The Chicago Cubs have been playing things close to the vest this offseason, but according to a new report, they could be biding their time before making a big move.
According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs did indeed meet with free agent superstar Bryce Harper during the recent Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, and Cubs President Theo Epstein urged Harper and his agent Scott Boras not to accept another offer before the team had a chance to clear payroll and get approval from ownership.
Harper is one of the most highly sought after free agents in history, and his contract could eclipse records when he finally signs with a team. The 26-year-old former MVP hit 34 home runs and drove in 100 RBI in 550 at-bats last season, and he would be an instant upgrade to an offense that badly faltered down the stretch last season.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers made a big trade to clear salary, sending Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to the Cincinnati Reds, but they are more likely to go after right-handed hitting or pitching with the extra cash, meaning that they aren’t necessarily positioning themselves for a Harper run.
The Cubs have been reportedly limited on the free agent market by the high salaries already on their roster, as ownership is hesitant to blow past the luxury tax threshold next season. Salary increases for Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are already on the horizon, and the team exercised the option on the contract of pitcher Cole Hamels as well, potentially putting a limit on the spending they will be able to do.
Even with that in mind, the team could still free some salary by moving some veteran pieces, including outfielder Jason Heyward and infielder Ben Zobrist. Zobrist will be a free agent at the end of this season, making him a potential piece for contenders who miss out on DJ LeMahieu, but Heyward’s deal will be trickier, as he’s owed plenty of cash over the final five seasons of his contract.