The Cubs have made a relative splash with international free agents, landing Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect (Eloy Jimenez), Venezuela’s top shortstop (Gleyber Torres) and the youngest pitcher in the World Baseball Classic (Jen-Ho Tseng).
That’s where a mid-market franchise is trying to make an impact.
Forget about Jose Abreu, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound slugger who has defected from Cuba and will spark the next bidding war. Insiders say the Cubs won’t go all-in once the 26-year-old first baseman establishes residency and gets cleared by the U.S. government.
The Cubs already locked up Anthony Rizzo. They only have so much financial flexibility and will prioritize pitching and left-handed bats this winter. They will ultimately walk away from the Abreu sweepstakes.
Who knows? Maybe they will all be difference-makers. For now, they’re teenagers. But with a group that includes the Dominican outfielder Jimenez ($2.8 million), Torres ($1.7 million) and Taiwanese right-hander Tseng ($1.625 million), the Cubs know they’re going to blow through their international money and pay the 100 percent tax.
Theo Epstein’s front office made a series of trades to acquire almost $1 million in pool space, increasing their total to $5,520,300 to cover some of the tax bill. They projected an international draft will be years away. They sensed there wouldn’t be as much elite talent in the next signing period, when they won’t be able to sign a player for more than $250,000.
“A million here, a million there, that’s what we can afford,” Epstein said Tuesday. “We’re not in position to throw around hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency. But if we can do it in that market, we might as well try to monopolize it as best we can.”
The Cubs had just taken their annual photo behind the home dugout. Everyone from chairman Tom Ricketts to business operations president Crane Kenney to uniformed personnel to marketing staffers took their seats.
That backdrop summed up the Cubs after another fire sale at the trade deadline. The baseball operations department needs the business side to come through with a renovated Wrigley Field and new televisions deals to juice the major-league payroll.
Otherwise, there will be more missed opportunities, like Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (Los Angeles Dodgers), who are having Cy Young- and Rookie of the Year-level campaigns. The Cubs couldn’t put together winning bids for those Asian pitchers at a time when the new collective bargaining agreement has closed off so many avenues to acquire talent.
In the meantime, the Cubs will have to trust their scouts’ eyes and coach ‘em up in the minor leagues.
No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant and 2011 second-round pick Dan Vogelbach homered in their doubleheader debut on Tuesday with advanced Class-A Daytona. Jorge Soler probably won’t return there this season, needing more time to let the stress fracture in his left leg heal. The expectation is that the $30 million Cuban outfielder will play in the Arizona Fall League.
Playing for 2015 and beyond, the Cubs will be looking for internal solutions, because right now they can’t spend big in free agency.