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Jake Arrieta and Jeff Samardzija aren’t Chicago Cubs legends, but they are part of the modern folklore, a beloved part of Cubdom. And the fact that the Cubs are trying out both pitchers to come back now, albeit on the downside of their careers, is a way of reconnecting with fans.
In Chicago, this is seen as a positive, that Cubs owners are listening. The Cubs have been on a selling- and salary-dumping spree. But now they signed free agent outfielder Joc Pederson to a one-year deal and are looking to give fans something they’ll like with Arrieta and Samardzija.
Oh, the Cubs are listening all right. But it’s not a positive. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Major League Baseball is in a labor fight with the players union. It hasn’t gotten ugly yet, but it will. Both sides are ready, and if the 2022 season comes off anywhere near on time, that will be a shocker. But that’s 2022.
At this point, all we’ve seen is baseball owners trying to push back the start of this season by a month for COVID safety reasons, they say, and to cut the season down to 154 games, but still pay the players for the full 162.
What could be better than doing less work for the same pay? The players rejected the offer, and the owners folded. The season will start on time. So what’s going on?
The owners have lost significant ticket revenue because of COVID-19. They feel that if the season could start a little later, then more people will have gotten vaccines and maybe the COVID crisis will start to turn for the better. And fans could come to the games.
The idea that it’s for the health of the players wouldn’t be so laughable if the owners had attached a little caveat to their offer: An expanded field for the playoffs this year. The players see that as a salary-reducing measure. If more teams make the playoffs, then maybe those teams won’t have to win 90 or 95 games to get into the tournament for the World Series. Maybe they only have to shoot for 85-87 wins. And do you really need a $40 million pitcher for that?
The owners and players have an agreement through this season, so the players really didn’t have to give in to anything this year. That’s why the owners folded. But after the season? Look out below. The owners will continue to lose money this year, and they aren’t going to buckle. But again, that’s a worry for 2022.
The owners surely have been hurt financially by the pandemic. Who hasn’t? But in general, I agree with the players that the owners are trying to pull a fast one. They’ve done it to the players so many times in the past, and the past predicts the future.
But in this case, the present predicts it, too. The Cubs are already doing what the players say team owners will do.
The Cubs have gone back to their old playbook, from the days before they were good. Every Cubs fan who has watched the team for more than 10 years has seen this so many times before.
The Cubs traded off the best pitcher in the National League, Yu Darvish and his massive salary, and then they turned and dumped one salary after another.
The biggest, most impressive signing the Cubs have made this offseason was TV announcer Boog Sciambi.
Cubs fans have turned on the Ricketts family, the team owners who were heroes in 2016 when the Cubs finally won the World Series. The Ricketts surely thought the city would love them a little longer than this.
They leveraged a little too much to build up the neighborhood around Wrigley Field and turn the place into a carnival of Cubdom. I call it Rickettsland.
But fans weren’t happy to see the Ricketts completely tear down the core of that World Series team, especially after it just won another division title. It needed tweaking, no doubt.
But the Cubs felt they could do this because the National League Central is so bad that they figured they can win 85 games with a low payroll and get into the expanded playoffs anyway, or at least contend for them all year and keep fans interested.
It’s exactly what the players say will happen. So if they players are going to agree to an expanded playoffs in the future, they’re going to want something in return.,
The Ricketts heard the fans, who are angry. At the same time, the Chicago White Sox have spent their way into a World Series-quality team.
So what did the Cubs do?
Well, the uber-connected David Kaplan, co-host of the Kap and J-hood Morning Show on ESPN100 in Chicago and also Host on NBC Sports Chicago, broke the story that the Ricketts were upping the payroll some.
Great news! Well, not really. Instead of selling everything possible — I wrote recently that they would sell Mordecai “Three-Finger’’ Brown’s missing fingers if they could find them — they signed Pederson.
Pederson is roughly the same player as Kyle Schwarber, who the Cubs dumped. But in Pederson, they signed one highly visible free agent who hit a home run in the World Series. And now they’re looking at fan-favorite, low-pay pitchers who might be washed up. And they signed a splashy new TV guy.
That’s everything the Cubs stood for for decades.
So baseball now gets ready to start in on another season in it’s usual dysfunctional way. Not even a pandemic can change that.