A few small signings have signaled the Cubs are not dead yet this offseason. However, many fans are wondering where the sudden desire to spend came from, albeit minimal money in the grand scheme of the offseason? There are certainly multiple possibilities.
One thing is a fact. Tom Ricketts reportedly increased the player budget for 2021, freeing up money and providing flexibility for Jed Hoyer to fill holes on the roster. Hoyer addressed one of those holes on Friday, adding outfielder Joc Pederson to play left field.
Soon after the Pederson news, reports surfaced explaining the recent roster moves over the last 36 hours. Per David Kaplan, Ricketts increased the budget recently, giving Jed some resources to utilize.
The real question is: why? Why did Ricketts just magically raise the player budget this late into the offseason after seeing the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, Albert Almora Jr. leave? That is a question that we’re going to attempt to solve now.
Option 1: Fan Pressure
This option seems the most unrealistic, but we’ll address it anyway. The Cubs fan base has been nothing short of angry and disappointed with the Cubs’ direction this offseason. Instead of continuing to build a team that made the postseason five of the last six years, management elected to let go of some beloved players and shed salary.
With questions surrounding starting pitching depth, left field, and second base, fans were uncertain if this team could truly compete in 2021. The North Side faithful has been very vocal on social media and other platforms to ensure the Ricketts family knows how displeased they are. They haven’t been quiet either.
Realistically, the fans aren’t the reason. The Ricketts family knows that fans will still pack the stands at Wrigley Field whenever they are allowed back in. There is no reason to suspect the Cubs would go from consistently selling out to anything less than that. In the end, it wasn’t the fan pressure.
Option 2: Better Information
Amidst a pandemic, it is hard for owners and organizations alike to plan and project financial stability moving forward. It is very much a day-by-day process as medical updates and news flow through to the public. Perhaps the ownership group learned of loosening restrictions in Chicago that may allow fans in the stands, even if at a reduced capacity, sooner than we think.
If that were the case, Tom Ricketts may have realized this team could bite the bullet and add a handful of pieces on fiscally favorable contracts. That would explain the signings of Pederson and Kohl Stewart. It doesn’t stop there. There are numerous reports that the Cubs are still targeting free-agent second baseman Kolten Wong along with a handful of pitchers, including former White Sox hurler Carlos Rodon as well as a few familiar faces in Jeff Samardzija and Jake Arrieta.
The possibility for fan-driven revenue coming sooner than expected could have pushed Tom to allow Jed Hoyer the ability to spend some money. If the Cubs bring in a few more players in the coming days, then this could be the reason.
However, there is a tinfoil-hat take that really makes a lot of sense.
Option 3: Peer Pressure
Ah yes, good old peer pressure. Peer pressure can entice the most strong-willed people to crack and do something they don’t want to do. In this particular case, it’s entirely possible that a division rival sparked the sudden desire to spend.
Shoutout to Cubs Zone for this one. It’s a premise that really gets your wheels spinning. Why would Tom Ricketts let fan favorites like Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester, who offered to take almost no money, walk away before turning around and trying to make more moves? It’s quite odd, and the timing is right in line with a rather significant trade rumor involving the division rival St. Louis Cardinals.
Of course, the St. Louis Cardinals want to reclaim the NL Central as theirs! If the Cardinals manage to land Nolen Arenado, then they will become instant favorites to win the division. That’s not good for business if you’re Tom Ricketts. Tom needs the team to be competitive and vying for a division crown in order to ensure fans want to return to the ballpark and Marquee Sports Network earns the team more money.
If you’re Tom Ricketts, how do you respond to a potential big splash by your arch rival? It’s simple, really. Tom knows he needs to bite the bullet, allow Jed to get some solid players on reasonable contracts, and ensure this team is still in the discussion for the NL Central crown despite cutting serious payroll.
Tom isn’t stupid. He knows without WGN, a poor Cubs team could do more harm to the franchise and Marquee Sports than good. In order to ensure the cash flow from Marquee to the Cubs is satisfactory, the team needs to be the same.
At the end of the day, Cubs fans likely won’t know for certain why Ricketts suddenly gave the green light to spend more on players this offseason. However, it doesn’t prevent us from coming to our own conclusions, and at least speculating the reason.