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

... and why you’re likely not going to see even minor signings before spring training begins.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

I see it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these updates, and so it seems an appropriate time to do another. I hadn’t included the acquisitions of Kendall Graveman and Daniel Descalso in the last one, so here’s the updated table of Cubs salary obligations for the 2019 season:

Cubs payroll and luxury tax estimates 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 $13,000,000 $13,000,000
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 $8,200,000 $8,200,000
Steve Cishek $6,500,000 $6,500,000
Pedro Strop $6,250,000 $6,250,000
Javier Baez $6,200,000 $6,200,000
Brandon Kintzler $5,000,000 $5,000,000
Addison Russell $4,250,000 $4,250,000
Brian Duensing $3,500,000 $3,500,000
Kyle Schwarber $3,200,000 $3,200,000
Mike Montgomery $2,300,000 $2,300,000
Carl Edwards Jr. $1,700,000 $1,700,000
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 $570,000 $570,000
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 $205,180,000 $226,287,000

As you can see, currently the Cubs under major-league contract for 2019 put the team over the second luxury-tax threshold of $226 million. There are a couple of caveats here. First, as you’ll note, there are 27 players listed here. Not all of them will be on the 25-man roster, obviously, though Graveman will receive his league-minimum salary while spending (likely) the entire season on the 60-day disabled list. The official minimum in 2019 is $555,000; I’ve given modest increases above that to the players at the bottom of the list, all of whom have big-league experience and would likely get that from the Cubs.

The bottom line of all of this can be stated succinctly: The Cubs aren’t going to go over the $246 million top luxury-tax level. Theo Epstein stated in an interview last week that the tax levels aren’t dictating spending. I believe that to be true. Theo has always spent up to his budget, generally leaving $10 million or so for mid-season acquisitions. That space still exists given the table above. My belief is that the budget (for tax purposes) that Theo has been given probably ends just below the $246 million level. Thus the tax isn’t dictating spending, the budget is.

Now, you can argue that the Cubs can afford to spend more than $246 million on baseball players in 2019, and you would be correct in that argument. Between the team’s ticket revenue, broadcast revenue, other ancillary revenues coming in from various sources and a report Monday that baseball as a whole took in $10.3 billion in 2018, there is absolutely no question that the Cubs have the money to blow way past that limit. For reasons that we’ll likely never know, they have chosen not to do so — and they’re not the only team making that choice.

All of this is likely going to end in a labor dispute of some kind between owners and players after the 2021 season, so enjoy the three years you’ve got until then. It’s not going to be pretty.

And in the meantime, what you see is likely what you’ll get when Cubs pitchers and catchers convene in Mesa in about five weeks (the exact report date hasn’t yet been announced, but figure it to be around February 11).