When a team is rebuilding – particularly a team sensitive about payroll levels, as the Chicago Cubs appear to be right now (emphasis on right now) – there is a tendency to focus on the future dollars saved in transactions. Yes, the prospect return is hopefully the most exciting part, but being unburdened by an albatross deal is often even more motivating. Frequently overlooked in those discussions, however, is how much money the organization saved in the calendar year in which the trade took place. That money doesn’t disappear into the ether. Instead it could theoretically – if the holders of the checkbook were so inclined – be rolled over into future expenses, rather than just pocketed.
So, as we approach the end of the trading season,* I want to take a quick look at how much money the Chicago Cubs have saved in the 2013 calendar year by way of their many trades this season.**
*Although we may not yet be at the end of the trading season – who saw David DeJesus being traded in August? – it would see that the Cubs don’t have any moves left that would save them significant dollars.
**The focus here is on the trades involving big league pieces, and on guys whose roster spot was taken by someone making something near the Major League minimum. The Cubs traded a number of guys who were making the minimum/were in the minors at the time of the deal – Steve Clevenger, Guillermo Moscoso, Brent Lillibridge, etc. – but there aren’t huge cost savings there, because they still have to be replaced on the roster.
- Scott Feldman (July 2) – The Cubs dealt Feldman (together with Steve Clevenger) to the Orioles for pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, as well as international pool space. Feldman was on a one-year, $6 million contract, which came with $1 million in performance bonuses. Because such bonuses cannot be tied to actual results, they are usually tied to awards or games started. It’s hard to know exactly where Feldman stood/stands, but, given that he’s started all year, I’m going to guess he would have/will achieve some of the bonus. Let’s say $500,000, all of which will be the responsibility of the Orioles (as far as I know). So, the trade saved the Cubs $3 million in salary, and about $500,000 in bonuses.
- Carlos Marmol (July 2) – The Cubs dealt Carlos Marmol (together with a bunch of cash and an international pool slot) to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier. The financials of this one were pretty complicated, but the upshot seemed to be that the Cubs were saving $500,000 this year.
- Scott Hairston (July 8) – The Cubs dealt Hairston to the Nationals for pitching prospect Ivan Pineyro (each team will also chip in a PTBNL). The Cubs included around $500,000 toward Hairston’s 2014 salary ($2.5 million), but the Nationals picked up the balance of his 2013 price tag. Hairston makes $2.5 million this year, so the savings to the Cubs in 2013 by trading him on July 8 is about $1.25 million.
- Matt Garza (July 22) – The Cubs dealt Garza to the Rangers for infield prospect Mike Olt, pitcher Justin Grimm, pitching prospect C.J. Edwards and one or two PTBNLs. When Garza was dealt, about 40% of the season remained, and the Rangers picked up the rest of Garza’s $10.25 million 2013 salary. Thus, the deal saved the Cubs about $4.1 million in 2013.
- Alfonso Soriano (July 26) – The Cubs dealt Soriano (and a bunch of cash) to the Yankees for pitching prospect Corey Black. This was another complicated financial deal, but the money was believed to shake out thusly: the Cubs were paying all of Soriano’s contract except for about $6.8 million, which was split over this and next season. The Yankees will pay $5 million of Soriano’s salary in 2014, and about $1.8 million in 2013.
- David DeJesus (August 19) – The Cubs dealt DeJesus to the Nationals for a PTBNL. The timing of the trade left the Nationals on the hook for about $1 million of DeJesus’s 2013 salary, and saved the Cubs from having to pay the buyout on his 2014 option ($1.5 million – whether the Cubs picked up or declined the option, they were on the hook for this amount). Thus, the total savings in the deal for 2013 is about $2.5 million.
Summing it all up, by way of trades, the Chicago Cubs have saved $13.65 million in 2013.
Remember: this is money that was otherwise budgeted for big league payroll, but was not actually spent (so you can’t say the “savings” went to international or draft spending this year – those, too, were budgeted already). That isn’t an amount to be sniffed at, and is significant enough that it will bear remembering as we head into the offseason. No, there is no requirement that the Cubs put that “saved” money toward the big league payroll, but I do anticipate that it will be repurposed in the organization in some way – chipping in for renovation costs? Paying down organizational debt? Rolling over for future big ticket international items? Who knows.
Hopefully it does some good in the future.