In the midst of another postseason with this Cubs core lineup, and with future Cub Bryce Harper on the other side, no less, we are just a few weeks from the offering of arbitration and the exchange of figures. MLB Trade Rumors has their projections, which are usually quite accurate given whatever proprietary model they use:
You might be a bit displeased about the first four names on the list given their relative uselessness this season and Leonys Martin being just a guy who wouldn’t crack a normal 25-man roster with such a deep lineup, but those figures seem very reasonable for what they have brought to the table in the past.
You also knew the day would come when the elder statesmen of the latest influx of Cubs prospects would get expensive, or at least relatively more than league minimum as their salaries continue to be artificially depressed. The salary for Addison Russell seems somewhat low, but given his recent injury history and some below average numbers despite his power, I can see why the projection is as it is. The salaries for Cy Young finalist Kyle Hendricks and former MVP and current candidate Kris Bryant seem up to par. If MLBTR is on the money (huh huh), then that is $34.9MM worth of arbitration raises the Cubs have to find room in the payroll for. We can just round it to $35MM, and maybe use a $5MM cushion to push it up to $40MM just in case the arbitrator decides to choose the player figures, although a Theo Epstein-led Cubs club has never gone to arbitration as far as we know.
Cot’s Contracts is again a great resource to check out the Cubs payroll, and according to their spreadsheet, the Cubs have a tad under $95MM committed to the 2018 club, a year before Jason Heyward is supposed to opt out of his contract (spoiler: he probably won’t). You can imagine a situation where the Cubs want to throw some money at Wade Davis to return as their closer, but otherwise I believe the other guys will be allowed to leave for more money elsewhere.
The luxury tax threshold for next year is $197MM, which means the Cubs, fresh off another playoff run and increased revenue from concerts, endorsements, and the Park at Wrigley, will have over $100MM of space to absorb the arbitration raises and new contracts. Let’s say arbitration raises are at the upper end, $40MM; that brings our theoretical payroll up to $135MM, with another $62MM to throw at free agent pitchers (whoever’s available) and Wade Davis. There’s a ton of flexibility in there if the Ricketts Family decides to push the limits of the tax threshold.
There’s a noticeable drop in known financial commitments that coincide with new arbitration raises and another increase in the tax threshold in subsequent years. This positions the Cubs well to buy free agents and accommodate deserved arbitration raises, so I’m still fairly confident they can throw some creative contracts at higher end players. Anyway, back to playoff baseball.