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The Cubs’ 2024 payroll will be based on how they finish this year. Wait, what?

This could have disturbing implications for the team going forward.

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Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

I was going to write a “Three up, three down” article for today but this seems more important.

Last Saturday, this article by Ken Rosenthal and Patrick Mooney appeared in The Athletic. The primary focus was that “sources” had told the reporters that the Cubs weren’t inclined to sign Marcus Stroman before the trade deadline.

And so, most of the reaction to that article focused on that report.

What I want to focus on here is one paragraph, near the top of the article, that is quite troubling to me:

How the team finishes this season will impact the 2024 budget handed to Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and general manager Carter Hawkins, who have signaled a willingness to wait until the last minute before making any major buy-or-sell decisions.

Okay, I can understand the idea of waiting, even though losing six of the last seven have put the Cubs quite a distance out of first place in the N.L. Central. Still, four weeks remain until the trade deadline and the Cubs have been a streaky team this year. They just had an 11-2 run. Who’s to say they might not do that again over the next few weeks?

The paragraph from Rosenthal and Mooney’s article, though, implies that if they don’t — and they do sell off, which would likely result in a worse Cubs team — that the team payroll next year could wind up lower than this years. The way I read it, spending for 2024 is going to be dependent on this year’s finish.

That’s a colossal mistake, in my view. Attendance at Wrigley Field appears destined, unless there’s a sudden playoff run, to be about the same as it was last year, around 2.6 million. The total last year was the smallest in a full season since 1997. The Cubs can’t continue to throw open the doors every day or night and expect that the attraction of Wrigley Field will continue to bring first-timers in. There’s a limit to that. Eventually, the team is going to have to win to keep fans buying tickets and to keep ratings up at Marquee Sports Network. Many people began to shift their discretionary spending away from baseball after the pandemic ended, and a signal from the Cubs that they’re not going to spend to compete in 2024 won’t help bring money back to the North Side.

The Cubs spent quite a bit of money this past offseason, investing more than $300 million total in several free agents, the bulk of it going to Dansby Swanson (who’s been well worth his deal) and Jameson Taillon (who hasn’t).

I’m not necessarily saying the Cubs need to break the bank and (say) sign Shohei Ohtani, though that would certainly make a statement that they DO intend to compete in 2024.

But selling off Marcus Stroman, Cody Bellinger and other players who could be useful to the team going forward isn’t a way to build a contending team, nor send a message to the fanbase that you’re trying. It would be yet another “rebuild that isn’t a rebuild” beginning. If Stroman’s gone, sure, as the article in The Athletic says, the team could try to re-sign him in the offseason, but that’s a rare occurrence with a free agent, even with someone who, like Stroman, says he truly wants to remain a Cub.

Here’s what Jed Hoyer said recently about selling:

“By definition the calendar is going to tell us on Aug. 1 — that is the point,” he said. “Obviously a week ago at this time we were talking about (being on) the buy side. I still want to be there. We just need to start the clock back to .500 again and we need to start that quickly in order to do that.

“I’ve been talking about this for 12 years or whatever. You have to evaluate your team and you also have to evaluate the standings. They are two different evaluations. We need to get close to .500.”

The Cubs stand six games under .500 entering tonight’s action in Milwaukee. Could they get back to .500 over the next four weeks? Yes, especially because this has been a streaky team all year. As a reminder:

March 30-April 21: 12-7
April 22-June 8: 14-29
June 9-24: 11-2
June 25-July 4: 2-7

Time to go on another hot streak.

To wrap up this article, let me circle back to the quote from the Rosenthal and Mooney article. Unless I’m misreading that paragraph — and sure, that’s possible — the Cubs could go into another extended period of rebuild unless they go on said hot streak over the next four weeks. And this team should not be in constant rebuild. At a certain point, they need to build further on what they already have.

As always, we await developments.


The Cubs should...

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    ... start trading players now. They have no chance of contending
    (128 votes)
  • 25%
    ... should wait a couple more weeks until selling off, to see if they can get closer to the division lead
    (169 votes)
  • 20%
    ... should wait all the way till August 1 to decide whether to sell
    (135 votes)
  • 29%
    ... should be buyers so they can contend this year
    (192 votes)
  • 4%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (30 votes)
654 votes total Vote Now