There's been a lot of speculation over the past few months that the Cubs will dramatically lower their payroll for the 2014 season. While I don't think that's a given -- and I think claims that payroll will go down to about $60 million are downright ridiculous -- the Cubs will have some money to spend this offseason even with a substantial reduction in spending.
Why? Because as it stands right now, the Cubs have less in committed salaries than they've had in years. Here's the breakdown:
$11 million for Edwin Jackson
$5 million for Carlos Villanueva
$4 million for Starlin Castro
$4 million for Kyuji Fujikawa
$2 million for Jorge Soler
$1.25 million for Anthony Rizzo
Total: $40.25 million
For players under team control, I'm figuring in decent raises:
$3.5 million for Jeff Samardzija (possible even with extension)
$2 million for James Russell
$2 million for Travis Wood (possible even with extension)
$1.5 million for Luis Valbuena
$1 million for Darwin Barney
$1 million for Welington Castillo
$1 million for Pedro Strop
$600,000 for Blake Parker
$600,000 for Hector Rondon
$600,000 for Jake Arrieta
$600,000 for Brian Bogusevic
$600,000 for Junior Lake
$600,000 for Donnie Murphy
Total: $19.6 million
That puts the Cubs at $59.85 million with six spots to fill, four of which (fifth outfielder, backup catcher, final two bullpen spots) can be done pretty cheaply. Let's say $3 million.
Total payroll: $62.85 million
I'll discuss the final three spots in a moment. But before I do, let's discuss what I've already laid out.
Clearly, some of the exact dollar figures will be different (would Lake make as much as Bogusevic? Does Barney get that big of a raise?) and some of the players might not return (Murphy, Parker, etc.). It also assumes Dioner Navarro won't be re-signed (which I think is fair, given his desire to be more than a backup) and that if Shark or Wood is extended, they will get raises in year one but not crazy big ones (which is the strategy TheoJed used with Castro and Rizzo).
It also assumes the Cubs keep either Schierholtz or Sweeney but not both -- but I think that's a good prediction. Sweeney would be my choice because he has more defensive versatility and isn't viewed as a strict platoon guy. But Schierholtz might be easier to keep because he's under team control.
The important thing to remember is that the details above don't have to be that exact. I think we can safely assume that the payroll for 22 spots will be in the range of $60 million to $65 million.
Even if the Cubs slash payroll by 20 percent from Opening Day 2013's $106.8 million (per Cots) the payroll would still be $85.4 million. I have no reason to think the payroll will go down that much, but I think it's a figure most BCBers would agree is a worst-case scenario. Emphasize, 'most'. As for the last three spots ...
I'm going to guess that the Cubs will do everything possible to have Mike Olt starting at third base in 2014. If that doesn't happen, I expect some sort of Valbuena/Murphy platoon to start the year. Either way, the third-base situation won't significantly affect the payroll.
That leaves one starting outfield spot and one rotation spot for about $20 million. This is far from bleak, people.
For that money, the Cubs could easily find another Maholm/Feldman type and go and sign someone like Carlos Beltran, Corey Hart or Nelson Cruz -- any of whom could play left in Wrigley and provide much needed right-handed lineup protection for Rizzo without requiring a megadeal.
If I were more confident about the Cubs' money situation, I might suggest that the $21 million saved from payroll would go toward a posting fee for Tanaka and that the $20 million mentioned above might go toward his salary with the Cubs looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder less costly than Betran, et. al. The payroll would still be around $85 million even if $20 million went to the posting fee.
But let's put the Tanaka thing aside and assume a Feldman/Maholm signing instead. You've got a lineup that's improved with a veteran bat and (hopefully) improving Castro, Rizzo, Sweeney, Castillo and Olt (who, under this scenario, only needs to hit better than Barney did to help the team score runs). You've got a starting rotation that's been the strength of the team this year with some reinforcements (and Rusin, Cabrera types in Iowa as reserves). You've got a bullpen that's looking pretty interesting with a couple spots where young guys can break in.
I still don't think this team can beat even two of the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates in 2014. But I think it's getting there and that .500 is within reach. And that's before Baez, Bryant, et. al emerge.