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An updated estimate of the Cubs 2020 payroll and luxury tax

A look at where they stand as the Winter Meetings begin

Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

As of the beginning of this year’s baseball Winter Meetings, the Cubs have made only minor moves. They purchased Jharel Cotton from the Athletics November 23, claimed CD Pelham on waivers from the Rangers November 27, and signed Dan Winkler as a free agent December 6.

None of these are going to move the needle for the 2020 Cubs much. They were designed for bullpen depth. All of the above pitchers have options remaining and could ride a new version of the Iowa Shuttle if needed. (I say “new” because the injured-list minimum for pitchers in 2020 reverts to the previous 15-day length from 10 days. It will be harder to shuttle pitchers back and forth to Des Moines with injured pitchers forced to sit out for 15 days.)

Obviously, we hope the Cubs make some more significant moves this week, or even after the Winter Meetings are over. Some of those moves might include trades as well as free-agent signings.

As has been my custom in this occasional series, I will present the currently-known salaries for the 2020 Cubs, and estimates for both arbitration-eligible and pre-arb players. (Arb estimates are as posted by MLB Trade Rumors.) After the numbers, I will turn the rest of this post over to BCBer The Deputy Mayor of Rush Street for some analysis.

Please note: The estimates are just that, estimates. They could be lower or higher than the numbers listed. They serve as a basis for discussion.

Cubs estimated salaries and tax hits for 2020

Player Salary Tax hit
Player Salary Tax hit
Jon Lester $20,000,000 $25,833,333
Jason Heyward $22,500,000 $23,000,000
Yu Darvish $20,000,000 $21,000,000
Kris Bryant $18,500,000 $18,500,000
Anthony Rizzo $16,500,000 $16,500,000
Craig Kimbrel $16,000,000 $14,333,333
Kyle Hendricks $12,000,000 $13,875,000
Tyler Chatwood $13,000,000 $12,666,667
Jose Quintana $10,500,000 $10,500,000
Javier Baez $9,300,000 $9,300,000
Kyle Schwarber $8,000,000 $8,000,000
Willson Contreras $4,500,000 $4,500,000
David Bote $960,000 $3,000,000
Daniel Descalso $2,500,000 $2,500,000
Albert Almora Jr. $1,800,000 $1,800,000
Kyle Ryan $1,100,000 $1,100,000
Dan Winkler $750,000 $750,000
Jharel Cotton $640,000 $640,000
Ian Happ $625,000 $625,000
Victor Caratini $600,000 $600,000
Tony Kemp $600,000 $600,000
Alec Mills $580,000 $580,000
Rowan Wick $575,000 $575,000
Brad Wieck $565,000 $565,000
Nico Hoerner $565,000 $565,000
James Norwood $565,000 $565,000
Duane Underwood Jr. $565,000 $565,000
CD Pelham $565,000 $565,000
40-man minor leaguers (estimate) $2,500,000
Player benefits & misc (estimate) $15,000,000
TOTAL $184,355,000 $211,103,333

Now, here’s the Dep.

The Cubs spent about as much as any MLB team did on player payroll in 2019, and I expect the same will be true in 2020. (The Cubs have the ability to spend much more, but that’s as much a case of all MLB owners colluding to hold player spending down as it’s the Ricketts family taking windfall profits off Cub fans.)

Put simply, the Cubs spent about as much as any MLB team will spend in this era, and we have no reason yet to think there’s a need to cut back from that. The Cubs have all the ‘financial flexibility’ they will ever need under these spending rules RIGHT NOW, and the new Marquee Network will only add to the end-of-year team profits.

So until there is evidence to the contrary, I’m still thinking the player payroll budget will end up between $230-240 million, $10 million of which will be reserved as a July trade addition budget.

With arbitration tenders out of the way, here’s an updated look at the 2020 Chicago Cubs roster as things stand:

Nicholas Castellanos, Xavier Cedeno, Steve Cishek, Cole Hamels, Brandon Kintzler, Jonathan Lucroy, Pedro Strop, and Ben Zobrist all became free agents at the end of the season.

Derek Holland, David Phelps, Kendall Graveman, Tony Barnette and Brandon Morrow all had their options refused or bought out.

For this update, Addison Russell and Danny Hultzen were non-tendered as of Monday, though there’s a chance that both Morrow and Hultzen will sign minor league deals (after the Rule 5 draft) with the Cubs while they try to work their way back to the majors.

The base luxury tax threshold increases to $208,000,000 in 2020, with the second level at $228,000,000 and the top level at $248,000,000. It is widely assumed that none of the 30 teams will exceed the top level, making it a de facto salary cap. Remember that the figures for calculating the tax include player benefits (estimated at $15 million for 2020) and are NOT necessarily identical to salaries.

Here is a potential 26-man roster for 2020, based on players currently on the roster:

OF Schwarber-Happ-Heyward (with Almora)
IF Bryant-Baez-Hoerner-Rizzo (with Bote-Descalso-Kemp)
C Contreras (with Caratini)
SP Darvish-Hendricks-Quintana-Lester-Chatwood
RP Kimbrel-Wick-Ryan-Wieck-Norwood-Maples-Underwood-Mills