The Rundown: Cubs Front Office Pinching Pennies, Red Sox and Nationals Exceed Luxury Tax for ’18, Adam Ottavino Takes Shot at Babe Ruth

Baseball is boring me to death these days, and when I read stories that the Cubs may be too poor to compete for the services of one Daniel Descalso, I have a hard time finding anything I’ve read worth reporting on in this space. I’m not sure if the Cubs are just keeping things close to the vest or that they really do intend to not add to  their payroll this winter.

In addition to Descalso, the Cubs are said to be interested in free agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The aging shortstop was a strong clubhouse leader with the Rockies, but seemed to be a bit of a malcontent with the Blue Jays. And that’s been just about the only Cubs news of the weekend.

Even Jon Heyman has nothing to report. In his latest Inside Baseball notes there is just one entry for the Cubs: “The Cubs rejected overtures for Kyle Schwarber…” Yup, that’s it.

The good news is that Theo Epstein and his front office managed to avoid any luxury taxes implications for 2018.

They’ll not reap the benefits of a similar fate this year without moving a contract or two, perhaps Jason Heyward. I’m beginning to suspect more and more that the team will instead move Ben Zobrist or Jose Quintana just to get under the first tax threshold, let alone trying to avoid going over the second.

I’m not a salary expert — the rest of the staff here knows more about that than I do — but I’m pretty good with math. If the eligible Cubs players get their expected arb raises, the payroll as the team sits now, would be about $208 million I believe. The first threshold is $206 million, but that first figure doesn’t include any bonuses, minor league salaries, etc, which could push the number to $225 million. Zobrist is owed $12.5 million for 2019, Quintana $10.5 million. Moving either of those players for prospects or lower salaried players could give the team complete luxury tax protection.

I know the argument by most fans is that the Cubs can afford any players they want, even Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. It’s only money, some will say, and there’s no way the Cubs aren’t oozing it. But maybe they just don’t want to go over, and we have to accept that whether we agree or not.

There was a concerted effort by most teams to not go over last season, other than the Red Sox and Nationals. Boston just won the World Series and apparently felt the juice was worth the squeeze. Washington is trying to keep their window of contention open, despite possibly losing Harper. And look at the Phillies. They can break the bank to pay Harper and Machado, yet so far they’ve made safer, more pedestrian offseason moves. That’s a nicer way of saying that so far they’ve yet to get too “stupid” with their available payroll space. Of course it’s entirely possible that Philadelphia is just not attractive to the bigger free agents.

Hot Take Alert! I don’t get it. If I’m speaking from my heart, it’s really difficult to picture Tom Ricketts as the bankrupt Monopoly guy. Maybe there’s more to this offseason than meets the eye. Certainly a collective effort by front offices league-wide to stay beneath the luxury tax limits could never be construed as collusion, even though a similar scenario existed last winter, too. There is nothing unethical about following the rules after all (wink-wink, nod-nod).

Cubs News & Notes

  • For those who think Tulowitzki would be a good signing for the Cubs, Beyond the Box Score projects his 2019 season for you. From a financial standpoint, the $545,000 it would cost to sign him is just pocket change.
  • Kris Bryant has been quietly rehabilitating his bum shoulder and appears very determined to return to his old form.
  • Steve Cishek was one of the Cubs’ better free agent acquisitions last winter. Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of his signing.
  • Is Joe Maddon really on a short leash this year?
  • The Cubs wished Tyler Chatwood a Happy Birthday on Instagram. A wise choice was made by somebody to disable comments. The post did get a large number of likes, however. Maybe he’ll turn it around next year.

Monday Stove

The Red Sox, at $239.5 million, and the Nationals, at $205 million, are the only teams that will pay luxury tax for 2018. Boston’s tax bill is $11,951,091 and Washington’s is $2,386,097. Because Boston was more than $40 million over the tax threshold, it became the first team to incur the new penalty put in place ahead of the 2018 season. Their first selection in next June’s amateur draft will be dropped 10 places.

The White Sox traded for first baseman Yonder Alonso and then signed free-agent catcher James McCann. The Alonso trade is noteworthy because he could allow GM Rick Hahn to trade Jose Abreu, and then sign one of Harper or Machado. By the way, Machado is married to Alonso’s sister Yainee.

The Padres have reached an agreement with free-agent second baseman Ian Kinsler on a two-year, $8 million deal, according to multiple reports Friday.

First baseman Matt Adams is returning to the Nationals on a one-year, $4 million deal.

Wilson Ramos has signed with the Mets. The free agent catcher signed a two-year deal worth $19.2 million that pretty much took the Metropolitans out of negotiations for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. With the signing, the Phillies lost out yet again on a player they were targeting, Patrick Corbin being the other.

According to Mark Bowman of, the Braves have not had any relevant discussions in the past five days and “do not plan to have any further talks” about acquiring Realmuto.

The Phillies are reportedly interested in trading for Rangers pitcher Mike Minor.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina elected to have a procedure to remove a growth in his left knee joint that had caused him discomfort at times during the season. The 36-year-old backstop should be fully healed for the start of spring training.

Former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler is working with Barry Bonds in hopes of rebounding from his worst season as a professional. The Cardinals outfielder sounds like he’s reached a career crossroads.

“My whole mindset is if I’m going to learn from the best, I’m going to do everything that he says to do,” said Fowler. “And if I fail at it then I can always look back and say I did it. I did everything. I did everything and it’s not in the cards.”

Should A.J. Pollock sign with another team, an old familiar face could replace him in the Diamondbacks outfield – Matt Szczur.

Orioles GM Mike Elias believes he has “found the ideal leader for the next era of Orioles baseball” in new manager Brandon Hyde.

Extra Innings

I love this quote from free-agent reliever Adam Ottavino, who, by the way, reads an awful lot like Mark DeRosa speaks:

“I had an argument with a coach in Triple-A about Babe Ruth’s effectiveness in today’s game. I said, ‘Babe Ruth, with that swing, swinging that bat, I got him hitting .140 with eight homers.’ He was like, ‘are you nuts? Babe Ruth would hit .370 with 60 homers,’ and I’m like, ‘I would strike Babe Ruth out every time.’ I’m not trying to disrespect him, you know, rest in peace, you know, shout out to Babe Ruth. But, it was a different game, I mean the guy ate hot dogs and drank beer and did whatever he did. It was just a different game.”

Monday Walk Up Song

Billie Jean by Michael Jackson. Jackson broke the color barrier for MTV and brought worldwide appeal to a dance move that has been around – but had been forgotten – since the Cab Calloway era. It took major prodding to get MTV to play Billie Jean. Walter Yetnikoff, president of CBS Records Group, reportedly had to threaten to remove all other CBS videos from MTV before the network agreed to air the Jackson video. Until then, MTV claimed to be an outlet for “strictly rock videos.” It’s number 10 on my list of Top 20 Videos.

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