Cubs Explore Shortstop Market But Will They Pay Up To Land One?

It’s one thing to act like you want to add a top shortstop, and another to do it again. We’re going to find out over the next month or so if the Cubs of the post-Theo Epstein era can do more than grow their fan base.

While Jed Hoyer has said little publicly about the rebuilding team’s interest in adding one of the monster shortstops on the free-agent market — Trey Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson — he and his ownership group are doing little to stem the growing speculation. . Tom Ricketts should enjoy the positive buzz after the frenzy that followed the sales of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber, which also prompted the team to lower season-ticket prices.

The Cubs have been heavily linked with a pursuit of Correa, the 28-year-old who opted out of his deal in Minnesota after a solid 2022 season. They certainly have plenty of payroll flexibility to land him or one of the others, as their running payroll totals just $123.4 million. That’s under $100 million if you don’t include the $26 million they’ll pay Jason Heyward and David Botte, who have been waived.

But how realistic is it for them to compete against teams like the Dodgers, Braves, Giants, Red Sox, Angels, Mariners and Phillies? Can they move to nab a nine-figure contract player who is in demand elsewhere?

The answer is yes, but only if they are willing to step up to the competition.

While Epstein was building his championship team at Wrigley Field, with the help of Joe Maddon and the romantic story of the end of the 1908 drought, the Cubs became a destination team for players. But the first free agent deal Epstein signed involved a lot of what Texas writer Dan Jenkins would call “money-whipping.”

Jon Lester signed for $155 million over six years (there were reports that he turned down more from San Francisco to reunite with Epstein). Hayward signed an eight-year, $184 million deal a year later. These were top-of-the-market transactions, and there’s no reason to believe that signing Turner, Correa, Bogaerts and Swanson would be any easier.

There are currently four shortstops with at least 10-year deals (Francisco Lindor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Corey Seager and Vander Franco) and five with contracts that pay at least $175 million (add Marcus Semien to the list, even if Texas moved him. Second base until). Writing for The Athletic, former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden estimated that the contracts for Correa, Turner, Bogaerts and Swanson would total 31 years and $962 million.

Bowden’s breakdown is as follows: Korea, 10 years, $345 million; Turner, eight years, $264 million; Bogaerts, seven years, $196 million and Swanson, six years, $154 million.

This is the deep end of the pool, and you wonder if the Ricketts family still wants to swim there.

How do you match a high-end free agent signing in the cap space with the decision to politely allow Willson Contreras — ranked as the ninth-best catcher by fWAR (3.3) — to leave as a free agent when you don’t have a long-term replacement?

The Cubs picked up some low-hanging fruit last off-season, signing Marcus Stroman and Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki to free-agent deals. They helped the Cubs go 74-88, a three-game improvement in a season that included a collapse after the trades of Rizzo, Bryant and Baez. Hoyer says the team is at a point where it can spend wisely to get better.

From Hoyer’s end-of-season news conference: “To me, smart spending involves making decisions that make sense for the 2023 season but don’t hinder what we’re trying to build. The nature of baseball contracts is challenging in that way. We’ve all seen certain length contracts that can really bring down a team. It’s easy to talk about the player you’re acquiring, but if that contract gets in the way of the ultimate goal here, which is to create something special and durable and lasting, then it wasn’t a good deal.

Signing Correa, Turner, Bogaerts or Swanson would immediately boost the Cubs’ credibility. But will Ricketts and Hoyer go into full “money whip” mode to do just that?

There’s no reason it can’t happen but there’s little to suggest it will.

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