A few years ago the MLBPA, the league and the Marlins entered into an agreement in which the Marlins agreed to spend more money on players rather than cut things to the bone in order to rebuild. The leverage the union had in forcing the Marlins’ hand on this was Article XXIV(B)(5)(a) of the Basic Agreement, which commits teams to spending revenue sharing money “to improve its performance on the field.” The Marlins weren’t doing that, thus the agreement to spend more.
The Cubs aren’t in the same boat. They are a high revenue team which pays into the revenue sharing system, not one that draws from it. Still, they have a low payroll — on Opening Day they were 23rd out of 30, coming just under $90 million — and the union doesn’t like it when there are low payrolls, especially on teams that make a lot of dough. So, despite not having Article XXIV(B)(5)(a) at its disposal, the union is still pressuring anyway:
Whether the most powerful players union in American sports can do anything about the high-revenue team’s years-long trend of spending cuts and roster purges is tricky. It might depend in part on how much longer it lasts and if the union can find grounds for action in Major League Baseball’s debt-ratio rules for clubs.
The debt-ratio rule benefits players, of course, in that if a team is severely in debt and using all of its revenues to service it, they won’t be spending on players. As of now, Major League Baseball says that the Cubs aren’t in violation of debt-ratio rules. It is widely thought by outside observers, however, that the Cubs have to be in violation given that ownership took on $670 million in debt to buy the team. My guess is that the union is nudging at this apparent discrepancy and cautiously trying to get MLB to nudge the Cubs into spending more to avoid the sort of scrutiny into owner finances that owners really, really hate.
As of now, the Cubs kinda stink. They stink for a lot of reasons, and a rebuild is always going to require some payroll cutting. But I don’t think anyone has all the answers on whether the best way to rebuild is to burn-it-to-the-ground first and then add veterans or whether spending on MLB talent can or should go hand-in-hand with the sort of young talent development the Astros and Cubs are pursuing.
This article should be read a the MLBPA weighing in on that subject.