Ever since the early stages of the “Plan,” we’ve known about the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer-led Cubs’ desire to make this franchise as healthy as possible. That entails solid financial footing on the business side as well as depth at just about every level on the baseball side. The Cubs so far have kept both manageable, and as I alluded to the other day, the club is now well positioned for now and for the future with a plethora of options at their disposal.
The interesting part of Jason Heyward‘s contract (which Bleacher Nation has summarized to a degree that I think we can mostly agree with) is how it’s set up for him to opt out after the 2018 season. I’ve already thought about it a bunch but haven’t had time to put it on paper or pixels until now, and it’s rather coincidental that Sweetspot has outlined why this opt out, and the Cubs’ creative accounting, is so important:
That’s because the group of potential free agents that year will be incredible. Besides Harper, you’ll have Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez, Dallas Keuchel, Matt Harvey, Garrett Richards and Shelby Miller. Players with opt-out clauses will include David Price, Jason Heyward and Clayton Kershaw. Need a relief pitcher? How about Trevor Rosenthal, Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Jeurys Familia or David Robertson? There will be veterans like Adam Jones, Michael Brantley, Adam Wainwright and Adrian Gonzalez.
So as teams maneuver for 2016 and beyond, they’re also keeping that 2018-19 offseason in their back pocket. Obviously a lot can happen in three years and some of those players may sign extensions, but it could be the best free-agent class ever.
I’m sure we are all salivating at the names listed, and that doesn’t include the “role player” types that could be had for a bargain to fill a platoon or bench spot. Regarding the Cubs:
Those young players include Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Kyle Hendricks, and Jorge Soler (if he’s still with the team and performing well) should opt out of his unique contract and into arbitration for a raise at that point too. According to Obstructed View’s payroll update (which hasn’t adjusted for Heyward’s unique contract yet, but the difference is negligible since he’s essentially signed for three years and $78MM with the opt out and signing bonus tacked on), a bunch of the arbitration guys will have left for free agency by then, and bigger contracts like those of Jason Hammel and Miguel Montero will be off the books. The Cubs will have to account for the arbitration raises for the four core youngsters, plus a potential extension for Jake Arrieta. However, that $56MM number is a lot of room to play with, especially with Ben Zobrist entering the last year of contract in 2019, so the Cubs know that money is also about to come off the books and can rig new contracts around then.
It seems that Epstein and Hoyer have always been a step or two ahead of us fans, and it’s good that they’re in charge for when the really cool toys come on the market. While other teams will also have rigged their payrolls to coincide with this coming free agent class, if the “Plan” works the way it should, the Cubs will have plenty of money and marketing power to entice free agents to come their way. And the best part is, the Cubs will get to pick and choose who gets to join the party.