The Devil Is Always In The Details, But Not Absolution

This one’s been making the rounds the past 24 hours or so. Brett over at Bleacher Nation did some awfully deep digging into the CBA to find out what a second year over the luxury tax threshold would cost the Cubs in total. It’s…dense, but worth your time.

If you can’t make your way through it, and again it’s dense, basically not only would the Cubs incur slightly more in penalties straight from the luxury tax, but their revenue sharing totals or rebates and other things would also get clipped. It is an easy path to see where it might cost them an additional $40M-$50M, not just the few million in salary and luxury tax. It’s complicated, but it’s there.

The first reaction you have to reading this…good god is this CBA fucked. Now you see why all work stoppages really end up about being owners vs. other owners, and it’s also galling that owners will happily agree to a system that costs them money as long as that money doesn’t go to labor. But that’s an America-as-a-whole problem, because our country is evil and stupid. We’ll leave that discussion for another time.

You could read this and totally absolve the Cubs of blame here. I wouldn’t expect any team to not “miss” $40M or more. Even if I think the Ricketts family could easily absorb that (and they probably could), that’s a lot of filthy lucre. But it doesn’t absolve them to me.

For one, as transparent as the Cubs were about the rebuild and process , this is the kind of thing they’re close-lipped about. It’s easy to see why, because other owners and Rob Manfred wouldn’t want anyone going out of line and saying what the real reasons are as it would only be ammo for the MLBPA in the next negotiation, and make everyone look bad. You could easily see the union taking that and saying, “Even some of your owners think this deal sucks!” It’s understandable, just not likable. Tom Ricketts is happy to take this bullet because he’s going to make his money anyway.

Second, it’s hard to feel any sympathy when you’re out there admitting that your renovation costs went $500M over budget. Especially when almost all of them aren’t aimed at people like you and me. I’m never going to step foot in a luxury suite. I’m never staying in Hotel Zachary. It’s unlikely I’ll even eat at that Big Star, even though I do love me some Big Star tacos. Hey, the wider concourses and bigger concessions and nicer bathrooms are great, but they feel like lowest on the totem pole when it came to what the Cubs really wanted to get to in remaking the park and neighborhood.

You go $500M over budget, that’s not just cost overruns. That’s incompetence. Which is usually a word that follows Crane Kenney around. And that’s playing a role here, no matter what the CBA rules are.

Third, this CBA isn’t exactly new, and the Cubs had to calculate for this from the way back. They had to know the really good team they were building even in 2014 would get expensive. And while some of the contracts haven’t worked out, it’s not like they weren’t part of the plan. They told Jon Lester before he signed that Jason Heyward was part of their plan too the following year. Maybe they didn’t see Heyward having such a huge free agent year in St. Louis and driving his price up, but it couldn’t have been that different than what they budgeted.

They knew that Arrieta was going to be a free agent after ’17 and need replacing, and it was clear in 2016 that he probably wouldn’t be worth the investment. Does that Darvish contract really look so bad now and was it really so unpredictable? What’s the other outlandish deal out of the blue we’re talking about here? Quintana is cheap. Kimbrel isn’t making that much in comparison. These can’t have put them over the edge.

This all should have been part of the plan. And if it’s the revenue they aren’t getting from Marquee, fuck even a wayward drunk like me could have told them three years ago that having your own network doesn’t work out to YES or NESN-like proportions anymore. Someone probably should have within the organization. But much like the Hawks, they were too busy snorting their own geniusness. That’s just bad planning.

Fourth, might it not be easier to get under the tax next year? One, it should go up a little bit, and second all of Lester, Quintana, Chatwood come off the books. That’s some $48M right there, which obviously gets partially eaten by arbitration raises but still, there would seem to be more wiggle room then if you bite the bullet now. The Cubs are only on dock for $96M for 2021, and even if we allot some $70 M to the arb-eligible players, that’s way south of the tax.

If I keep going, trading Kris Bryant to avert this also robs you of a big chance of postseason revenues. I don’t know how much they are but I know they’re something you’d notice in either direction. And it does so for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t add up. You’re still telling me you have to move your most important player because your luxury suites were too expensive because you can’t get a fucking decent estimate, and that shouldn’t wash with any fan.

Of course, that would still involve not tying yourself in to any huge commitments next season, which would still make for a pretty boring offseason now. And we’re in the midst of that. But it would involve not, y’know, moving along the best player you’re ever going to have and seeing what the next CBA has in store.

It’s a more complicated situation than we realized, but the Cubs are still fucked in the head.


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