The 2015-2016 free agent class that preceded this season was one of the biggest, most expensive classes in recent memory.
But because of the vast number of options at nearly every position on the field, some players went for relative bargains.
This offseason’s free agent class is almost equally historic, but for the opposite reason. There are as few quality free-agent options at every position as there ever has been, with no one expected to exceed the $200 million mark, and just a few expected to approach or exceed $100 million.
But that doesn’t mean money won’t be flying. With fewer options, it’s possible teams may ultimately spend more on someone this offseason than they ever would have in the past. And at FanGraphs, Craig Edwards took a look at just how much money each team may have available.
The Cubs perhaps unexpectedly, finished near the top.
To be clear up front, this is not an analysis of the Cubs’ specifically-available dollars this offseason, but is instead just a broader way to analyze how much money each team could have available.
In order to estimate just how much each team may have available, Edwards first took a look at the the salary and contracts coming off of each team’s books at the end of the 2016 season. The Chicago Cubs, you’ll find, ranked 10th most in salary coming off the books (Edwin Jackson is certainly a big part of that).
Then, Edwards examined the 2017 payroll commitments for each individual team, including the expected arbitration raises (via MLBTR) and natural salary increases. Once again, the Cubs found themselves in the top ten (9th), but not quite among the heaviest hitters. The Dodgers and Yankees, as you can imagine, have the highest payroll commitments for 2017.
To put everything together then, Edwards took every team’s 2016 Opening Day payroll, increased them by 5% (on the assumption that payrolls tend to increase), and subtracted the 2017 salary commitments to determine how much money each team would theoretically have available to spend this offseason.
Here’s how the top ten shook out:
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Los Angeles Angels
- New York Yankees
- Texas Rangers
- San Diego Padres
- New York Mets
- Chicago Cubs
- Oakland A’s
- Atlanta Braves
It certainly is an interesting and different way to look at the question of available payroll, but before we go forward there are many caveats to caveat. First, from the Cubs’ (and many other playoff teams’) perspective, this does not take into account the extra revenue from a deep October run (which we will look at soon). Second, there isn’t a detailed analysis of the Cubs’ payroll commitments relative to needs and actually available free agents (which we will also look at soon), and that can muddy the numbers tremendously. Third, it doesn’t account for the fact that the Cubs probably aren’t itching to give a big, multi-year commitment right now anyway, especially given 1) the rotational needs after 2017, 2) the lack of options in this class, and 3) the impending and simultaneous arbitration spikes for their young positional core.
And remember, the Cubs committed a ton in free agency over the past two offseasons, including their two biggest contacts in organizational history (Jon Lester and Jason Heyward). So really, just take this as a broader, higher-level way of thinking about how much teams can spend in free agency if they so choose.
All of that throat clearing aside, the Cubs relative position is quite strong. They can, by this measure, spend more than about 2/3 of the teams in baseball. According to the graph in the article, that amounts to roughly just under $40 million in available funds.
Does that mean the Cubs will go out and give Dexter Fowler five years and Kenley Jansen four years? Of course not. In fact, both of those moves are probably unlikely at this point (although not impossible). Instead, just consider this money as flexibility.
The Cubs can add payroll in trade (now or at the deadline), take on a free agent or two if they find one they like, or stash the funds away for the much stronger 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 offseasons that are coming. Financial flexibility is great, and it doesn’t need to be used up for the sake of using it up.
The Cubs are in a good position, and that’s just swell.
Brett Taylor contributed some words and the image to this post.