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Cubs want to ‘clear salary’ before exercising option on Cole Hamels

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Last night Ken Rosenthal tweeted about the Chicago Cubs’ decision making process regarding whether to pick up, or not pick up, Cole Hamels‘ $20 million option for 2019.

That’s an interesting and potentially difficult decision for the Cubs — it’s a lot of money and it’s not at all clear that Cole Hamels is worth it in baseball terms — but I’m struck by the way in which Rosenthal characterized the decision. Specifically, he said the Cubs “might make a trade to clear salary before picking up Hamels’ $20M option.”

That’s an interesting phrase, “clear salary.” It’s the language of salary caps. Which, you likely know, Major League Baseball doesn’t have. it does have a Competitive Balance Tax — colloquially known as the luxury tax — threshold, though, and seeing this phrasing makes me wonder if the Cubs’ guiding principle for the offseason is to avoid the luxury tax line for 2019, which seems to all but require shedding Hamels or salary elsewhere to make it work. Or, at the very least, to diminish the consequences of going over it, as here are stepped increases in the penalty the farther above that threshold a team goes.

Which is their choice, of course. Exceeding the luxury tax threshold can be expensive, both in terms of dollars and, potentially, in terms of draft position if a team truly skies past the limit. But it’s also something that, theoretically anyway, is supposed to be a cost of doing business for a massive revenue team like the Cubs. And, as the Red Sox just demonstrated, something that can help a club win the World Series. You’d think this Cubs team would want to pull out all the stops to get back to that position.

I dunno. It’s early in the offseason, a lot can happen and it’s not necessarily a great idea to base one’s understanding of a team’s offseason strategy on a single Ken Rosenthal tweet. But if the Cubs are proceeding in a way that is dictated by luxury tax avoidance or mitigation, it’s just the latest evidence that for all but one or two singularly aggressive teams (e.g. Red Sox) or poor-planning teams (i.e. Nationals) the luxury tax is really a salary cap.

It’s also evidence that, contrary to what a lot of folks are saying, it’s not realistic to think that the Cubs are going to make a strong play for Bryce Harper.

Padres are giving Ron Washington a second interview

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Last week there was a report that the San Diego Padres were doing “due diligence” on former Rangers manager and current Braves third base coach Ron Washington in connection with their managerial opening. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports today that Washington has already had an interview and that, in fact, the Padres are planning to call him back for a second round.

Also getting a second look: Rangers field coordinator Jayce Tingler. Which suggests that GM A.J. Preller, formerly a Rangers assistant GM, is favoring guys he knows from his time in Texas.

Washington managed the Texas Rangers from 2007 into 2014, winning two pennants and compiling a record of 664-611 (.521). He stepped down for personal reasons but since then has returned to the job in which he made his considerable reputation: coaching, specifically coaching infielders, and has gotten rave reviews. Assuming he’s back up for the grind of managing — and he wouldn’t be interviewing if he was not — he is definitely someone based on results and reputation who deserves another shot at the helm.

Tingler, a former Rangers farm hand, has coached in their organization at both the minor and major league levels for 12 years.