Earlier this week, the Chicago Cubs traded Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres in exchange for a handful of prospects who won’t be ready for the Majors until 2023. As more rumors circulate that star catcher Willson Contreras is also on the trade block come from the North Side ball club, fan unrest grows. The Cubs seem destined for a rebuild.
Baseball teams in big markets should never have to rebuild.
The Cubs are valued at around $3.2 billion in 2020, per Forbes. In addition, they have an owner who is worth an estimated $900 million. Baseball is not a sport where teams are on an equal playing field financially. There is no salary cap, and there is nothing stopping the “big boys” from outspending their small market counterparts, aside from the luxury tax and whims of their respective owners. The Darvish trade will amount to a salary dump in the present and a bunch of 20-year old and under lottery tickets in the future.
Deals like this have a negative effect for baseball as a whole. The Cubs have taken a team that won a World Series in 2016 and look to be on the brink of self-inflicted mediocrity due to the owner’s bottom line. While it’s understandable for the large market teams to not win every single World Series title, to expect such would be unrealistic. However, to have teams (like the Cubs) openly punt 2021, while the Boston Red Sox trade one of the best players in the game in Mookie Betts to not hit the next luxury tax bracket is downright embarrassing.
The Cubs climbed the mountaintop in 2016 as a result of years of terrible baseball and shrewd moves from a front office promising such a payoff to years of agony. The success was brief and now looks to be punctuated by more years of tanking, or even worse, mediocrity. Tom Ricketts and new general manager Jed Hoyer seemingly assured fans that the Cubs would not be undergoing a teardown.
NBC’s Cubs Insider Gordon Wittenmyer stated “To do it again four years after that championship is an indictment of the organization and a betrayal of a fan base that was charged top dollar during the last tanking process – and gouged to its bottom dollar since the championship“. The Cubs cried poor last offseason and appear to be doing the same again this offseason and to do so is disrespectful to the fans.
Most of the big teams seem to “get it” from a fan perspective. The New York Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992, and the year that they “retooled” in 2016, they yielded an 84-78 record. The most valuable franchise in baseball has stayed that way due to aggressive spending in free agency and top tier player development. The Red Sox have had down years in between championships, but have also won four titles since 2004. The Los Angeles Dodgers are an impending behemoth of the sport, finally capturing their white whale in the 2020 World Series. They are a team that blends small market practices with player development and analytics with the financial might of the New York Yankees. They could afford to ink Mookie Betts to a new megadeal in the midst of the nationwide pandemic.
It is understandable that certain small market teams would have to make moves to try and stay competitive. Former Tampa Bay Rays ace Blake Snell was traded to the Padres two days before Darvish was, but the difference in the two trades are stark. Tampa Bay is near the bottom of the league in revenue and expenditures, while the Cubs are in the top five.
Two conclusions could be made from this and both are damning: The Chicago Cubs don’t see themselves as a big market team. As a team whose value eclipses all but 3 other teams in the league that would be a pretty naïve thought. The other would be that they don’t care about competing. As a fan, hearing that “no teardown is happening” while simultaneously seeing a Cy Young runner-up being given away for pennies on the dollar would have to be frustrating.
The Cubs were never hurting for money. Ricketts in the last few years has bought up property surrounding Wrigley. He has sacrificed any attempt at being competitive in the present with what remains as the fruits of the previous long rebuild to “build towards the future”. He created his own television and streaming network for the Cubs called Marquee. The announcement was met with criticism. He lashed back at the critics, proclaiming “Believe me, you won’t be booing Marquee in one year“. He was right, the criticism is here ahead of schedule.