Yesterday morning, the news broke that free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos had agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds.
The former Detroit Tiger was traded to the Chicago Cubs on deadline day last season and absolutely raked. He recorded 16 homers, 21 doubles, and a 1.002 OPS in just 51 games for the Cubs in 2019. Castellanos provided a desperately needed spark for the North Siders, through both his off-the-charts offensive production and his infectious desire to win ballgames.
Even though the Cubs flamed out as the season reached its end, and missed the postseason for the first time since 2014, Castellanos quickly became a beloved figure by the Cubs’ players and fans alike.
To be quite blunt, in the context of the club’s current state, it is simply inexcusable that the Cubs did not bring Castellanos back. The front office’s failure to act was even more indefensible because the Cubs permitted him to land with a much-improved division rival in the Reds. To make matters even worse, it never appeared that the Cubs even made a serious effort to bring back the stud outfielder.
The Cubs allowed Castellanos to move on despite the fact that that he so very clearly would have loved to come back to Chicago after his brief stint with the club.
In neglecting to provide at least an attempt to retain Castellanos, the Cubs have pushed their fanbase to a boiling point of anger and frustration. Members of the Ricketts family, who own the club, have turned their backs on Cubs’ faithful. Ownership has publicly stated their intentions to lower the Cubs’ payroll below the luxury tax, and have at times had the nerve to cry poor when asked to spend more on their club.
This situation has become the Cubs’ reality, even with the brand-new Marquee Network debuting this season. The new television channel will be devoted exclusively to all things related to the Cubs but will cost fans a sizable fee as a result. Further, the network has yet to reach a deal with Comcast, potentially leaving nearly half of Chicago in the dark when it comes to viewing Cubs baseball.
The fact of the matter is that the new Marquee Network will stream even more profit directly into the pockets of the Ricketts family. It’s not like they need it, either; they are said to be worth at least $4.5 billion as a group.
In the golden years of this Cubs renaissance, the Ricketts led fans to believe that they were fully committed to pouring their resources into the club to the best of their ability. After two seasons of heartbreaking disappointment, they have fully alienated their fanbase.
Following a bitter and swift conclusion to the 2018 season, team president Theo Epstein claimed that substantial changes were coming for the club.
They never did.
More than a year later, Epstein’s words have proven to have been largely empty. The Cubs have been complacent as their foundation of success has cracked and lost nearly all of its previous stability. However, there have been a few exceptions to the Cubs’ recent lack of action.
Craig Kimbrel, whom the Cubs signed to a three-year, $43 million deal in the middle of the 2019 season, was one of them. His 6.53 ERA (8.00 FIP), three blown saves, and four losses serve as evidence that this acquisition has not exactly worked out for the Cubs to this point.
The other departure from the Cubs’ self-imposed roster and salary deadlock was Castellanos. His aforementioned red-hot second half was one of the few bright spots of the agonizing final months of the 2019 season. Castellanos was the beacon of undying hope and pure joy amongst the negative energy of the club that the Cubs could simply not afford to lose.
Ownership’s failure to recognize this truth will prove to be damning in terms of permanently fracturing their relationship with their fanbase.
In reality, they could not have even justified being outbid by the Cincinnati Reds, of all teams, let alone standing pat and making no effort whatsoever to retain Castellanos.
The Ricketts family has made brutally obvious that their priority is fattening their wallets, rather than spending in order to build a winning baseball club in Chicago. They got Chicago their coveted World Series title in 2016, as promised.
After that, they abandoned ship.
Speaking to the logistics of the luxury tax, the Cubs spent $7.6 million in penalties last season, which would increase to a 30% tax on their overages if they were to again exceed the threshold in 2020. Paying this fee would be pocket change for the Ricketts.
The Cubs seem to be dead-set on getting their payroll below the $208 million luxury tax line in 2020, which would then reset the penalties for future seasons.
It could theoretically be assumed that by doing so, the Cubs would be setting themselves up to spend a great deal in the free agency period before the 2021 season. Needless to say, Cubs fans have lost the trust and faith that would be required to possess this patient and forward-thinking mentality.
Cubs fans fear that the club’s $200 million-plus payroll, which was second-highest in baseball in 2019, will continue to decline in the years to come. They surmise that after the seasons remaining run out on the contracts of stars such as Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber, they will be allowed to depart the Cubs as a result of the team’s unwillingness to pay them for what they are worth.
These dread-filled assumptions are likely an exaggeration of the Cubs’ actual future, but they are certainly founded in indisputable fact. In letting Nicholas Castellanos walk, the Cubs have sent a deafening message to their dedicated fanbase. It is all-but-certain that the Cubs’ demise has only just begun. What was once promised to be a dynasty will now turn out to be a slow and painful death.
A new dark age of Cubs baseball is upon us.