The Cubs have more financial flexibility than they’ve had in years and an intent to improve their roster to position themselves to compete in 2022.
But that same flexibility could be resourceful this winter not only for the near term, but long term as well.
Past — and maybe future — trade talks illustrate that point.
The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma recently reported the Cubs and Padres discussed a trade before the deadline last summer that would have sent first baseman Eric Hosmer to Chicago.
For the Cubs, adding Hosmer would have been all about using their flexibility to take on a contract San Diego is looking to shed to clear payroll space while also adding a prized prospect to their farm system.
Essentially, the Cubs would have been buying a prospect from the Padres at the expense of Hosmer’s contract. He’s signed through 2025 and has $59 million remaining on his deal, including a $20 million base salary in 2022.
Hosmer, who signed an eight-year deal with the Padres in 2018, has always been considered a good clubhouse presence and sound defensive first baseman; he has four career Gold Gloves.
He hit .284/.342/.439 in seven seasons with the Royals, helping Kansas City win the 2015 World Series. In four seasons with San Diego, he’s slashed .264/.323/.415.
According to the trade scenario reported by The Athletic’s Dennis Lin, the Cubs and Padres’ talks included catcher Luis Campusano — San Diego’s No. 2 overall prospect, per MLB.com.
It’s unclear what other young players, if any, were discussed.
Those talks are consistent with Cubs team president Jed Hoyer adding young talent to the farm system over the last calendar year via trade. The Cubs traded Yu Darvish last winter, and Javy Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in separate deals in July.
The Cubs made a series of signings before MLB’s lockout, headlined by their three-year, $71 million deal with Marcus Stroman. As things stand, their luxury tax payroll estimate for 2022 is $130 million, according to FanGraphs' Roster Resource.
Whether the Cubs and Padres revisit the Hosmer talks, Hoyer is signaling one of the tools he seems willing to use in this round of rebuilding.
The Cubs' first rebuild under the Epstein-Hoyer regime entailed tanking for higher draft picks and higher amateur spending allowances, and signing free agents to short-term deals who could be flipped at the deadline.
This time around, Hoyer has vowed to compete while improving the farm system.