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Cubs Thu Dec 17 2015
The four Major League free agents the Cubs have signed thus far in 2015 all have one thing in common: Each signed a contract for less guaranteed money than was offered elsewhere. Why would guys pass up literally tens of millions of dollars to play on the North Side? The reasons are numerous, but it comes down to the fact that the Cubs have lost a lot -- a lot.
Everyone is familiar with the numbers. No World Series appearances since 1945. No World Series victories since 1908. But when you tell guys like Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey stats like that, their eyes light up. Why? Because of the chance to be on the field when that final out is made and Pat Hughes screams with pure happiness. They all have more money than they'll likely be able to spend in their lifetimes -- winning a title as a Chicago Cubs player makes you a legend almost beyond comprehension.
Look at how this city has propped up the 1985 Bears. Richard Dent can walk into a room today and own the place. Walter Payton jerseys outnumber all others when you go to Soldier Field. Mike Ditka is still as beloved as he was on January 26, 1986. A World Series trophy at Wrigley Field might burn the city down.
But a century of heartache doesn't lure free agents alone. The recent losing for the Cubs, as part of a grand plan laid out clearly from day one by Theo Epstein, has led to the drafting of core players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Others, like Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta and Addison Russell, have made their way to Wrigley via trades from a front office that didn't have to focus on wins and losses at the time they were acquired. All Epstein and Jed Hoyer cared about was grabbing as much high ceiling talent as they could.
That young core made it to the Majors or right to the cusp, and once it looked like the corner started to turn, Joe Maddon unexpectedly hit the open market and became the instant favorite to lead the Cubs into the future. Combine that with the renovation and updating of a decrepit stadium to what will soon be a state-of-the-art facility -- while still hanging onto the ivy, the scoreboard and the bleachers -- and you've got a package that sells itself.
We've hit that point in professional sports where the money is so outrageous that guys will leave money on the table to pursue a championship dream. Every professional sport has seen it. Tom Brady is the 11th highest paid quarterback in the NFL. LeBron James, Dwanye Wade and Chris Bosh all took less to win rings. Even Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane took slight discounts from what they could've made as free agents to remain teammates and try to keep building on an already impressive dynasty.
The Cubs organization built the foundation, brick by brick. And now they get to reap the rewards. It probably didn't hurt their chances when their rookie left fielder hit a homer seemingly 500 feet above the head of the guy they offered $184 million to. Or when their projected fifth infielder hit a titanic opposite field blast off their now number three pitcher in the deciding game of the NLDS.
Going into the offseason, the Cubs' wish list was an upper echelon starter, an ace defensive center fielder, and a couple of guys who could get on base while maintaining a high contact rate. They got all three, and also re-upped Trevor Cahill, who ended up being their seventh inning reliever in the playoffs.
The Cubs are now armed with arguably the best team in baseball, managed by the best manager, led by the a front office that has not only built the club into a powerhouse at the major league level, but who has also hoarded enough young talent that still ranks among the best in the game.
They say money can't buy happiness. And the Cubs are living proof.