Cubs Payroll Was Middle of the Pack, Happ, Goldschmidt, and Other Cubs Bullets

The holiday food situation has started to become an issue, or so my scale tells me. But here’s the thing: the best desserts will be out of fashion come January, so shouldn’t I load up on them now while I can? It’s not a “new year’s resolution” situation, it’s just pragmatism and an acknowledgement of various treat calendar realities!

•   The final payroll figures are out for 2021, and the Chicago Cubs wound up at $152 million according to the Associated Press, 13th in baseball. They were at about $173 million for luxury tax purposes, also 13th in baseball. The Nationals, Blue Jays, and Giants were just above the Cubs; the Braves, White Sox, and Reds were just below the Cubs.

•   That sounds about right anecdotally – it felt very middle of the pack – and is not where the Cubs should be in any year going forward if they are realistically expecting (1) to compete, and (2) to convince fans they are trying to compete. As we’ve discussed, even if the 2022 Cubs fielded an Opening Day payroll comparable to what they spent in 2021, they’d still have upwards of $50 million available to spend. While there might be an argument to avoid massive long-term deals, there can be no argument that the Cubs should avoid at least signing a number of short-term deals from here. There is plenty of money available, there was plenty of money saved last year, and the market is still replete with interesting short-term options to augment the Cubs’ roster and at least give them a shot in the first half of 2022.

•   Remember, too: the Cubs’ payroll wasn’t only down heading into the year because of the Yu Darvish trade and the limited signings, it was also down after the year started because of the significant money saved at the Trade Deadline.

•   Kevin Goldstein’s latest chat is here, and among the things we’ve always thought to be true, offered up by someone who spent years inside a front office: (1) when a prospect has a seeming breakout stretch, you’re always looking for there to be some kind of change/explanation that pairs with the results before you can believe it; (2) young players and prospects do bust sometimes for a simple lack of effort; (3) advanced defensive metrics are still flawed and relying on scouts for defensive evaluations is better; (4) different teams have different perspectives on in-division trades – some teams ask for a trade premium in those deals, some teams won’t do it at all with star players.

•   On a more specific Cubs note, Goldstein sees Ian Happ being the guy his career numbers thus far say he is: .241/.338/.467, 112 wRC+. That’s a useful player to have, though it plays much better if he shows either that he is a plus defender in a corner outfield spot (I feel like he has shown that, at times, in left field), or can play average defense in center (he pretty consistently rates out as slightly below average there, which matches the eye test). People are so down on Ian Happ for their own reasons, but the likeliest reality is that he’s a fine player. Not a star. But certainly worth having on your roster and starting 80% of your team’s games or whatever. I still think the Cubs should make an impactful addition in the outfield, but I have no problem with Happ being an almost-every-day player in 2022.

•   And don’t forget: there were swing issues last year for Happ that seemed to get sorted out as the year went on, and then in the final month and a half of the season, he was absolutely scorching: .323/.400/.665, 177 wRC+. I at least want to see what’s up for him when 2022 gets underway. (Happ was the best hitter on the Cubs from that point (August 13) on, by the way. His 177 wRC+ was 16 points better than Frank Schwindel’s! *THE* Frank Schwindel!)

•   It’s a limited sample of players in this FanGraphs study, but it’s worth tucking away in your head for future checks: in a group of seven players who were significantly underperforming their xwOBA in the first half of 2021, every single one of them saw wOBA increases in the second half (all but one had huge increases). One of those guys was Paul Goldschmidt, who was really underperforming in the first half of his age 33 season, which led a lot of us to wonder some things about what could be coming – but then he raaaaaaked in the second half. The truth of his situation is probably somewhere in the middle (you can follow trend lines for his career if you graph it out, and the decline is perceptible (if subtle), but I wouldn’t bet on him stinking for the Cardinals in 2022.

•   Pedro Strop still getting after it, and that’s a dang good slider:

•   Some of Josh Gibson’s history, worth your time if you have only a passing familiarity with the legendary hitter.

•   Defending the quarterback is something that’ll always get my support:

•   This has been a very nice (and kinda productive!) story:

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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