MESA, Ariz. — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo joked Monday he came up with a plan for the Cubs to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
“So this is what happened,” Rizzo said. “I offered him half of my 12 (million) that I’m making this year. But he turned it down. Put that report out.”
Harper or Machado?
“Both,” he said. “Three (million each). I split it in half.”
As Cubs camp got into full swing with position players reporting, the free-agent freeze continues to be on everyone’s mind.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts flat-out said there has been no collusion between owners.
“I can say that’s not the case,” he said. “I don’t think there is any collusion. I have no idea what’s going on with the free-agent market with respect to the Harper and Machado situations.
“But I don’t think anybody is colluding with anybody. I think it’s just a matter of (them) finding the right fit, finding the right contract.”
Kris Bryant, the players union representative, pointed out the Ricketts family “can sell the Cubs for a lot of money” if they decided to.
“They know they can,” he said. “We certainly appreciate all they’ve done for us here, around Wrigley. It’s such a cool environment to play in. But at the same time it’s just got to change. We are the game. Look at Javy (Baez) and the personality he brings, and the guys in this room. There’s so much and the fans want to come see us play.
“I’ve read stuff on how fans are complaining about the price of tickets and hot dogs and beers at the game. Yeah, it’d be nice to lower that, but I don’t think they’re going to because people are showing up and paying for it. It’s pretty expensive. I totally understand. I wouldn’t want to pay $10 for a little bowl of nachos, but people are doing it, and I guess that’s just good business.
“If people are buying it, (prices are) going to keep going up. But it just seems like a storm brewing now. Some fans are upset. Players are upset. I don’t know MLB’s stance. They might even be upset. I think it’d be kind of smart right now (to) get some things hammered out.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Sunday in Florida the lack of big-name signings is just a matter of market forces in action.
“I’m not ascribing blame,” Manfred told reporters. “(But) I do think certain things can be an impediment to making agreements. When you’re pronouncing three years ahead of free agency that a player is going to be a $400 million player — and there’s never been a $400 million player in any sport — that becomes an impediment to the bargaining process. I do believe that.”
Bryant agreed with Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright’s assessment that there’s a “100 percent” certainty of a strike down the road if the system isn’t changed. The five-year collective bargaining agreement runs through 2021.
“It certainly looks like it’s going that way,” Bryant said. “Two offseasons in a row where this has happened, it’s just unfortunate that it has come to this. I feel like the last CBA we kind of got it stuck to us. But this one coming up (in ’21), there’s going to be a lot of fighting for us to get back to where we want to be.”
Ricketts said he’s not “thinking about” a potential strike, adding, “If there are issues between the union and the league we probably should start talking now.”
Ricketts acknowledged player salaries have dipped, but said MLB revenue was up only “a small amount.”
“I know we stay up with the top spenders of the game,” he said. “That’s all we can do. Give (President Theo Epstein) as much resources as we can.”
Rizzo agreed with Astros ace Justin Verlander, who said a number of the many rebuilding teams could sign a Harper or Machado if they wanted.
“I back what Verlander said — it’s a good start if you want to rebuild, those two (players),” Rizzo said. “I’m sure teams will come to terms and they’re going to get signed when the time comes, but it’s crazy how it’s so long.”
Bryant knows fans have little sympathy for players, especially for players of Harper and Machado’s caliber who ultimately will get paid big money.
“Look, I get it,” Bryant said. “It’s very hard to sympathize with guys making millions of dollars to play a game. I totally get it. And I don’t want that to come off as insensitive, that we’re expecting all this (money). But at the same time, you see the revenues going up and players kind of staying (put), and (owners) not wanting to sign guys that are worthy of being signed. And that’s not good for the game. The best players aren’t going to be on the field, and you’re signing all these guys to minor-league deals. Some of these guys are worthy of being on big-league teams.
“Mike Moustakas is worthy of signing a multiyear deal after proving himself two years in a row. This guy should not be getting a one-year deal. I know he likes playing in Milwaukee and it’s fun to play against him and I love the guy. I’m just using him as an example. What we have going for us is we realize we’re the product. We provide the entertainment on the field and we know that. I think in a couple years it’s going to be a dogfight. From now until then there are some things that are going to have to change. It’s an awkward situation to be in.”
Bryant said it would be wise for any team to sign Harper “even if it’s $40-$50 million” per year.
“A team is going to get that back in marketing revenue,” Bryant said, pointing to jersey sales and other merchandising. “He’s going to do so much stuff for the team off the field in terms of making (them) money.”
Rizzo signed a seven-year, $41 million deal in 2013 that includes team options through 2021, choosing security over the risk of injury. He missed out on the nine-figure deals that are becoming more commonplace. Now most players are opting to wait for free agency, where the megadeals kept going up until last year’s free-agent reckoning.
“Everyone is so young now and you’re prime is 18-22,” Rizzo said. “It’s just the game is good, the money is good. It’s just a matter of guys not getting what they’re worth and what they’ve earned. And (some) guys are getting it, but it seems like big free agents aren’t. If I was a fan, I’d be all over (teams) signing the best players in the game. But I play first base for the Chicago Cubs, so I’m very happy where I’m at.”
But Rizzo said he understood the Cubs’ decision not to pursue Harper.
“No, I think they were pretty clear all offseason that this is the group we believe in,” he said.
Ricketts claimed “we don’t have any more” money to spend, and the Cubs have to think “long-term.”
The Cubs’ last two megabucks free-agent signings, Jason Heyward and Yu Darvish, have thus far not paid off in terms of overall performance.
“You just can’t have a high-profile free agent every single year,” Ricketts said. “Part of that obviously is how much it costs — the $25-$30 million is going to cost. Plus it’s a 10-year commitment, and you’ve got to pay those dollars.
“We like the team we have. As much as I’d love to have a great, new exciting player every single year, it just can’t happen.”