Looking Ahead to the 2019 Cubs…

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As the Division Series in both leagues wind down, and with the Cubs watching from the outside, I suppose the most relevant Cubs thing we could do around here is to look to the future. The good news, I think, is that bounce backs are expected and reasonable, and the guys on the team are the same ones who won the World Series and still expected to not suck at baseball. Anyway, let’s start with the standard rally cry:

Yeah, that’s right! Let’s get BOTH Manny Machado and Bryce Harper! Why not? It’s not MY money! It isn’t really yours, either! And they’re going to raise ticket prices anyway while opening up new clubs that none of us can afford so the rich bastards can avoid us mere peasants more effectively. So since we have to watch on TV anyway (when not blacked out!), why not give us something of a juggernaut to root for again? Besides, they can tap into some of their hopefully large television setup after 2019, especially if fans are tuning in even to watch what might have been the worst team of all time this past season (sarcasm mine).

OK, enough snark (but maybe not, I’m doing this as a train of thought so maybe later?)…the Cubs have money, are probably gearing to tear past the luxury tax threshold(s), and most likely going to spend to cram this competitive window open for as long as possible. Since the Ricketts family has the money, and have turned Wrigleyville into a cash cow (not to mention pricing me out of even the Cubs Convention), and they did promise to reinvest the money into the team, they might as well spend on the product that we actually want to see to generate a few more wins.

Firstly, we have the arbitration guys:

Cubs (8)

That is $40.1MM, so let’s be generous (because historically it seems the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer front office gives just a bit more to keep their guys happy) and make it an even $42MM worth of arbitration. That’s even with Addison Russell’s troubles, because I imagine that the Cubs would have to front the arbitration salary unless they go the non-tender/DFA route (suffice it to say that I don’t really want him on the team anymore for multiple reasons, and the front office is likely to feel the same). I would expect Russell to be wearing a new uniform next year when his suspension ends. The rest of the numbers seem about right, with Kris Bryant getting a smaller-than-usual raise given his pedigree because of the missed time due to injury.

Now let’s turn to the other guys who have salary decisions/free agency to deal with, with Baseball-Reference and Cots as our guides:

  • Daniel Murphy — free agent after this season, and most likely not to be retained. He’s not exactly good at defense anyway, and also one less controversial figure to have to begrudgingly root for.
  • Justin Wilson — while he had a better 2018 than 2017, I don’t think the Cubs keep him around and let him go to free agency.
  • Brandon Kintzler — had a bunch of issues in his time as a Cub, but apparently he does hold a $5MM player option (the team option if $10MM, but I doubt that gets exercised), so the Cubs have to prepare to pony up for that.
  • Jesse Chavez — fantastic for the Cubs in his time in Chicago, and could be re-signed for probably less than $5MM. Let’s pencil him in for that $5MM because I don’t think they can let him go. Amusing listed as Jesse Hahn on the Cots spreadsheet, but Hahn apparently didn’t play in the majors this past season at all, so WTF. All Jesses look alike?
  • Cole Hamels — he did not pitch enough to let the $24MM option vest, but I think the Cubs pick up the $20MM option for the last year of Hamels’ deal. They can’t really afford not to.
  • Jason Heyward — he’s not opting out, and if they decide to trade Albert Almora or Ian Happ (or both), someone has to play center field and I don’t think you want that to be Kris Bryant as much as he’s awesome. So that contract will stay on the books for some time.

So let’s tally that up a bit, shall we? According to Cots and our numbers above, we are looking at:

  • $42MM for the arbitration salaries (including the projected raises plus some leeway)
  • $5MM for Kintzler
  • $5MM for Chavez, give or take
  • $20MM for Hamels
  • $144.6MM in projected payroll that includes the monstrous salaries of Heyward, Yu Darvish, and the like, so let’s just round that off to $145MM

The total we are looking at is $217MM, which is already $11MM above the 2019 luxury tax trigger of $206MM. And yeah, I still want Machado and Harper. Of course, there is that pesky luxury tax, which gets pretty punitive, but I imagine the Cubs will deal with that later as some contracts will eventually drop off the books or get traded away. You also have to wonder whether the contracts get restructured or the tax goes away since it looks like MLB and the players union are gearing up for a labor war, but right now we’re just looking at 2019.

Basically, according to the rules, the Cubs trigger the maximum penalties when their payroll goes north of $246MM for 2019. In addition to money paid out, the Cubs would also see their top draft pick get knocked down 10 spots. But they would have a couple years to get the payroll back under control before triggering even more penalties.

So, at $217MM by my napkin-math estimate, that gives them $29MM to play with, and if they’re going to trigger that max penalty anyway by signing Harper (expected to command $30MM annually), then they might as well go nuts and grab Machado too. Yeah, it’d be a pretty ridiculous $275MM-ish payroll after that plus some extra role players and maybe a backup catcher, but if the goal of the Cubs is to win as much as possible during this competitive window…why not? And just for fun, let’s take a look at the available free agents (we’ll talk trades during hot stove season):

  • Looking at a backup catcher who isn’t Victor Caratini, I think it makes sense to tag a guy like Martin Maldonado, a former Gold Glove winner and a potential mentor for Willson Contreras that he didn’t necessarily have this season.
  • For second base backup, if David Bote needs more development time (I think he could use some time to adjust), how about Jed Lowrie, who switch hits and is pretty handy with the stick and the glove? Former Cubs prospect and super utility guy Marwin Gonzalez (also a switch-hitter, and yet another one who got away!) is also a free agent, though who knows if he holds a grudge for not being protected in the Rule 5 Draft all those years ago…
  • I know he might retire a Ranger and it’s a long shot, but I’d love to see if the Cubs could convince Adrian Beltre to hang out in Spring Training just for the fun factor.
  • A.J. Pollock is among the outfielders that I would try to target to play center if the Cubs prefer Jason Heyward stay in right field where he is at his best.
  • Quite a few starting pitchers on the market, and I doubt Clayton Kershaw will leave the Dodgers even if he opts out, but I think if I were the Cubs, I prioritize trying to get Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel to keep with the lefty rotation theme (minus Kyle Hendricks). For bargain guys I might consider going for Matt Harvey or Nathan Eovaldi. Not so sure I’d go for any big name relievers with Brandon Morrow hopefully back in the loop, but there are some interesting names to have.

Full disclosure again, it’s not my money, and I do think they sign one or the other but not both. But I also believe that the Ricketts are rolling in the dough and can certainly afford it if they decide to loosen the purse-strings a bit. Even if they don’t sign Harper and/or Machado (and I still think they will), there’s plenty of space to work with and that’s not even considering the wheeling and dealing after the World Series. I think this will be a very fun winter.

 

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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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