This off-season has certainly not been as dormant as last off-season, when top free agents went unsigned well into the new year. By January 1 of this year, the biggest names have come off the board with Gerrit Cole signing with the Yankees, Anthony Rendon signing with the Angels, and Stephen Strasburg returning to the Nationals.
But it hasn’t just been the big market teams spending money this winter. ESPN’s Jeff Passan listed how much teams have spent this off-season, and even mid-sized revenue clubs like the White Sox, Blue Jays, and reds are spending a lot of money this winter in an effort to improve.
Free agent spending leaders this winter, in which teams have guaranteed just shy of $2 billion:— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 6, 2020
White Sox: $195.5M
Blue Jays: $108M
Next highest: Rangers, $49.5M
But that kind of spending that is far from being widespread all over the league. There are still several clubs still in austerity mode. Some, like the Royals and Orioles, are in a rebuild. Others, like the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs, are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold.
This has led to a weird situation where the Royals have out-spent the Cubs this off-season. By signing third baseman Maikel Franco to a one-year deal just under $3 million, and re-signing Jesse Hahn to a one-year deal worth $600,000 in base pay, the Royals have signed two more MLB free agents than the number of free agents the Cubs have - zero.
Free agent spending* stragglers this winter:— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 6, 2020
Red Sox: $9M
* Counts major league contracts, not split deals
Of course, the Cubs are coming from a much different payroll situation than the Royals. The Cubs spent about $211 million last year, one of three teams to exceed the $206 million luxury tax threshold. This year’s threshold is $208 million, and with the Cubs anticipating hefty arbitration raises for Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber, they’re already looking at a projected $220 million payroll before making any moves.
That’s why the Cubs are exploring trading Bryant. If they exceed the luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive year, the tax on any payroll overage goes up from 20 percent to 30 percent.
Even with their two modest free agent signings, the Royals have about $69 million in salary committed to next year, lower than all but four other clubs. Even when you factor in pre-arbitration players, they are looking at a projected payroll of just over $80 million.
It sure has been a quiet off-season here in Kansas City, but at least it hasn’t been as quiet as it has been for Cubs fans.