Cubs Still Trying to Squeeze Every Last Ounce of Value from Free Agency

While the Mets continue to add free agents with zero regard for luxury tax penalties, the Cubs may be even more laser-focused on extracting the most possible value from future signings after splurging on Dansby Swanson. Their seven-year, $177 million deal with the former Brave is now the organization’s second-largest of all time behind the $184 million pact they signed with Jason Heward seven years ago, but it’s still almost 37% below the next-lowest deal for a top shortstop this winter.

Heck, Carlos Correa had agreed to nearly double Swanson’s total with the Giants before San Franciso spotted something in his medicals and backed out. The resultant deal with the Mets is for a mere $315 million over a dozen years and ensures owner Steve Cohen will have a larger luxury tax penalty than much of the league will carry in total payroll. Based on current estimates, the Mets’ tax bill alone will come to over 66% of Swanson’s total contract.

That, my friends, is bonkers.

Despite the relative bargain of Swanson’s deal in comparison to his colleagues, it was still something of a stretch for a team that has preached intelligent spending on shorter deals. My guess is that the Cubs wanted to limit the deal to six years and around $150 million while Swanson’s camp was looking for $200 million over eight years. They ended up somewhere in the middle with a slightly higher AAV and a full no-trade clause making up for that eighth year.

In the meantime, the Cubs have a lot of other lines in the water as they seek to round out the roster with value signings. I suspect Jed Hoyer views free agency like shopping at Kohl’s: Where others tout the purported savings they got, he’s still looking at the bottom line of how much he actually spent. And like it or not, the Cubs don’t appear to be operating with nearly the financial resources of their large-market counterparts even after indicating very clearly that they intended to spend.

I keep going back to the famous line from Arrested Development in which Lucille Bluth has no idea how much a banana costs. It’s entirely possible Crane Kenney was simply taking pressure off of the boss by deflecting any blame to Jed Hoyer, but we can’t dismiss the notion that the Cubs badly misjudged the market.

As such, they’re left trying to cobble together a roster that can actually score some runs by squeezing every drop of value they can from the remaining free agent options. Please forgive me for sort of shifting the fruit analogy, I hope it wasn’t too jarring for you.

The Cubs have been in on first baseman/DH Trey Mancini for a while now and a recent report from Jon Heyman makes it sound very much like Mancini’s agent isn’t happy with the current offer(s). This is the kind of info agents leak to reporters like Heyman in those situations and it tracks with what I theorized earlier regarding Swanson’s negotiations.

Mancini’s deal will obviously be much smaller, so shaving even $2-3 million from his asking price represents a pretty significant gap that needs to be overcome. The same is likely true in their search for a backup catcher, especially after presumed top choice Christian Vazquez chose the Twins despite getting nearly the same offer from the Cubs. The big difference is that the Cubs wanted to add a club option for a fourth year, which decreased the overall value of their bid.

Based on a little informed speculation, I’d say Hoyer’s ongoing pursuits of another player or three are all in the same stage of starting with a lowball offer and then working through counters. Whether or not that works remains to be seen, but the Cubs still need to make a few moves yet. The Correa deal may further complicate matters because the Mets could look to trade a few players now that they have both third and short locked up for a decade.

A lot of folks are excited about the possibility of Brett Baty being made available as a result, but it’s hard to see the Mets being willing to move him in light of their extreme reluctance at the deadline. Carlos Carrasco is on the block as well and they could look to trade James McCann, so maybe there’s a deal to be swung that sees the Cubs or another team taking on salary in exchange for a big prospect like Baty.

That’s really the only way I could see something making sense for the Cubs because McCann is set to earn $12 million in each of the next two years and that’s a lot to pay for his production. Plus, Carrasco is the kind of mid-rotation starter the Cubs already have like eight of on the roster. I suppose there’s a path to something fun here, I just don’t know that these two teams will be able to make it work. The Mets still have a chip on their shoulder from the Pete Crow-Armstrong deal too, so that’s something to consider.

It’s entirely possible I’m wrong about this whole thing, but it seems as though Hoyer is in no hurry to check off those last few items on his list. Think of it like putting items in your Amazon cart and waiting for a price drop. I still think the Cubs will make another move or two prior to the weekend, so keep your eyes peeled.

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