With Tsuyoshi Wada re-signed, and the offseason in swing, it’s worth checking back in the Chicago Cubs’ current payroll commitments for 2015, together with arbitration estimates, to get a sense of how much they can realistically spend this offseason. I did this once earlier in the year in video format, but let’s get it all down in print.
Chicago Cubs 2015 Commitments
Guaranteed Contracts (via Cot’s Contracts and other published reports):
Edwin Jackson – $11 million
Starlin Castro – $6.9 million
Anthony Rizzo – $5.3 million
Tsuyoshi Wada – $4 million
Jorge Soler – $2.7 million
Ryan Sweeney – $1.5 million
Gerardo Concepcion – $1.2 million
Jacob Turner – $1 million
Kyuji Fujikawa – $500,000 (buyout)
Arbitration Estimates (via MLB Trade Rumors):
Travis Wood – $5.5 million
Jake Arrieta – $4.1 million
Luis Valbuena – $3.1 million
Justin Ruggiano – $2.5 million
Pedro Strop – $2.4 million
Welington Castillo – $2.1 million
Wesley Wright – $2.0 million
Chris Coghlan – $1.4 million
Felix Doubront – $1.3 million
John Baker – $1.1 million
You also have to account about $10 million for other players on the 40-man roster and health insurance benefits.
Total: $69.6 million.
Now, then. Several comments. The arbitration estimates from MLBTR tend to be fairly good, but last year’s set was uniformly just about 10% light. So you might figure that the arbitration group could actually be a few million bucks higher.
However, you also have to assume that not every single arbitration-eligible player will receive a contract from the Cubs – either because they are non-tendered or traded. I can envision a scenario where Travis Wood, Justin Ruggiano, Wesley Wright, and John Baker are either non-tendered or traded. I’m not saying that’s the likely outcome for all four, but it is possible. That’s more than $10 million right there in additional flexibility the could open up. I’ll split the baby, and lop off $5 million for our purposes right now.
So, we’re saying that the Cubs’ 2015 payroll, right now, looks to be just about $65 million.
The Cubs have not said, and will not say, explicitly what they project their payroll to be in 2015. There are a variety of practical and competitive reasons they’ll keep things that way, but we can do some surmising. For one thing, payroll last year, when accounting for everything, was close to $95 million. That, however, does not include money saved from in-season trades, which would bring the actual figure down closer to $90 million.
While it is not reasonable to assume the Cubs will continue their payroll slide into 2015, it is also not necessarily reasonable to assume a dramatic leap. There are some additional revenues coming in next year from partnerships, outfield signage, and better-than-previously-projected attendance in 2014, and there was the money rolled over from last season’s failed pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka. Had the Cubs landed Tanaka, the 2014 commitment would have included a portion of the $20 million posting fee, and his $20ish million in salary. You could say, then, that at the current revenue level – forgetting any improvements in 2015 – the Cubs were able to support a payroll in the $110 to $115 million range. If that was true again in 2015, and you added rolled-over funds on top of it, then the Cubs could spend a whole lot of money this offseason.
But I’m not going to tell you that the Cubs can or should increase payroll to $130 million for 2015. For one thing, I’m not going to commit myself to saying I know exactly how the “rollover” of funds is going to work. I doubt it’s straight math like that, and I don’t want to presume too much.
For another thing, I wouldn’t want the Cubs signing four huge, long-term contracts in the same offseason. The reason a team like the Cubs should try to gradually raise payroll is so that they don’t get themselves into a situation where, because they signed four big guys in the same offseason, they’ve got four aging, expensive vets all approaching their twilight years at the same time. Suddenly, that $80 million is getting you less and less production, and it’s all happening at once. Instead, if you stagger the signings over several years, you increase the chance that you’ll also stagger the poor performance (for huge money) that we all know tends to come at the end of mega free agent deals.
So, then, I really tend to think we’ll see the Cubs’ payroll start the 2015 season in the $100 to $110 million range, with some flexibility from there to add in-season or to splash in the international market if the opportunity arises.
That would leave the Cubs, from this point on, about $35 to $45 million to spend in 2015 commitments. That should be enough to do the things they’d like to do, particularly if the deals are modestly backloaded (which, despite how folks rant, is always financially advantageous) and/or if they involve 2014 signing bonuses that don’t count against (for Cubs’ internal budgeting purposes) 2015 payroll.
I’ll admit I’m being fairly conservative here in my estimate, but that’s probably the way to go, right?