2015 was a banner year for the Ricketts ownership of the Cubs. They enjoyed their best regular season since 2008 and followed it up with rousing October victories over the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals before bowing out of the tournament against the flamethrowing New York Mets. Nevertheless, Cubs fever is back on a wide scale.
But not all of the success was in Chicago. Although the Cubs graduated a quartet of elite prospects to The Show in Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Kris Bryant, the system enjoyed another successful campaign buoyed by another top-ten draft pick, an aggressive international amateur signing approach, and strong development, particularly in the middle levels.
We've heard a number of things about the Cubs and their spending past. Perhaps of most importance to Cubs fans, we've heard that the Cubs would spend when the time was right.
Did that turn out to be true in 2015? Let's take a look.
This article will focus exclusively on actual spending in 2015, as estimated to the best of my knowledge, with a subsequent article in the coming days with projected 2016 spending.
Last November, I looked at the Cubs' commitments for the coming year and estimated expenditures in amateur talent acquisition. You can see that article here. I explained a number of things in that article, the most important of which was this: these are my estimates based on available information. They are definitely not perfect, but they should give us a sense for total spending.
Approximate Spending from 2007-2014
Before moving to 2015, I think it's useful to revisit the prior years for which I have reasonably detailed information. Now, a disclaimer: these numbers don't look exactly the same as they did last November. That may seem strange, but it is the result of (1) more information coming available, and (2) me fixing a few of the holes in my counting. For example, I've moved the penalty that the Cubs had to pay for overshooting their 2013 international amateur signing bonus pool from 2013 to 2014 given that the club actually paid the penalty in 2014... I think. That's my best guess. If anybody knows exactly when such penalties are due, please let me know in the comments.
Without further ado, here's the approximate spending from 2007-14:
|Draft Bonuses||Dead Money||TOTAL|
True to their word, the Ricketts family cut way back on 40-man spending while pumping some of those cost savings into amateur acquisitions, both domestically and abroad.
As the team's fortunes changed in 2014, did that trend continue? Let's see.
This category, rather unfortunately, jumped rather highly in 2015. This occurred in part because my recordkeeping has gotten better over the years and in part because the Cubs were contenders, less willing to throw away roster spots on underperforming players.
|Kyuji Fujikawa||$500,000||Buyout of $5.5M club option|
|Felix Doubront||$473,361||45 days of termination pay from $1.925M arbitration award|
|Ryan Sweeney||$2,000,000||2015 salary and buyout of 2016 option|
|Phil Coke||$2,250,000||I just put all of Coke down here since he was barely on 40-man|
|Edwin Jackson||$4,600,000||Remaining 2015 salary after release|
I suspect that Cubs teams from 2011-14 would have kept Sweeney, eschewing the Chris Denorfia signing. But the 2015 Cubs were about building the best roster possible immediately. Accordingly, Sweeney had to go.
Normally this category requires a decent bit of estimation and 2015 was no different. Some players in rounds 11 through 40 get $1,000 bonuses and others get the maximum $100,000. None of them are widely reported, so the estimation has to stick.
|Estimate Rounds 6-40||$1,000,000||ESTIMATE|
|Penalties||$256,950||Per Baseball America|
That estimate still bugs me. We have numbers for rounds 6-10, but no bonus amounts the rest of the way. I don't like taking stabs in the dark. Argh.
International Bonuses + Salaries
Rather wonderfully, Jorge Soler made his permanent graduation from this category to the 40-man category (see you down below, Jorge!). Because the Cubs went a little crazy again in this category, it represents a major expense, though it would have been $1 million more had Christopher Martinez's deal not fallen through:
|Gerardo Concepcion||$600,000||Only one more year...|
|Eddy Julio Martinez||$3,000,000|
|Yonathan Sierra Estiwal||$2,500,000|
|Wen Hua Sung||$1,250,000||Unconfirmed Report|
|Brailyn Marquez||$600,000||Unconfirmed Report|
|Luis Diaz||$350,000||On roster; amount unconfirmed|
That "OTHERS" category used to be much larger, but now that Major League Baseball only allows unlimited bonuses in the amount of $10,000 or less, that category has shrunk considerably. Nonetheless, this category ballooned in 2015 and it will stay largely the same when the club's penalty of approximately $10,769,900 comes due.
The meatiest part of all. As I've said in previous iterations of this piece, I like to have an extra member or two of the 40-man to account for the fact that multiple players spend time on the 60-day disabled list, meaning the 40-man roster tends to have 42 or 43 members. Further, my estimates do not otherwise account for minor league salaries or benefit payments to players, so having a couple of extra bodies and counting every member of the 40-man as earning at least the Major League minimum (even though they may be in the minor leagues) gives us a more accurate reflection of actual spending, the whole point of the exercise.
Let's get right to it, then:
|Jon Lester||$30,000,000||Includes $15M signing bonus|
|Edwin Jackson||$6,400,000||Portion when on roster|
|Jason Motte||$4,500,000||assumes no incentives reached|
|David Ross||$2,750,000||Includes $500K signing bonus|
|Rafael Soriano||$1,672,727||Approximate pro-rated salary|
|Tommy Hunter||$1,651,639||Amount remaining at time of trade|
|Fernando Rodney||$1,490,000||Amount remaining at time of trade|
|Austin Jackson||$1,000,000||Amount due from Cubs|
|Tommy La Stella||$513,000|
|James Russell||$507,500||Pro-rated: $421,530|
|Clayton Richard||$507,500||Pro-rated: $230,145|
|Trevor Cahill||$507,500||Pro-rated: $100,320|
|Quintin Berry||$507,500||Pro-rated: $100,320|
Whew! There you have it.
You'll notice that I indicated the approximate pro-rated amounts that the last four players actually received in the column to the right. Here's the thing: while Quintin Berry might have only received approximately $100,320 from the Cubs, his roster spot was manned by guys like Mike Baxter and Junior Lake earlier in the season, guys who are not represented here. Listing only Berry's actual amount would miss the earnings of that earlier players. Is the estimation perfect? Of course not. But I like to try to capture as much information as possible.
Tying It All Together
Well, remember that thing that Tom Ricketts said about money being available when it was needed? It sure seems like he was telling the truth. Here's an updated look at that chart from the top with 2015 added in:
|Draft Bonuses||Dead Money||TOTAL|
In simple total dollars, the 2015 spending eclipsed the 2010 and 2011 expenditures that were fueled by the bloated payrolls from the early Ricketts years, led by the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Dempster, Kosuke Fukudome, Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, and Carlos Silva.
Thankfully, I think that we can all agree that the current roster looks to have a whole lot more staying power than that group.
While the 2015 spending is quite a bit lower than 2009-11 dollars when adjusted for inflation in baseball, personally, I'm a bit surprised (pleasantly) that the total spending got as high as it did this year. The Ricketts really poured a lot of dollars into the international amateur market and ate some bad deals on the MLB level in an effort to win. That's ownership perfection.
We'll look to 2016 in the coming days.