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Another updated look at the Cubs’ 2019 payroll and luxury tax

The arbitration figures released Friday give the Cubs a bit... but just a bit... more tax space.

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Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

With the Cubs’ seven arbitration-eligible players all signed as of Friday’s deadline, it’s a good time to take another look at the team’s estimated payroll and luxury-tax hits for 2019. Here’s the updated table as of today:

Cubs payroll and luxury tax hits for 2019

Player Salary Tax hit
Player Salary Tax hit
Jon Lester $25,000,000 $25,833,333
Jason Heyward $20,000,000 $23,000,000
Yu Darvish $20,000,000 $21,000,000
Cole Hamels $20,000,000 $20,000,000
Kris Bryant $12,900,000 $12,900,000
Tyler Chatwood $12,500,000 $12,666,667
Ben Zobrist $12,000,000 $14,000,000
Anthony Rizzo $11,000,000 $5,857,000
Jose Quintana $10,500,000 $10,500,000
Brandon Morrow $9,000,000 $10,500,000
Kyle Hendricks $7,405,000 $7,405,000
Steve Cishek $6,500,000 $6,500,000
Pedro Strop $6,250,000 $6,250,000
Javier Baez $5,200,000 $5,200,000
Brandon Kintzler $5,000,000 $5,000,000
Brian Duensing $3,500,000 $3,500,000
Addison Russell $3,400,000 $3,400,000
Kyle Schwarber $3,390,000 $3,390,000
Mike Montgomery $2,440,000 $2,440,000
Carl Edwards Jr. $1,500,000 $1,500,000
Daniel Descalso $1,500,000 $2,500,000
Willson Contreras $650,000 $650,000
Albert Almora Jr. $620,000 $620,000
Ian Happ $600,000 $600,000
Kendall Graveman $575,000 $575,000
Victor Caratini $570,000 $570,000
David Bote $570,000 $570,000
40-man minor leaguers (estimate) $2,250,000
Player benefits & misc (estimate) $14,500,000
TOTAL $202,570,000 $223,677,000

Just six players of those listed above don’t officially have salary figures for this year; those are the pre-arb players, including Kendall Graveman, who at this time has a listed salary of $575,000. Graveman’s salary (and tax hit) could increase to $2 million if he spends one day on the active roster in 2019, so the team has to take that into account when figuring the luxury tax.

As you can see, the fact that the seven arb-eligible players’ salary figures came in somewhat below previous estimates means that the Cubs have a little bit of room left below the second level of luxury tax, which kicks in at $226 million. Currently the Cubs sit $2,323,000 below that at $223,677,000 (estimated). Graveman making about $1.4 million above his current minimum salary would eat up about 60 percent of the “under.”

Also, it’s entirely possible that some of the other pre-arb players’ salaries will differ from what’s listed above, which are strictly estimates. The Cubs might wind up paying Willson Contreras more than the $650,000 listed. On the other hand, you’ll note that there are 27 players listed in the table. Graveman will start the year on the 60-day DL, but still draw his salary. David Bote, however, might wind up spending some time at Triple-A Iowa, especially with Daniel Descalso on board. If that happens to Bote, he’s likely going to be on a split contract which pays him more only if he’s on the big-league roster. So overall his number might be less than the $570,000 I have estimated. The MLB minimum for 2019 is $555,000.

The Cubs currently have about $22 million or so of estimated space below the top luxury-tax level, which is widely assumed to be the Cubs’ budget ceiling for 2019. I’m not here to debate whether or not that’s a good thing (it probably isn’t, either for players or for the game), but the Cubs appear to have made that choice and we all have to live with it.

Theo & Co. generally like to leave about $10-$12 million in reserve for midseason acquisitions, so that presumably leaves about $10 million of “cap space” for an acquisition now. We have been told, however, by Ken Rosenthal that the Cubs would need to move salary even to afford a reliever in the $6 million range like Adam Warren:

In​ late​ November,​ the Cubs’ budgetary​ restrictions caused​ them to lose​ free-agent reliever Jesse​​ Chavez to the Rangers on a two-year, $8 million contract. Little has changed since then, and the Cubs would need to clear money to sign even a modestly priced reliever such as free-agent righty Adam Warren, according to major-league sources.

So that would seem to indicate that maybe the Cubs don’t want to go over that $226 million level, at least not before the 2019 season begins.

Cubs pitchers and catchers report to the Mesa spring-training complex in just 29 days. It would seem that those on the 40-man roster now, plus whoever the Cubs give non-roster invites to, are who you’re going to see there.