I know AC (and others) are very antsy for the Cubs, and anyone in MLB for that matter, to stop their faux collusion and start spending already, but the calendar is the calendar and both the agents/players and the owners/front offices are in a staring contest at the moment before the Winter Meetings in a couple weeks. I was going to set up a roster rundown, but then I realized it was a fool’s errand if the Cubs actually make blockbuster trades and signings, plus the Rule 5, so I’m going to wait on that until after the Winter Meetings are over. In the meantime, we know a few things about the payroll going forward.
Thanks to Cots Contracts and MLBTR’s arbitration projections, plus the league minimum of $720K for next year for the pre-arb guys, we have a pretty good idea of how much the Cubs have to spend before they hit the first luxury tax threshold, give or take a few million dollars, even with Jason Heyward’s dead contract on the books. The payroll breakdown shows a sharp drop in salary obligations after 2023, pending extensions to Ian Happ and/or Nico Hoerner, so there’s room to add for sure. Since the luxury tax threshold rises to $233MM next season, the math suggests that the Cubs have anywhere from $90MM to $105MM before they hit that mark, and depending on how creatively the deals are structured, even if they bust through that first tax level, they can quickly reset the year after. And despite the biblical losses and Marquee not being as big of a success etc etc, the Cubs probably have the money to throw around should they choose to, and we should hold them accountable to do so.
One of the caveats of free agency is of course the qualifying offer, which most players including Willson Contreras declined. At this time there are still 10 unsigned players who rejected the QO:
- Dansby Swanson
- Willson Contreras (Cubs would obviously get him if they re-sign him, and a comp pick if someone else does)
- Trea Turner
- Carlos Rodón
- Chris Bassitt
- Jacob deGrom
- Brandon Nimmo
- Xander Bogaerts
- Nathan Eovaldi
- Aaron Judge
Should the Cubs decide to sign someone from this list, they’ll forfeit their second round pick for the 2023 Draft and $500K in international pool money. Given the handshake deals they’ve probably made with prospects already but the fact that they can pick anywhere from 1st through 6th to 12th through 14th depending on the draft lottery, the prospect of them going for a QO free agent like they did before 2016 seems slim, especially since they’ll probably have less than the $10MM they got last draft while picking 7th in each round. Then again, if Willson signs a contract greater than $50MM overall, the Cubs might snag a pick after the 1st round, but at worst they’ll snag a pick just before the third round, and someone will have to help me with draft temporal mechanics because I’m not sure if the pick surrendered by signing someone else who declined a QO means they’ll lose that pick anyway (first round is protected).
My guess is that the Cubs will maximize that $100MM or so of buffer between their current obligations and the luxury tax threshold, and do so with non-QO guys like Carlos Correa, and hopefully others like Justin Verlander, but perhaps that’s a bit too eye-in-the-sky? But they certainly have the money to make it work!