Cubs escape the only dangers
With the most-anticipated Cubs season in decades on the immediate horizon, Kris Bryant and Theo Epstein spent the last week dealing with sharks.
Third baseman Bryant, the Cubs’ rookie of the year, was swimming with real sharks in Hawaii, protected in a steel cage. Epstein, the Cubs’ president, was busy negotiating Jake Arrieta’s salary with Scott Boras, a sharklike agent who has been known to eat baseball executives for lunch.
Fortunately for Cubs fans, both emerged unscathed. Bryant got some cool video for his Instagram account, while Epstein avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year, $10.7 million salary for Arrieta, the largest ever for a pitcher with four years of service time.
Now that the vacations are winding down for players and the paperwork basically is done for the front office, it’s time to find out whether the Cubs can ride the momentum of 2015 to the promised land.
Pitchers and catchers report to Cubs camp in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 19. Adventureland, here we come.
The Arrieta signing, revealed late Friday night, caps a successful offseason for the Cubs, who will head into 2016 as the team to beat in the National League. The free-agent signings of Jason Heyward and John Lackey strengthened the club and weakened the Cardinals, while the addition of Ben Zobrist gives manager Joe Maddon more options in his lineup. Certainly the Cubs can make another move before the start of the season, but if they don’t, no one will mind.
Boras, who called out the Cubs for leaving Bryant in the minors last spring after Bryant showed he was major league-ready during Cactus League play, won this battle with the Cubs.
Arrieta, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, will get $450,000 above the midpoint after asking for $13 million in arbitration while Epstein countered with $7.55 million. Round 2 comes next winter in Arrieta’s final year of arbitration before the real showdown begins if Boras takes him to free agency in 2017.
By then, Boras likely will have voluminous stats to recite to Epstein, who could put down his iPhone, make a little snack and come back to listen to the soliloquy without Boras even knowing he was gone.
In the meantime, Epstein just needs Arrieta to do what Arrieta does best. If that happens, the Cubs should be in good shape.
While a report recently surfaced on ESPN.com that baseball owners are concerned over teams tanking seasons to facilitate rebuilding, it’s too late for them to do anything about the Cubs’ plan. Joe Mather, Jason Berken, Ian Stewart and Chris Volstad are long gone, but their lack of contributions during the Cubs’ 101-loss 2012 helped grease the skids to the drafting of Bryant with the No. 2 pick of the 2013 draft, and the rebuild really started there.
MLB can’t penalize the Cubs retroactively for outsmarting their peers to get to this point. The Dodgers outspent everyone the last three years and missed the World Series anyway, so who’s to say which team had the best game plan?
Now the Cubs’ payroll projects to about $145 million after players with fewer than three years of service time are signed, a 56 percent increase over the $93 million of 2014. The Cubs have put their money where their mouth is.