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Building a spreadsheet champion, 2010

This post will be geared towards trying to find a way to build a team that can compete in 2010. Now, here are the rules I'll impose on myself: I'll start with the same figure Al used in his post: $145M for the upcoming season. In terms of objectives, I've got to find a way to get the team to the 90-win plateau. Why? NL Central champions have averaged 92.7 wins and NL Wild Card teams have averaged 90.7. If the Cubs want a shot at the playoffs, they'll need to build a team they can expect to get to at least the 90-win mark. How do we measure/predict whether or not the team can expect to total 90 wins? There are a lot of ways to do this. However, the one that provides the best combination of ease and accuracy is to use projections of wins above replacement (WAR). (By the way, I strongly recommend reading the 14-piece work at fangraphs on WAR I linked to there. It's an easy read, and hammers home how simple and yet comprehensive the WAR methodology is.) The debate as to whether that's wise let's try to leave for another day. Let's just leave it at this: nothing is perfect, but I've got to use something to keep me honest in my expectations, and that's probably the most accurate, rigorous option available to me.

The Cubs find themselves in a precarious position. They've got a lot of money locked up in only a few players, and that leaves them with little financial flexibility, particularly in the short term. Unfortunately, they also don't have much inexpensive help coming from the minor leagues in the near term. Most of their top prospects are mid-range arrivals. You almost certainly won't see any of them starting the season with the big league club, but you may see them by late 2010 or early 2011. The question is this: how do the Cubs bridge the gap between their current roster and the one that'll include current Cub prospects? Follow me past the jump to find out...

PLAN A: Stay the course.

Let's start with the 2009 roster. The Cubs have already committed ~$122,658,333 to 10 players from 2009 plus Luis Vizciano: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster, Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, Milton Bradley, Jeff Samardzija, and Aaron Miles. Al projected a total of $10,175,000 in payouts to the following 12 players: Geovany Soto, Koyie Hill, Jeff Baker, Ryan Theriot, Andres Blanco, Sam Fuld, Jake Fox, John Grabow, Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman, Randy Wells, and Sean Marshall. Fontenot made $430,000 in 2009 so let's say he makes an even $500,000 in 2010. Heilman made $1,625,000 in 2009. Since these guys usually get raises, he'll probably make around $1,750,000 in 2010. Finally, there's Rich Harden. Most of the estimates I've seen have him getting awarded something in the neighborhood of $10M by arbiters. If you add it all up, that's a total team salary of... $144,958,333. That's our budgeted payroll for 2010. Now, let's continue down this path and see how good we can expect the Cubs to be if they trot out the 2009 team again in 2010.

There are number of forecasting systems we could use for this, but the most comprehensive ones already out for 2010 are those by Bill James, available at fangraphs. I've combined these with the projected UZR (fielding) ratings at SBN site Beyond the Boxscore. Here's what these forecasts predict for current Cubs position players in 2010. I show projected wOBA from James, offensive Runs Above Replacement (RAR) according to wOBA, defensive RAR according to projected UZR from Jeff Zimmerman at BtB, positional and replacement RAR according to fangraphs, total RAR as the sum of the other RAR's, and WAR as RAR/10. You can get more on the details of any of these columns here.

Player AB wOBA Off. RAR Def. RAR Pos. RAR Repl. RAR Tot. RAR WAR
Lee 595 0.386 32.2 1.8 -11.3 19.8 42.5 4.3
Ramirez 506 0.375 21.2 -0.4 1.9 16.9 39.6 4.0
Soto 473 0.362 14.4 0.0 9.0 15.8 39.2 3.9
Bradley 467 0.365 16.0 -0.9 -5.3 15.6 25.4 2.5
Fukudome 520 0.349 9.4 -6.0 2.0 17.3 22.7 2.3
Soriano 567 0.346 8.0 1.5 -6.5 18.9 21.9 2.2
Theriot 599 0.319 -6.9 0.4 6.8 20.0 20.3 2.0
Baker 322 0.346 4.6 -0.3 1.2 10.7 16.2 1.6
Fox 218 0.375 9.0 0.0 -2.5 7.3 13.7 1.4
Fuld 115 0.317 -1.6 0.0 0.4 3.8 2.7 0.3
Hill 218 0.289 -8.7 0.0 4.1 7.3 2.8 0.3
Blanco 172 0.285 -7.3 0.0 2.0 5.7 0.4 0.0
Miles 124 0.300 -3.5 -2.3 0.5 4.1 -1.2 -0.1
Fontenot 359 0.273 -20.0 1.4 1.4 12.0 -5.2 -0.5
Total 5255 66.9 -4.8 3.7 175.2 241.0 24.1

Now, lets look at the pitchers. I'll show their projected IP and FIP according to James, the replacement FIP for their position (4.45 for a relief pitcher in the NL, 5.37 for an NL starter, and 4.91 as the average of the two for swingmen), the runs/win for their environment, their pitching RAR, and pitching WAR. Again, look here for details.

Player IP FIP Rep. FIP Runs/Win RAR WAR
Zambrano 180 3.99 5.37 9.7 27.6 2.83
Lilly 170 4.3 5.37 10.0 20.2 2.03
Harden 135 3.67 5.37 9.5 25.5 2.68
Dempster 195 3.92 5.37 9.7 31.4 3.24
Gorzelanny 81 4.01 4.91 9.8 8.1 0.83
Samardzija 43 5.47 4.91 10.9 -2.7 -0.25
Wells 188 4.1 5.37 9.8 26.5 2.70
Grabow 72 4.17 4.45 9.9 2.2 0.23
Marmol 73 4 4.45 9.8 3.7 0.37
Guzman 58 4.11 4.45 9.8 2.2 0.22
Marshall 71 4.34 4.91 10.0 4.5 0.45
Heilman 72 4.25 4.45 9.9 1.6 0.16
total 1338 50.33 59.38 118.7 150.9 15.50

That's a total of 39-40 wins above replacement for the team. A replacement level team would be expected to win ~30% of their games, or 48 over the course of a season. This would put the Cubs at ~87-88 wins. That's not going to cut it... but it's pretty close. This is a team that with a couple minor moves could become a contender.

Of course, it isn't that simple. There's no way Bradley returns, and it looks as if Harden won't, either. That'll free up around $20M in 2010 salary, minus whatever portion of Bradley's salary the Cubs are stuck with. It'll also sap about 5 wins from the totals I calculated above, leaving the Cubs as an 83-win team. They could get some of that back if they move Gorzelanny into Harden's rotation spot, and move Fukudome over to RF, assuming Fukudome's time in CF and Gorzelanny's bullpen innings are replaced by, well... replacement-level players. That would probably net ~2.5 wins, bringing the team back up to the talent level of an 85-win squad.

How to they get from 85 wins to 90? I'm going to propose 2 ways of doing this. First, I'll go the trade route...

PLAN B: Trade for Granderson, and all will be well

The answer to many of the Cubs' problems has been pointed out before: Curtis Granderson. He's relatively young, relatively inexpensive, plays a premium defensive position and one that no one currently on the team can play effectively. He's also left-handed, and would bring balance back to the lineup after Bradley's departure. What would it take to get him? Well, Jake Fox is a pretty darn good hitter. Unfortunately, he's a butcher in the OF. What he needs is a team that can get him plenty of at bats at DH and occasionally play him at 3rd and in corner OF spots. The Tigers are just such a team. Now the deal won't end with Fox, not by a long shot. The Tigers are rumored to be interested in Austin Jackson, a CF prospect with the Yankees. The Cubs have two CF prospects that should interest the Tigers: Brett Jackson and Tyler Colvin. I'd let them have their pick of the two (but I'd try Colvin first). That's still probably not enough to get a deal done. Here's where I'm going to speculate a little. The Granderson rumors have been often explained as being part of an effort by the Tigers to shed payroll. Given Granderson's modest salary, that simply doesn't make sense unless the reports are wrong... or unless Granderson is "bait" the Tigers are dangling on the end of the hook of one of their horrible contracts. Here's what I'd propose: in addition to two prospects, the Cubs send Ryan Theriot to Detroit. In return, the Cubs get Granderson and take on one of Detroit's bad contracts in Carlos Guillen. The Tigers would get a prospect and two inexpensive, cost-controlled players. In return, the Cubs would get Granderson to play CF, and Guillen to play SS (or 2B if/when Castro emerges). The Cubs would also take on $18.5M in salary (the Tigers would take on ~$1M). This leaves ~$3M to play with. If possible, I spend that money on Pat Burrell in the oft-rumored deal between the Cubs and the Rays. Give the Rays that remaining $3M to make up the difference between Burrell's 2010 salary and that of Bradley and take the straight-up swap. (You'd likely have to then send another payment to cover a portion of Bradley's salary in 2011). You 'd use Burrell as a platoon "partner" with Fukudome and Granderson (though not obviously on the same day), to rest Soriano and Lee, and as an incredible bench bat. With those two moves, the Cubs salary would stay at ~$145, and they would also probably be a contender. Guillen and Granderson would bring about 5-wins to the table, putting the Cubs back up at the 90-win plateau. Anything Burrell added on top of that would be gravy. (EDIT: I just realized that this puts the Cubs' payroll closer to $150M. I spent the money on MB, but forgot to add in Burrell's salary! I'd just change this idea to "trade for Granderson and Guillen, and pay most of MB's salary while trading him for prospects. That, or give up more prospects in the Detroit deal, hold onto Theriot instead of Guillen, and use the money I slotted for Guillen on Burrell, instead.)

PLAN C: Hit the FA market for a CF and a 2B.

Now, if the Tigers trade rumors are just that... then the Cubs have to look elsewhere. In this case, I'm going to try to ditch the trade rumors and fill out the squad with free agents. Without a trade for Granderson, the Cubs would still need to find a CF'er. Marlon Byrd would fit nicely in CF, as would Mike Cameron. I'd offer them both 1-2 year deals worth $5-7M per season. That would leave the Cubs lineup extremely RH-heavy, so I'd also pursue Rick Ankiel as a platoon partner/4th OF/Soriano insurance. I'd offer Ankiel less money, but I also think he'll get less than the other two. If he isn't interested in a Reed Johnson-type contract (worth about $3M/season) then I'd pass. These moves would net about 2-wins, leaving the team a few wins short of the playoffs. The most obvious place for another upgrade would at this point be 2B. If the Cubs get Byrd to play CF, they should really look for a 2B that can hit left-handed. The best options that fit that description are Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez. I'd take either, and would again offer 1-2 year contracts worth $5-7M per season. In this scenario, Mike Fontenot would become expendable, as Jeff Baker would become the team's "DeRosa-style" utility fielder, and Blanco would be the late-inning defensive replacement. I would try to find him another home. Notice that in this scenario, the Cubs would only take on $14-$17M of salary in the free agent signings. They'd also be a little shy of 90 wins, so this is a team that would probably have to add another piece (a closer/late-inning reliever, most likely) at the trade deadline. I'd use whatever is left over to move Bradley for prospects, a bench bat, or some pitching.

So there you have it. Three plans for the Cubs. They could stay the course, trade for Granderson, or sign Byrd/Cameron AND Lopez/Hudson. And all of these scenarios yield Cubs teams that project to finish the season with 90 wins while keeping the total team salary under $145,000,000.