Payroll in 2011: Is contending possible?

I've gotten into some back and forths with a few other posters regarding what the Cubs should do in 2011 if they want to be a contender. I was going to post what comes below as a comment in the DLee to Braves thread, but after writing this up, I felt like it might be worthwhile to post this information as a fan post (my 1st one). Maybe it will generate some useful discussion. Most of what follows is based on the Cubs maintaining payroll in the $140-145million range, however there have been rumblings in the media that the Cubs intend to reduce payroll. If that is the case, then contending in 2011 is going to be difficult. Some have argued that the Cubs won't be able to contend even if payroll is maintained at 2010 levels.

I've read on some other Cubs blog that the 2011 Cubs are projected to be about a 75 win team in 2011 if we assume that every player outside of FAs return in 2011 and the rest of the roster is filled with league average players (Note: this projection was made assuming the same roster - impending FAs and before the Theriot/Fontenot trades). Obviously, that's not contention. I'd say true contention would be getting to the 85-87 win category (given a standard deviations of 7-9 wins around that 85-87 win mark). In 5 of the last 15 seasons (1995-2009), the winner of the NL Central has won between 83-88 games.

I've advocated that the Cubs sign Cliff Lee (or trade for Greinke) and Adam Dunn. Both are projected to be type A free agents that will receive lucrative multiyear contracts and will also cost the Cubs their 2nd and 3rd round draft picks (1st round pick should be a protected top 15 pick). I believe that both Dunn and CLee can be had without increasing payroll and without severely backloading both contracts. Some have been skeptical of this. So below is my attempt at showing how both can be signed while keeping payroll for the 25 man roster in the $140-145million range. Dunn and CLee have combined this year to produce about 10 WAR (probably closer to 12 by the end of 2010). In theory, that would get the Cubs to the 85-87 win mark. Improvement from some of the young players and a better performance out of Aramis and other veterans would increase that win projection. Those are all possibilities, but its equally possible that other players will not be as good in 2011 (e.g., Marlon Byrd).

I've read in numerous places that Dunn is looking for a multiyear contract (3-4 year deal a little above his current $10million per year salary). Some baseball writers suggest a 3-4 year / average annual salary of $12million for Dunn, so lets go with that for Dunn (I'm an advocate of a 3 yr deal with a 4th year team option). Most baseball writers also believe that CLee will command Sabathia type of money ($23million/year over 7 years). While I believe Cliff Lee will get $23million per year (and deserves it), I don't believe he will get a 7 year contract because CC was 28 years old and CLee is going to be 31 years old. Lets go with a 5 year / $23million  contract ($115million total; maybe even a team option for a 6th year and some deferred money included) for Cliff Lee.

Below is my math for the 2011 roste. I used Cots baseball contracts for current 2011 salaries and used estimates for arbitration eligible and free agent signings. I get a total of $143.55 million for 25 man roster. This total also includes Fukudome's 2011 salary. Any relief we could get in a trade could be subtracted from the $143.55 million, and used for additional improvements to the bench/bullpen.

For the 2nd yr arb players that I see the Cubs retaining (Marmol/Gorz//Marshall), I gave them raises that were in line with the raises that Theriot and Marmol have received recently. I believe Geo will be in line for the biggest salary increase. For players that have yet to reach arb 1 (Castro/Colvin/Cashner/Barney/Castillo/Wells/Dewitt/Russell/etc...), I gave them slight raises over their 2010 salary or kept their salaries at the league minimum of $400,000 (e.g., Cashner/Castillo/Barney). Again, these are only estimates.

The $143.55 million payroll total for 2011 also does not include the saving from the 2010 trades of Theriot/Fontenot/DLee, that's a few million in relief that Ricketts could okay for use in 2011 if he so chooses. All of this is based on the Cubs keeping payroll near 2010 levels, that's a big IF. Feel free to quibble with the numbers, they're not meant to be exact, just some kind of estimate. Estimated salaries are in italics.

2011 Roster (position) salary

Starting Position Players   
Soriano, Alfonso (LF) $19.00
Colvin, Tyler (RF/backup 1B) $0.43
Byrd, Marlon (CF) $5.50 

Ramirez, Aramis (3B) $14.60 

Castro, Starlin (SS) $0.40
DeWitt, Blake (2B) $0.45
Dunn, Adam (1B) $10 ($10 mil in 2011, $13 mil in 2012-13)
Soto, Geovany - C $3.0

Starting Rotation
Lee, Cliff $16.00  ($16 mil in 2011, $24.75 mil 2012-15)   

Dempster, Ryan $14.50 

Zambrano, Carlos $18.88
Gorzelanny, Tom  $3.0
Wells, Randy $0.45

Note: A trade for Zach Greinke instead of signing Cliff Lee as an FA would be cheaper and change the roster.

Barney, Darwin (SS/2B) $0.40
Castillo, Welington - C  $0.40
Fukudome, Kosuke (3rd/4th OF) $14.50  

Smith, Marquez (backup 3B) ($.40)
Sam Fuld (5th OF) ($.40)

Note: Any salary relief from a Fukudome trade could be used to improve the bench/bullpen if needed    


Marshall, Sean ($1.90)
Grabow, John ($4.80)
Marmol, Carlos ($4.25)
Cashner, Andrew ($0.40)
Silva, Carlos $6.00 ($11.5 - $5.5 from Mariners)
Samardzija, Jeff ($3.50)
James ( $0.40)

Total 2011 25-man roster payroll = $143.55

In case anybody is wondering, payroll commitments in 2012 under this scenario would be $106.75 million, prior to any arbitration or salary raises.

I apologize if this is too long. Any and all comments are welcome.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or Al Yellon, managing editor (unless it's a FanPost posted by Al). FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable baseball fans.

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