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


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.

Nationals’ major leaguers to continue offering financial assistance to minor leaguers

Sean Doolittle
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On Sunday, we learned that while the Nationals would continue to pay their minor leaguers throughout the month of June, their weekly stipend would be lowered by 25 percent, from $400 to $300. In an incredible act of solidarity, Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle and his teammates put out a statement, saying they would be covering the missing $100 from the stipends.

After receiving some criticism, the Nationals reversed course, agreeing to pay their minor leaguers their full $400 weekly stipend.

Doolittle and co. have not withdrawn their generosity. On Wednesday, Doolittle released another statement, saying that he and his major league teammates would continue to offer financial assistance to Nationals minor leaguers through the non-profit organization More Than Baseball.

The full statement:

Washington Nationals players were excited to learn that our minor leaguers will continue receiving their full stipends. We are grateful that efforts have been made to restore their pay during these challenging times.

We remain committed to supporting them. Nationals players are partnering with More Than Baseball to contribute funds that will offer further assistance and financial support to any minor leaguers who were in the Nationals organization as of March 1.

We’ll continue to stand with them as we look forward to resuming our 2020 MLB season.

Kudos to Doolittle and the other Nationals continuing to offer a helping hand in a trying time. The players shouldn’t have to subsidize their employers’ labor expenses, but that is the world we live in today.