Updated Cubs Payroll Numbers, Plus the Remaining Roster Options

Earlier in the offseason, I did a financial rundown of the Cubs payroll. Not only did I break down the guaranteed contracts on the current roster, I also put together what the Cubs can expect to pay in arbitration and what they can expect on minimum-salary guys. If you want a quick read based on old numbers, please give it a look here.

The Cubs have made some changes, so I thought it would be pertinent to do another rundown of the payroll situation. Then we can begin to speculate on how they can round out the rest of the roster, and make considerations for who could be realistic targets. First, the updated contracts on the books:

Jon Lester- $15M
Miguel Montero- $12M
Edwin Jackson- $11M
Jason Hammel- $9M
Starlin Castro- $6.9M
Anthony Rizzo- $5.3M
Jason Motte- $4.5M
Tsuyoshi Wada- $4M
Jorge Soler- $2.7M
Ryan Sweeney- $1.5M
Gerardo Concepcion $1.2M
Jacob Turner- $1M
Kyuji Fujikawa- $500k

The total on these twelve players (Fujikawa is just a buyout) is $74.6M. Of course, then we still have to consider the arbitration-eligible players. Here are the expected numbers, via mlbtraderumors.com:

Chris Coghlan- $1.4M
Luis Valbuena- $3.1M
Travis Wood- $5.5M
Pedro Strop- $2.4M
Jake Arrieta- $4.1M
Felix Doubront- $1.3M
Welington Castillo- $2.1M

These are just estimates, of course, with the actual numbers yet to be determined. But based on some educated guesswork, the Cubs will pay around $19.9M for these seven players. That brings us to approximately $94.5M for nineteen players on the Major League roster. This could change, as there have been rumors surrounding Wood, Jackson, Castillo, and Valbuena being involved in trades.

And, of course, there are the minimum salary players. I listed them all out in the original post that I linked at the top, so go back and give it a look if you need a refresher on all these guys. The only changes from that list are the swap of Arodys Vizcaino and Tommy La Stella and the addition of Donn Roach from San Diego. All in all, it’s roughly another $10M added to the payroll.

So now we’re up to a cool $104.5M with a filled-to-the-brim 40-man roster (once the Motte signing is official). But fear not, friends.

I get the feeling that Roach’s spot isn’t exactly set in stone (admit it, you either had no idea who he was when you first read that name or had completely forgotten). The same could be said of multiple others, notably Logan Watkins, Mike Olt, Junior Lake, and Matt Szczur. Not to mention the Wood and Castillo rumors, which I tend to believe have some legs.

Based on my original payroll figure of somewhere around $120M, which itself was based on previous projections and money saved from last offseason, it’s possible the Cubs could have as much as $15M to spend. This before figuring the inevitable subtractions that they’d have to make to add someone to the roster.

That sounds pretty good to me, but it’s important to keep in mind that $120M may be the absolute ceiling. That means they will likely spend underneath that total, in case they feel they need to add guys to fill in for injuries or acquire a big salary at the trade deadline. But that is really putting the cart before the horse. For this exercise, let’s just roll any unknown salary subtractions such as Wood or Castillo in with what we figure they may be able to spend and call it around $15M.

So where to the Cubs spend that money? I doubt they add much more in the way of starting pitching, though it’s possible they could take a flier on a guy coming off of an injury (think Kris Medlen, minus the fact that he just signed with the Royals). They seem set as far as the bullpen goes, although I don’t love the uncertainty they have on the left-handed side.

I’m willing to bet that the Cubs believe some combination of Wada, Zac Rosscup, Joe Ortiz, and Eric Jokisch will be able to handle the lefty jobs in the pen. Their infield strength is well documented, so probably no additions there. They could certainly add a catcher like David Ross if they deal Castillo. But the major place we should be looking for additions is the outfield.

What options are still available, though? Well, here’s a quick rundown of the names that are still available via free agency.

Johnny Gomes

Rumors of Gomes to the Cubs have persisted because of his positive clubhouse presence, ability to hit against lefties, and his ties to the front office from his time with the Red Sox. I don’t love him enough to ditch Ruggiano just to have him take the same role, but the fact is they’ve already ditched Ruggiano. Seems to me that they’d only do that if they had the Gomes signing already set.

Gomes probably won’t make too much money and it won’t be a significantly long deal. He made $5M last year at age 33 in what was a down year for him, statistically. I’d expect somewhere in the range of two years at around $3M annually; I wouldn’t think they’d need to pay him much more than that.

Colby Rasmus

It was rumored a few days ago that the Cubs met with Rasmus. I’m not sure whether they really like him or not as a big addition, considering his issues with contact (28% K rate for career, 33% in 2014). Rasmus has tools that once put him among the top prospects in baseball, but after struggling in St. Louis, he was dealt to Toronto, where he’s also struggled.

He broke out a bit in 2013, putting up a slash line of .276/.338/.501 with 22 homers in 458 plate appearances. However, this line was propped up by his .356 BABIP. His BABIP dropped back to a much more normal .294 in 2014, and the line slipped to .225/.287/.448 with 18 homers in 376 plate appearances.

The Cubs already have issues making contact and getting on base, so I wouldn’t think Rasmus would be much of a fit. Add that to the fact that Jon Heyman believes he’s worth two years and $10M annually, and this is a big thumbs down.

Nori Aoki

This move seems like the kind of thing the Cubs would swoop in on. The walk rate isn’t perfect (7.6% for his career), but Aoki makes a ton of contact (8.9% K rate in 2014). His career OBP is .343, he’s a good outfielder, and he probably won’t cost a ton of money. He’s 32 years old and the Royals just signed Alex Rios, so it would seem he will be moving on.

That said, I haven’t seen much wake from the Cubs on Aoki. He supposedly wants a three-year deal, which is probably one year longer than I’d guarantee him. Even though the fit is there with Aoki, I’d expect him to end up with a team like the Mariners or Orioles and not with the Cubs.

That was fun, but now let’s look at some potential trade options:

Dexter Fowler

It’s not clear whether Fowler is actually on the trade market or not, but I’m on record as saying this is my perfect-scenario player for the Cubs to add. He’s left-handed, has speed, can play center-field, and has a career 12.5% walk rate. His OBP last year was .375, and he seems just perfect to bat at the top of the lineup ahead of Castro, Rizzo, Soler, and (eventually) Bryant.

The only reason I suspect he may be available is that he’s set to make around $9M in his final year of arbitration this year. The Astros may want to move him for another controlable asset, such as Valbuena or Wood (plus whatever else is required to make the deal work, which shouldn’t be a lot considering the contract status). As much as I dream on this trade, I haven’t heard many rumors on the Cubs’ end. So we’ll see.

Michael Bourn

The Cubs were interested a few years ago when he was a free agent, and things haven’t worked out well for him in Cleveland. After putting up a .341 OBP in 952 plate appearances with the Braves, Bourn has gotten on base at a .315 clip in over 1000 plate appearances with the Indians. He’s dealt with injuries and will be 32 in just a few weeks.

The big thing that this trade rumor has going for it is that it’s a swap of Edwin Jackson for Bourn. You could make this deal straight up and only add $2.5M to the payroll in 2015. In theory, you could add Bourn and then still have over $10M to spend on another player as well. It’s not the most attractive option, but at least you get a player that has potential to contribute while subtracting out Jackson (who does not have that potential, at this point).

Seth Smith

On June 2nd, Smith was slashing .310/.419/.548 for the Padres. They began talks about about an extension and came to an agreement on a $13M deal for two years (with a $7M option for a third year) about a month later. The problem is that after June 2nd, Smith hit .243/.338/.382. He’s a left-handed batter that struggles to hit lefties, which makes him a platoon hitter that will share an outfield spot with a guy like Gomes.

I’ve never really been that impressed with Smith. He sports a career .800 OPS, but if you only count the last three years after he left the Rockies that OPS drops to .764. The fact that the Dads are rumored to be looking to move him less than six months after offering that extension says a lot. In reality, Chris Coghlan probably offers just as much at the plate as a platoon left-fielder and comes at a fraction of the price. When you consider that he’s already on the roster and you don’t have to trade anything to get him, it makes Smith look even less attractive.

The options that are out there, minus the possibility of a move that no one sees coming, are fairly underwhelming. Outside of Fowler, the guys I just wrote about rank anywhere from “don’t love it” to “please God, no” in my book. The best-case scenario to me is a swap of Travis Wood and a low-level, high-upside prospect for Fowler, plus the signing of Gomes.

That means you have Fowler in center, a Gomes/Coghlan platoon in left, and Arismendy Alcantara rotating between all three outfield spots, second base, and shortstop depending on who is injured or needs a day off. Not only does it fit the budget, but it’s realistic in nature. We all know trading prospects for a big star isn’t likely to happen, but a few moves like these would put a beautiful finishing touch on the Cubs bountiful offseason.

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