon Greenberg of The Athletic about Chuggo and the Cubs and Kap and Lou Piniella wearing shorts and all kinds of other great stuff.
And, Substack has new app that makes it even more convenient to read this stuff. So you can check that out if you have an iPhone or iPad.