Phil Rogers reported this morning that the Cubs may well continue spending in 2013 international free agency, ignoring imposed spending limits in continued pursuit of the best remaining players. I have my doubts, but let's assume for the moment it's true. Is this a stroke of genius by the front office in exploiting available loopholes, or something else? (Spoiler Alert: I'm going with "B"). The Cubs currently having $2.18 million remaining in their pool that can be spent without restricting their pursuit of IFAs next season, but are reportedly near a deal with top prospect Eloy Jimenez worth $2.8 million. At the moment, the cap definitely seems to be an issue. Here are the penalties for exceeding their pool space:
• 0-5 percent over pool: 75 percent tax on the pool overage.
• 5-10 percent over pool: 75 percent tax on the pool overage. Team won’t be allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 during the 2014-15 signing period.
• 10-15 percent over pool: 100 percent tax on the pool overage. Team won’t be allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 during the 2014-15 signing period.
• 15 percent or more over pool: 100 percent tax on the pool overage. Team won’t be allowed to sign a player for more than $250,000 during the 2014-15 signing period.
If the Cubs do go deep into the penalty, I think there are only two explanations, and neither of them are particularly flattering to the front office.
1. The Cubs intended to stay under their cap limits, but the market for acquiring pool space proved to be too expensive.
This, is the most likely scenario in my opinion. The Cubs made a flurry of moves on July 2nd in which the underlying goal seemed to be the acquisition of more space. These are not the actions of a team that intends to blow through their spending limits. As of yet, they haven't acquired enough space to sign all of their intended targets, but they may not be finished yet. A leak to a few beat reporters that gets picked up by mlbtraderumors could be specifically designed to convince potential trading partners that they really don't need the space, they are just trying to save a few dollars on the whole.
Quoth noted liberal whackjob scientist Shawn D. Goldman:
Isn’t the simplest theory here that the Rogers piece was based on a leak to get the Cubs more leverage in their ongoing trade negotiations? “No, we don’t really care about going over the limit. We’re going to do that anyways. We just want to limit the amount we go over by.”
If this is the case, and they fail to acquire enough space, I don't find it to be particularly damning of the front office. The market moves, no one can predict it perfectly. It's definitely a miscalculation, though, and the Marmol trade doesn't look great in retrospect (not that it looked great at the time).
Moreover, if they try and fail to gain enough space, they should step up pursuit of the top remaining players. Fifteen percent is the max possible penalty level, and exceeding it wouldn't incur any additional restrictions.
2. The Cubs intended to go over all along. The trades on July 2nd were just to save a few dollars along the way.
This alternative is much worse from the perspective of Cub fans. You see, the Thoyer regime has always been very deliberate when it comes to making trades. Rather than moving quickly, dumping payroll, and acquiring what prospects they can, they hold out and fight for the best possible return. The rumor season seems to stretch out indefinitely for the Cubs. Interviews are filled with cliches about "impact talent" and improving their core. If the Cubs always intended to go over their IFA budget this year, than the trades of July 2nd signal a stark departure from that philosophy. Rather than waiting and maximizing their return in terms of prospects, they moved quickly with the aim of saving…. pinky to mouth…. $1.5 million dollars*. If the front office is that concerned about about a few million dollars, than all of us in the blogosphere need to reevaluate the team's financial situation. I'm betting against that, though. I think they will try to get under their cap until it becomes clear that they cannot.
*Assuming 100% overage tax of $963k in net slot money returns as well as approximately $500k payroll savings from the Carlos Marmol trade.