Is It Even Realistic for the Cubs to Get Under the Luxury Tax? And If Not, Why Freak About Low-Dollar Additions?

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Is It Even Realistic for the Cubs to Get Under the Luxury Tax? And If Not, Why Freak About Low-Dollar Additions?

Chicago Cubs

I can’t rightly imagine (or justify) the Cubs being motivated this year to stay under the first tier of the luxury tax – $206 million in CBT payroll – but all the incessant talk about the Cubs’ sudden fiscal restraint (and the lack of any other rumors of substance) had me wondering today what it would look like if the Cubs even *TRIED* to stay under the luxury tax.

At a gut level, I don’t think it’s at all realistic, and if I’m right about that, then some of the short-term financial freaking doesn’t make sense to me.

After all, as we’ve discussed before, if the Cubs are going over the first tier of the luxury tax, then the hit for going even further up the ladder simply isn’t that painful, relatively speaking. So if the Cubs aren’t setting the first CBT tier as a bar for spending, then why so much obsession about small bits of payroll costs? (Note: I’m not talking about MONSTER contract additions, which are subject to additional financial considerations and risk. I’m just talking, for now, about short-term, lower dollar additions and subtractions.)

OK, first thing’s first: is it even possible for the Cubs to get their CBT payroll sufficiently under $206 million that they could realistically aim to stay under that limit throughout the 2019 season?

I really, really don’t think so.

Here’s how things look right now:

Note: We can also take off $1 million for the month-plus that Addison Russell will miss on his suspension. So, right now, for luxury tax purposes, the Cubs’ 2019 payroll projects at about $223.5 million.

That’s BEFORE bonuses accrue during the season, and that’s BEFORE any in-season additions.

In other words, if the Cubs were motivated this offseason by trying to be in a position to stay under the luxury tax entirely, they’d have to figure out how to ditch more than $20 million in AAV for next year. That is extremely hard to imagine happening. Sure, the Cubs could trade guys like Ben Zobrist and Jose Quintana to get there, but how insane would it be to do that right now *JUST* to get under the luxury tax? I don’t see it.

So, then, here’s my question: if the Cubs cannot realistically get under the first tier of the luxury tax, and if the consequences for going up to the top tier $246 million (or even going over it!) are extremely modest in a relative sense, why would the Cubs be trying to dump salary so hard right now in order to justify making any other additions?

Truly, I can’t see it. Or, I suppose, more accurately, I can’t see it as a responsible approach to roster-creation in the heat of a contention window for an organization with such a massive revenue base.

Can I understand and appreciate why the organization might be sensitive to making a $300+ million, long-term commitment to a player right now? With the TV deal up in the air? Yes. That I can see. I don’t like it. But I can see it.

But is there any credible way to justify having to nickel and dime in the very short term for things like the bullpen?

Nope. That’s not how this offseason should look, and I really don’t think that it does.

Where does that leave me? Well, I do believe that the Cubs are trying to move salary. They have a lot of bloat on the roster right now, as evidenced by the fact that they already project to have a monster payroll next year before making any real changes. Whether the desire to move salary is just about reducing some bloat (and is more or less disconnected to the 2019 budget) or is tied to an attempt to create more long-term, big-money flexibility, well, I think we’re going to find out more about that as the offseason proceeds.

But, since it is simply not realistic for the Cubs to get under the luxury tax next year, and since the consequences for adding incremental dollars in payroll above the luxury tax are not that painful, then I don’t think the ability to make necessary additions – in the bullpen, for example – should be governed by the team’s ability to otherwise move salary out in the short-term. Is the front office being force to operate that way anyway? Well, on that, I don’t have any visibility. I don’t know their budget and I don’t know how hard and fast it is.

All I know is that this is a very good team in a window of time when they can win some postseason games. Additions in support of that window are necessary and justified.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.