Depending on your point of view, because this is the last MLB action we will have until next Spring Training, but also because the offseason starts basically when the World Series ends, you either want one of the teams still in it to win in five or for it to go the full seven. This means the start of true free agency will come anywhere between November 6 and 9 (nice), and then we have the awards season, the GM, owner, and Winter Meetings, and probably a rush of trades (as soon as just after the World Series ends) and free agent signings at some point when the floodgates open after the big dominos fall.
The Money Situation
Per our trusty Cots Contracts and their handy-dandy spreadsheet, the Cubs have not exceeded the competitive balance tax threshold since just before the big exodus of all our previous favorite players, which means with this new core and competitive window opening (we hope anyway), they can afford to exceed next year’s threshold to supplement their team as Tom Ricketts suggested in his letter to fans. How much they are willing to go over the top remains to be seen, but they don’t have as much money as Steve Cohen and they also weren’t insane like the Padres were (before their apparent need to trim budget due to some debt thing I don’t really understand because I’m not an accountant).
What we can say is that the projected 40-man payroll next season is just shy of $191MM, but that includes contract options for certain players that are likely to be declined for some and to be determined for others, plus arbitration salary estimates that most likely will fluctuate but seem pretty close to what MLBTR projected. The thresholds are as follows, with the associated penalties:
- $233MM Base –> 20% tax surcharge for amount above Base
- $257MM –> Additional 12% tax surcharge for amount above $257MM
- $277MM –> Additional 42.5% tax surcharge for amount above $277MM, plus highest selection in draft moved back 10 places (unless they’re in the top six, but that’s a 2023 Mets situation and we don’t want that ever)
- $297MM –> Additional 60% tax surcharge for amount above $297MM
Suffice it to say I don’t think most of us expect the Cubs to balloon payroll above $277MM. This puts the Cubs somewhere around $40MM before they hit that first threshold, and $80MM before they incur that draft penalty as well. As for the option guys:
Cody Bellinger – Belli most likely declines his end of the mutual option and enters free agency. Belli is also the only outgoing Cub likely to get the qualifying offer ($19.65MM) and will most likely reject it to snag the Cubs at least their compensatory pick (which is kind of late in the order but it’s better than nothing), although they’ll do their best to keep him around.
Kyle Hendricks – There are varying reports on how close/serious the Cubs are in extending Kyle to a new contract, however, the option for 2024 is $16MM and the buyout is $1.5MM, so that could eat up to $16MM of the available space before that first threshold.
Brad Boxberger – (dying laughing) but seriously, it sucks that he was hurt which may or may not have contributed to the sucking, but no, pay that $800K buyout and thank you for your (lack of) service.
Yan Gomes – This seems like an easy pickup, Yan was clutch in many situations on offense and proved to be a more than capable game manager for his pitchers, so there’s $6MM accounted for.
Marcus Stroman – This is tougher to call, because on the one hand, Stro could probably get more guaranteed money as a free agent even if his AAV drops, but on the other hand, he seems to like Chicago, so we kind of have to pencil in that $21MM owed. If he does opt out, which I would not object to one way or the other, then that’s money the Cubs can then throw at someone else.
Cleaning Up the Roster
There are a number of prospects who are about to become Rule 5 eligible, plus you have to make room for some of the dozens of free agents the Cubs are supposed to sign, so let’s take a look at the roster (MLB, Arizona Phil, plus assume if I don’t talk about them that they’re sticking on the roster because they’re key to the MLB club or elite prospects you don’t want to get rid of just yet):
It’s OK if you leave/are claimed/whatever or the Cubs outright you: Depending on their status per AZ Phil’s table, some of these guys could elect free agency of outrighted, but if I’m listing them here, then I personally don’t care because theoretically they’re being replaced by someone better anyway. This includes Boxberger, Jeimer Candelario, Bellinger, and Michael Fulmer (free agents anyway), Tyler Duffey and Shane Greene (random guys for the 2023 Sporcle). Of these, I would not object if Belli and Candyman stuck around due to a new contract.
The tougher calls: These are guys that could be useful or that the Cubs may want to keep for a bit to see if they can tinker with them, but could very well be dumped without too much of a sweat. I’m thinking of the 60-day IL guys like Nick Burdi (fireballer nipped by appendicitis), Codi Heuer and Ethan Roberts (grrr, elbows), Brandon Hughes (I assume it’s a knee thing still), Michael Rucker, and finally Caleb Kilian and Mark Leiter Jr from the pitching group (Kilian more than Leiter, as the latter was sort of useful until his offerings didn’t work anymore). Patrick Wisdom and Jared Young are probably expendable albeit having their potential uses, and it’s anyone’s guess what they might intend to do with Miles Mastrobuoni and Mike Tauchman, though the latter two seem to be on more solid ground.
This results in at least 29 spots taken up on the 40-man roster, so up to 11 spots are available for the Rule 5 draft, protecting a Rule 5 eligible prospect, or signing/trading for someone outside the organization.
With upwards of $80MM to spend in free agency and plenty of prospect capital to land an elite player in trade (o hai Juan Soto), the Cubs have plenty of avenues to competitiveness to supplement the core we’ve enjoyed watching for most of this past season. MLBTR still has their free agent list for this offseason, but other than a handful of pitchers (including Shohei Ohtani who can’t pitch right away) and Cody Bellinger, it’s rather uninspiring. At least all this gives us time to think about the players we’d like the Cubs to sign, and the picture gets more clear when the QO deadline passes on 11/14 and we get closer to the Winter Meetings.