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An updated look at the 2018 Cubs payroll and luxury tax

The Cubs should still have room to sign a free-agent starting pitcher.

Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Last month, I took a preliminary look at what Cubs players will make in salary in 2018.

Now that everyone with arb eligibility except Justin Grimm is signed (and really, they couldn’t have bridged a $275,000 gap?), let’s have another look at what Cubs players will get paid this season.

Here’s the table from the previous article, updated with the arb figures:

Cubs estimated salaries and tax hits for 2018

Player Salary Tax hit
Player Salary Tax hit
Jason Heyward $28,166,667 $23,000,000
Jon Lester $27,500,000 $25,833,333
Ben Zobrist $16,000,000 $14,000,000
Tyler Chatwood $12,500,000 $12,666,666
Kris Bryant $10,850,000 $10,850,000
Brandon Morrow $9,000,000 $10,500,000
Jose Quintana $8,850,000 $4,200,000
Anthony Rizzo $7,285,714 $5,857,143
Steve Cishek $6,500,000 $6,500,000
Pedro Strop $5,850,000 $5,925,000
Justin Wilson $4,200,000 $4,200,000
Kyle Hendricks $4,175,000 $4,175,000
Addison Russell $3,200,000 $3,200,000
Drew Smyly $3,000,000 $5,000,000
Justin Grimm $2,475,000 $2,475,000
Tommy La Stella $950,000 $950,000
Dario Alvarez
Javier Baez
Mike Montgomery
Kyle Schwarber
Carl Edwards Jr.
Willson Contreras
Albert Almora Jr.
Victor Caratini
Ian Happ
25-man 0-3 players (estimate) $6,075,000 $6,075,000
40-man minor leaguers (estimate) $2,250,000
Player benefits (estimate) $13,000,000
TOTAL $156,577,381 $160,657,142
2018 TAX THRESHOLD $197,000,000

For Grimm’s salary I used the figure he asked for, since we don’t know the final number yet. It might (and probably will) wind up slightly lower, as the Cubs’ offer was $2.2 million.

The arb figures added to this table bump up both the actual salaries and the hit to the luxury tax number by $1.35 million. That’s not a large increase; any further increase would come from the difference in my estimate ($6.75 million) and the actual renewal salaries paid to the pre-arb players listed in italics above. The minimum salary for MLB this year is $545,000; several of the players listed are likely to get somewhat more than that in 2018, as Kris Bryant did last year, when he made $1.05 million, quite a bit more than the $535,000 minimum in place in 2017.

What does this all mean, then, for the rest of the offseason and the Cubs’ search for another starting pitcher?

The Cubs have gone on record as saying they want to stay under the $197 million payroll limit for the luxury tax in 2018. Whether the reason for that is an unstated desire to go after Bryce Harper next offseason or whether the team has other reasons for that isn’t really relevant to this discussion.

What is relevant is the so-called “cap space” under the tax limit. Major League Baseball doesn’t have a salary cap by rule, but the tax has become a de facto “cap” because of the much larger penalties for going over that were agreed to in the last collective-bargaining agreement.

You can be certain that the players will want to renegotiate that when the current CBA is up after the 2021 season, as the new taxes have significantly altered what many players, particularly the “mid-level” free agents, have received in offers.

For now, though, the Cubs’ stated desire to stay under the tax means that they have $36,342,858 remaining of “cap space” for 2018. The estimate of $6,075,000 for the pre-arb players comes from this spreadsheet at Cot’s. (Note that the Cot’s sheet splits the difference between the Cubs offer and Grimm’s request, and I have used the higher figure.)

Going under the assumption that Theo Epstein & Co. would like to have about $10 million remaining for midseason acquisitions, that would leave $26,342,858 of room to acquire a starting pitcher for 2018.

I’d think that would leave enough room to sign Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, even if the Cubs have to go a bit into that “rainy day fund” of $10 million to do it.

The first pitcher and catcher workout is four weeks from Wednesday. You’d think they’d want to get it done soon so that they’ve got a good idea of what the rotation will look like beginning March 29 in Miami.

Here’s hoping it’s done soon.