Press Box Wag

Wittenmyer: Are the Chicago freaking Cub$ back?


Hey, they’re the Chicago freaking Cubs!

And that’s finally a description of something they did to compete instead of something they didn’t do.

Say it. Embrace it.

It’s been four years since the Cubs flexed their big-market muscle like this to sign a player such as outfielder Seiya Suzuki — the five-time NPB All-Star with five Gold Gloves and two batting titles at Japanese baseball's highest level.

It’s not $350 million for Carlos Correa or even $170 million to keep Javy Báez.

But after years of spending limits followed by cost-cutting to recoup “biblical” pandemic “losses,” the Ricketts family ownership and Cubs front office are suggesting they might be worthy of being allowed again past the velvet ropes into the VIP section of baseball’s hip elites.

Watch out Yankees and Dodgers?

Let’s not get carried away.

But a heads up might be in order for the Cardinals if the $99.6 million the Cubs are shelling out for Suzuki is any indication — and if the 27-year-old right fielder becomes an impact piece of the “next great Cubs team” the Cubs brass envisions.

Especially considering chairman Tom Ricketts flew to Arizona Monday to join team president Jed Hoyer that night in delivering the winning pitch to Suzuki, who had at least five other teams courting him.

Suzuki’s five-year contract is worth $85 million, but combined with the $14.625 million posting fee, the total package becomes the fifth-highest the Cubs ever have committed to a player on one contract (all free agents unless noted):

  1. Jason Heyward, $184 million (eight years)
  2. Jon Lester, $155 million (six)
  3. Alfonso Soriano, $136 million (eight)
  4. Yu Darvish, $126 million (six)
  5. Seiya Suzuki, $99.625 million (five)
  6. Carlos Zambrano, $91.5 million (five-year extension)

Does it mean the Chicago freaking Cubs are back?

Maybe. We’ll find out when we see this year’s final roster — and more likely when we see the 2024 roster. Maybe we’ll find out if they get serious with Willson Contreras and hammer out a big-time extension for the All-Star catcher and heartbeat of the Cubs’ clubhouse.

Meanwhile, this is a big deal for any team, given the interest in the right-handed hitter with elite on-base skills and some pop — and an inspired move for a big-revenue team, considering only the $17 million annual value of the player’s contract counts against the newly increased luxury-tax thresholds.

Unlike the reality for teams at the bottom of the local revenue standings, the $14.625 million posting fee the Cubs must pay Suzuki’s former team in Japan is relative pocket change — a rounding error on a winning bid for an English Premier League team, say.

Compare it to Kyle Schwarber’s reported four-year deal Wednesday with the Phillies ($19.8 million per year) and it looks even better in the context of the free agent outfield market.

Then consider that the first luxury-tax threshold (the Cubs’ de facto payroll cap in their top-spending years) is $20 million higher this year than last year under the new collective bargaining agreement — and $23 million, $27 million, $31 million and $34 million higher than last year in each of the next four years of the CBA.

Put another way, the Cubs signed the best defensive free agent shortstop (Andrelton Simmons for one year, $4 million) and the best defensive everyday free agent outfielder for a combined $21 million in 2022 payroll — or $1 million more than the CBT rises this year.

It’s probably worth noting again here that Simmons doesn’t move anybody’s needle when it comes to a big-market club trying to win a championship — never mind one with an eye on its future.

But Suzuki is now in right field in that Cubs-brass vision of a “next great Cubs team,” whether that’s closer to a short-term or long-term vision.

In fact, longtime right fielder Jason Heyward happened to be taking reps in center during spring training drills a few hours after the Suzuki news broke.

So maybe the Chicago freaking Cubs are back at baseball’s big-spender table.

Not that the Cubs are going anywhere near any CBT threshold this year, nor should they be expected to after coming into this spring with a payroll deflated significantly by last year’s ugly, intentional roster purge at the trade deadline.

But look ahead at the upcoming CBT increases since last year, and the Suzuki deal is a combined $50 million less than the combined space created under the thresholds during the life of the contract.

Put another way: That leaves a lot of money for a couple of pretty good West London football players — or maybe even some Chicago baseball pitching.

Cubs fans can hope it’s the latter. And maybe that the signing ushers in an era of bona fide efforts by the Cubs to use their advantage in financial strength to win again. This year, next year — and whenever that “next great Cubs team” that Hoyer keeps talking about is actually in the building.

After all, they are the Chicago freaking Cubs, fergawdsake.

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