So let's play a little game today.
How much money do Theo and Jed really have to play with when constructing a 2012 roster? We have been told that the amount of money to be spent on baseball operations is going to be roughly the same in 2012 as in 2011. But we don't know the specific breakdown of this money; how much is going to be allocated to the 2012 draft? (Hopefully, a lot, as it was in 2011, depending on how draft slotting is finally agreed to in the new labor agreement.)
The total player payroll in 2011 was -- well, I'm not entirely sure. USA Today says $125,000,000. So does CBS Sports. Cot's Baseball Contracts, which is usually quite reliable in this regard, says the Cubs spent $134,000,000 (actually, $134,004,000). By USA Today's numbers, the Cubs ranked sixth, behind the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels and White Sox.
I doubt the 2012 Cubs payroll will be as high as $134,000,000; it could be in the $120,000,000 range or within $5,000,000 above and below that. That wouldn't seem to allow much room -- but follow me past the jump to see how the Cubs actually do have some payroll flexibility for 2012.
The Cubs have six players signed to long-term deals who will be back in 2012. For the purposes of this argument, I am going to include Carlos Zambrano's deal, even though I think it is likely that Theo & Jed will trade him and get at least some salary relief (maybe 25% of the deal?).
The six players under contract are Big Z ($18,000,000), Alfonso Soriano ($18,000,000), Ryan Dempster ($14,000,000), Carlos Marmol ($7,000,000), Marlon Byrd ($6,500,000) and Sean Marshall ($3,100,000).
The total salaries for those six players come to $66,600,000.
Eligible for arbitration in 2012 (2011 salary in parentheses) are:
All of those players would be due raises if offered arb. Clearly, Garza, Soto and Wells will be back. Hill will almost certainly not be back; it's a tossup, I think, on whether either Baker and DeWitt, or both, will be back; they were both favorites of Jim Hendry's, but it wouldn't appear Theo & Jed have any loyalty toward them.
Garza will probably get something in the range of $9 million for 2012; Soto, about $5.5 million, and Wells, $2 million. For the moment, let's assume those are the only three who will return in this manner; that adds another $16.5 million, making the total $83,100,000 for nine players.
The rest of the team is not arb-eligible and so can be auto-renewed. The minimum salary for 2011 was $414,500; the minimum for 2012 will be determined when the CBA is finalized, but for the moment let's assume that there will be a similar increase to what happened from 2010 to 2011 and it'll be around $430,000.
There are quite a number of players who are eligible for auto-renewal, but with new management in place, we really don't know how many of them will be retained. I've identified five players that I believe are 100% certain to return, so let's look at them: Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, James Russell, Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija.
Samardzija had an option declined; since he's not arb-eligible and made $2.8 million in 2011, the most the Cubs could cut that is 20%. So the least the Cubs could offer him is $2,240,000.
Castro made $440,000 in 2011. The Cubs could lowball him, but I don't think they will; eventually, he should be signed to a deal that would buy out his arb years. Let's say that gets doubled to $880,000.
Barney, Russell and Cashner will likely be renewed at somewhat over the minimum; let's guess around $500,000 each.
I've got 14 players on this list -- a little more than half a 25-man roster -- at a total cost of $87,720,000. This would decrease, obviously, if the Cubs can move Zambrano, Soriano or Byrd, the three biggest-salaried players who they probably would move if they could. Barring that, if the Cubs have a player payroll of $120,000,000, that leaves them about $32 million to fill the rest of the roster with minimum-wage players and maybe one or two veterans either through free agency or trades.
Note that I haven't mentioned any of the seven players who were on the team in 2011 and are now free agents: Carlos Pena, Kerry Wood, Reed Johnson, John Grabow, Rodrigo Lopez, Ramon Ortiz and Aramis Ramirez. It seems likely that only two of these players -- Wood and Johnson -- have any chance of returning next season, and neither of them would likely have bank-breaking contracts.
That's how I see it on November 14, as the free-agent signing period has just begun. Now it's your turn. Have at it.