Our current 2012 roster has a payroll of roughly $100 million and this year’s payroll was $135 million. Our team is roughly a 73 win team so we need to add a lot of wins with $35-40 million. We have a couple holes so let’s start there and look at the available free agents. Actually, let’s start with either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. Then we’ll get to Sabathia. Yeah, we’re going to sign sign some really good players with the Cubs money. Hey, they are the ones who want to contend.
ZiPS projects Pujols to hit .402 (wOBA) the rest of the way while it projects Fielder to hit .396. Pujols is the much better fielder and he’s going to cost a lot more than Fielder will. Pujols is also older and will likely require a longer contract. Fielder isn’t as good as Pujols, but I don’t know that the difference is significant enough to hand out the kind of contract that Pujols is going to get. So let’s start with Fielder.
At 27, Fielder is one of the best hitters in the game. He turns 28 next May so he’s in his prime right now. We shouldn’t expect much regression from him and he’s healthy. Since his first full season he’s had no fewer than 648 PA (age 22). Let’s use the the .396 wOBA, -7 fielding and -4 baserunning. Using 650 plate appearances we get 4 WAR. I thought it would be higher, but he is worth more than 1 loss on the bases and defensively combined. The Cubs need to improve at one position more than that so what about Pujols?
A .402 wOBA, 5 runs fielding and 3 on the bases along with 600 plate appearances gives us about 5.6 WAR. Pujols is still the significantly better player and he also offers more upside. While Fielder at this best could probably be expected to provide around 6 wins, Pujols could be up between 8 and 9 pretty easily.
We’ll bump our projection for Pujols up to 6 WAR just because he’s been so much better than 5.6 the last few years with the exception of this season. This season, by the way, is largely to blame on the .245 BABIP that Pujols has posted. Using 5% inflation and the current $4.5 million per win, this is the schedule we get for Pujols over the next 8 years.
An 8 year, $200 million contract seems reasonable. His down season this year pretty much eliminated any chance he had at a deal worth as much as he was originally seeking. Obviously it would make no sense whatsoever for the Cubs to pay Pujols $28.4% million next season when they have roughly $35-40 million to spend. Let’s pay him $12.5 million next year followed by 20, 25, 28, 28.5, 28.5, 28.5 and $29 million for a total of $200 million.
If the CUbs did this, they add 6 wins and $12.5 million to their team next season. They’d now be a 79 win team and would be spending $112.5 million.
The other obvious hole our roster had was a starting pitcher. I would say there’s a strong chance that CC Sabathia opts out of his contract with the Yankees and becomes a free agent. The Yankees will want to re-sign him and they always have the money, but other than Sabathia, the free agent pitcher list doesn’t have much. If you run the numbers for Sabathia’s projections, you get about 5 WAR for next year. Sabathia has 4 years and $92 million left on his contract so you’re going to have to top that.
Is 6 years, $120 million good enough? For this exercise, let’s say it is. We’re just making shit up anyway so whatever. We’ll pay Sabathia the following amounts over those 6 years (in millions): $10, $15 , $20, $25, $25 and $25. The Cubs are now at about 84 wins and $122.5 million.
The Cubs are obviously in contention now and they have another $12.5 million to spend. The Cubs could use an extra outfielder and a platoon partner for Alfonso Soriano would be a nice addition. Jack Cust is having a down season this year for the Mariners and is a free agent. He’s crushed righties in his career and could probably be signed for cheap. He’s not even making $3 million this year so there’s no reason the Cubs couldn’t acquire him for $2 million or less. Adding Cust to platoon with Soriano greatly improves LF for the Cubs. The defense will suck, but they’ll hit the ball very well.
Also vacant is RF and a trade might be a good option here. If they can add a couple wins in RF by trading some prospects, they’re up the 87 win mark and more than likely under $130 million. Barely under, but still under. They still have enough room to add another win or so and remain at or even under $135 million.
The payroll will begin to increase in 2013 and 2014, but if the Cubs want to contend in 2012 they’re going to have to spend money and acquire top free agents in doig so. There’s really no other way this team can contend unless they get some extremely favorable trades that fall into their laps, which is unlikely. It’s less likely than the Cubs signing the two best free agents available.
So there you go. Your 2012 Cubs team that is a contender. It’s not my money so I don’t actually care how they spend it. It’s a plan that likely puts the Cubs in a similar situation that they find themselves now, but for a short-term fix, this is the way to go.
In the next and final part we’ll look at the 2012 Cubs in a more realistic sense than this part. Has a team ever signed the two best free agents in one offseason? Has any team other than the Yankees done it? I don’t even know if the Yankees have, but it’s doubtful any other team has done so in recent years.