Yu, The Cubs, The Luxury Tax, And You

As this winter interminably dragged on with not much happening other than more and more people complaining–and you’ll never convince me a lot the noise this winter was generated simply by writers having nothing to write about and angry about it, as hell hath no fury like a sportswriter scorned–one drum that kept getting beat the number oft of teams trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold. This is their right I suppose, and if you’re the Yankees or Dodgers and you’ve been dealing with it for years on end, I guess if I squint I could see why you’d want to stay under it.

The Cubs have made that claim as well, though I always got the impression they’ve accepted that they’ll be going over it at some point, and with multi-year penalties as well. So maybe they were just trying to get one more year under it before the they have to break through the wall and deal with the hordes on the other side (and now imagine the MLB accountants or whatever dressed up in a war get up and have a good giggle).

Now that the Cubs have roped in Darvish for just $21 million a year, where are they? They seem to actually be pretty well set for the next few years.

Before we deep dive into this, it’s probably important to remember the Cubs have just about four seasons to play with, including this one coming up. Because after the 2021 seaso—and you may want to take a deep breath here—all of Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, and Baez will be unrestricted free agents. Hendricks will be the year before that, as will Quintana. Now, honestly I’d be surprised if all these guys were still Cubs by then, but you could see it happening, and even if one of Russell or Baez were still here with the rest, the position players themselves would cost near $120 million, and if Hendricks continues on his plane the two starters are worth $35 million together at least, and that’s probably being conservative. If Alex Cobb thinks he’s worth $17-18 mildo, you get the point.

Let’s leave that for a day in the future though. As of right now, the Cubs payroll is comfortably under the $197 million luxury tax, and we should probably all get down nightly and pray to our chosen gods in thanks for Anthony Rizzo’s contract. With the signing of Darvish, the Cubs are around $170 million, so no worries there. That is if you were worried about the Ricketts having to cough up some of dad’s money for penalties, and I’m sure you weren’t.

Next year could get a little hairy. Already, the Cubs have about $132 million committed to Lester, Rizzo, Darvish, Heyward, Zobrist, Chatwood, Quintana, Morrow, Cishek, Duensing, and Smyly. They have a team option on Pedro Strop for another $6 million, which could go either way.

Now, even while Bryant is still under team control, he’s not going to look like a pauper anytime soon. He’s getting $10 million this year, and you have to figure that goes up next year to anywhere between $12-15. The Cubs would love an extension, but Scott Boras is going to have his revenge on baseball so you can likely forget that. Hendricks probably gets a raise from his $4 million this year of a couple million. So does Russell. Baez gets his first arb year, though he probably gets something around what Russell is getting this year of $3 million. Schwarber also will enter his first year of arbitration eligibility. and that should make for a fascinating case, because you could see where he’d get something conservative or if he does something silly this year he could get a lot more. Edwards, Contreras, and Happ still get whatever is between the couch cushions, and thank god for that. Even on the low-side, this is another $30-$35 million for these players and could be way more. So that’s $165-$170 million without any additions in the ‘pen or really anywhere else.

Which means if you wanted to plop down, oh I don’t know, $40 million per season to, oh I don’t know, a certain outfielder with hair that literally makes me cry, you’re over next year’s threshold of $206 million. Not by a terrible amount, but you’re paying. The question then becomes for how much longer.

Because it’s after 2019 you lose Zobrist’s money off the books. Same with Morrow’s. Same with Cishek’s. Same with Smyly’s. That’s $38 million less for players you might not replace with free agents. If Russell, Baez, and Happ are all here, with Harper, that’s basically all of Zobrist’s ABs sucked up. Even the first three probably get that done. Morrow and Cisheck are bullpen arms you would like to fill internally if possible or with an understated signing if you can. Smyly may never crack the Cubs rotation even when healthy given what it looks like now. Just because that $38 million is going out the door doesn’t mean you have to bring that much in the door to replace it.

Your 2020 lineup still looks pretty much like it does now, with questions of if Schwarber is really able to wear a glove without being a danger to society, Almora/Happ playing in center, and if they are still juggling Baez and Russell at short. But really you’re filling in support pieces with that lineup, assuming a big splash next winter.

Yes, Bryant will continue to get raises and so will Russell and Baez and Hendricks. But it feels like most things are locked in, and the Cubs are prepared to go over next year. But it might only be a one-year thing, which we know they can handle.

Suddenly I feel cheerful.

Lead photo courtesy Rick Scuteri—USA Today Sports

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