Cubs’ Biz Ops Side Paints Jed Hoyer into Spend-or-Else Corner

Imagine you’re trying to freshen up your home by painting the walls and you’re working on a corner section, humming along to the music in your earbuds. Then you turn to load up your roller only to find that someone has come along and painted the entire floor behind you, forcing you to either stand there and let it dry or make a trail of footprints you’ll have to eventually work back around.

Jed Hoyer is currently holding that roller, paint dribbling down onto his hand, and watching as a pair of expensive loafers disappear through the door on the opposite side of the room. He may have even heard faint strains of Pink Floyd being whistled happily just before they were drowned out by the sound of a bus engine chugging to life.

During an appearance on 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Show Friday morning, Crane Kenney noted that it’s still early in the offseason and there are several opportunities to add talent. Then the team’s president of business operations repeated with conviction the claim that the front office has plenty of room in the budget after rolling funds over from last year.

“The business is still healthy, and that left Jed with a lot of money to spend this year – like last year, where he didn’t spend all the money he had last year because he didn’t see transactions that made sense to him,” Kenny explained. “I hope there are transactions that make sense to us this year to spend all the money that he has. He’s gotten off to a good start.

“The goal is always the same – it’s to win another championship. If a player can help us get closer to that goal, I think you’re going to see him be very aggressive.”

That’s pretty clear confirmation of David Kaplan’s earlier tweet that ownership had given Hoyer the green light to spend what it will take to make the Cubs a winner right away. Kaplan got his information from someone in the organization and the quotes above do nothing to shake the belief that Kenney was the source. Many felt the team’s business boss was behind Kap’s refuted report that Kris Bryant turned down an extension offer “well north of $200 million,” a narrative that dogged Bryant for the rest of his Cubs career and turned many fans against him.

That’s all water over the dam, but now Hoyer might be damned as all the misplaced ire and a lot more that might be perfectly justified is flowing in his direction. Tom Ricketts has played the role of unwitting villain in the time since the Cubs won the World Series, claiming biblical losses and pursuing an English soccer club while seemingly remaining oblivious to why fans would be upset about such things. But now the volume of displeasure has grown to the point where even those at the highest levels of the ivory tower can hear it clearly, hence the change of tune on spending.

Whether Hoyer likes it or not, and it’s easy to believe the idea of committing huge money to a single player is not his jam, he’s going to have to spend his way out of this. It was one thing when the ownership “mandate” was just a media report, even one that had been confirmed by multiple outlets, but a club executive going on the record like this puts the front office in a position to spend or else.

“There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t be a playoff team this year,” Kenney said.

That’s an understandably difficult place to be under normal circumstances, then you consider the extent to which the market has exploded at the top end. Even if Xander Bogaerts is an outlier, we’re seeing contracts with both longer terms and higher AAV than even the most optimistic prognosticators could have imagined. The Mets are going to carry a payroll well north of $300 million, the Padres have around $1 billion committed to infielders, and the Phillies just keep signing huge deals year after year.

The Cubs absolutely can spend and should spend because they’re in a huge market and they’re one of the league’s flagship franchises. Now, however, it looks like Hoyer is going to have to spend at the risk of bearing the entirety of the blame for the failure to make a big splash. The other wrinkle here is that so many big names have already signed that the opportunity to go big has been narrowed.

Does that mean biting the bullet and giving Carlos Correa $360-400 million over 12 years? As wild as that sounds given the team’s recent behavior and oft-stated aversion to long-term deals, there may actually be a little unconventional wisdom in pushing money out over a long period of time. While most folks immediately freak out at the idea of paying a 40-year-old $30 million, you have to think about how luxury tax levels will change over what would be two more collective bargaining agreements.

The bigger point is that it doesn’t make much sense to punt on the opportunity to be as competitive as possible for the next 5-6 years just because you’re worried about what could happen over the subsequent 5-6 years. Go get the players you need to win now and sort everything else out afterward. The Cubs’ fatal flaw under Theo Epstein was that they were too focused on what would happen down the road to recognize the issues they needed to fix in the present.

Whether that blame lies more with the front office’s lack of foresight or ownership’s decision to restrict the budget is neither here nor there, though it’s a mix of both. The organization has already made huge strides in terms of player evaluation and development, now it’s a matter of spending again to ensure that pipeline doesn’t bear the sole responsibility for supplying the Cubs with talent. Then it’s a matter of continuing to spend while further strengthening the development infrastructure.

I’d advise them to look at the Dodgers as an example, but it’s difficult to make that comparison when one team gets around $330 million from its TV deal and the other is getting less than a third of that. That’s the difference in needing a Brinks truck or a wheelbarrow, but the latter is all Kenney promised anyway. It appears as though he’s finally delivering on that promise, or at least that’s what he’s putting out there, now it’s up to Hoyer to make it count.

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