Rozner: Cubs just fine with sluggish FA market

Updated 1/13/2018 6:20 PM
  • Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs haven't been very active so far in free agency, but the market isn't overflowing with big names this year.

    Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs haven't been very active so far in free agency, but the market isn't overflowing with big names this year. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Ask a few agents, and they will quickly call it collusion.

Ask a few general managers, and they will just as quickly suggest the market was long overdue for a correction in the market for 30-year-old free agents with a questionable shelf life.

Ask the more reasonable among both, and they will absolutely point to the current CBA, which punishes teams for stupidity.

The Cubs Convention that kicked off Friday night is usually the unofficial end to winter for baseball fans and the beginning of spring training, even with camp a month away.

But free agency is still in full effect, such as it is, and the winter feels far from over.

The biggest names in a mediocre free-agent class are still available and there's been so little movement that Cubs fans were holding their breath and hoping for a huge announcement at the opening ceremonies.

It didn't happen -- and it's not because of collusion.

It's because of the "Competitive Balance Tax." If you want to think of the CBT as a salary cap that the players association fought against for more than four decades, you wouldn't be entirely wrong.

It's a soft cap and it's working like a hard cap this winter, just the way commissioner Rob Manfred and his small-market owners hoped it would work.

The threshold for the tax is $197 million in 2018, up marginally from the last CBA, while salaries and revenues have grown significantly.

Teams like the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees are desperate to stay under the tax this year so they can be ready for the monster class that hits free agency next winter.

It's possible that the 2018 market could include Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw (opt-out), Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, A.J. Pollock and Cody Allen, not to mention Andrew Miller, Josh Donaldson, Craig Kimbrel, Daniel Murphy, Andrew McCutchen and David Price (opt-out).

Teams want to stay under the tax this year so they don't get into repeater territory before they line up for the chance to sign a franchise player, and their public stance against getting into the tax is viewed by some agents as an informal agreement.

Mostly, agents are upset they can't use big-market clubs for leverage in current negotiations. GMs say simply that they are saving important dollars for a rainy, bomb-cyclone day.

By staying under the threshold, teams reset their current tax rate back to 20 percent of the future overage.

It's 30 percent in the second year and 50 percent in the third year. Depending on how much they go over the limit, the tax could be as high as 90 percent, and there can also be draft pick penalties.

Considering the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees already think they're good enough to reach the World Series, and given the possible tax penalties, it's actually quite logical that they manage this winter conservatively.

In the Cubs' case, they would love to add another veteran starter -- like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish -- if the price were right, and almost certainly want more bullpen help beyond the arms they've already added.

They will wait to see if a pitcher falls into their laps, but as has been the case since he arrived, Theo Epstein has more in mind than the roster as it stands today.

He will be ready when the taxman cometh.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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