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On Craig Kimbrel, Ben Zobrist and what the Cubs might spend at the trade deadline

There’s still some money left for more acquisitions.

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

As we all know, Ben Zobrist is on a personal leave of absence with no indication of when or if he will return. He’s been placed on the restricted list, and per this Yahoo article that was written before the signing of Craig Kimbrel, Zobrist’s salary does not count against the luxury tax calculation:

Clubs do not have to pay players on the restricted list, but even if they do, the club can deduct that money from their luxury tax calculations. It’s boring accounting information, but bear with me here.

Zobrist is due $12 million in the final year of his four-year, $56 million deal with a $14 million luxury tax salary, so every day he misses saves the Cubs nearly $75,000. Every month he misses would save the team approximately $2.25 million.

Having missed 25 days, Chicago has already pocketed $1.9 million, and if he misses the rest of the season, as the Cubs have said is possible, it would save another $9 million.

That article was written June 1, so the Cubs have now saved 18 more days’ worth of Zobrist’s salary, or about $1.35 million.

It’s been said the Cubs are still potentially in the market for a veteran lefthanded reliever before the single trading deadline, July 31.

With that in mind, BCBer The Deputy Mayor of Rush Street sent me some analysis of what the Cubs have remaining to spend and how they might spend it. With some minor edits, I post it here in its entirety. More from me below Deputy’s writing (boldface as in the original).

Accounting for Zobrist’s absence and Kimbrel’s signing Cot’s now has the Cubs at approximately $13 million under the $246 million spending level that we figure is the self-imposed spending limit.

(Note: Kimbrel’s deal is listed as a $14.33 million AAV cap hit through 2021, with a ‘22 option.)

Of that $13 million available, my look through the individual contracts appears to show around $2 million in achievable incentives that will be added to this year’s spending. So I imagine they’re setting aside about $3 million to leave a cushion against tripping the draft pick penalty.

There’s also a guy like Tim Collins and possible injury call-ups. Carl Edwards Jr. is still getting paid while on the IL, but when Collins is called up (as he is now) he’s now getting paid as well. For guys on the 40-man, it’s the difference between their minor league rate and their contract number while on the 25-man roster.

For most guys, the net difference comes to something like $2,000, $2,500 per day they’re up with the big league club. Figuring around two guys on average for each of the 100+ days remaining on the season calendar (there will be multiple guys called up for September)... I’d set aside another $500,000 of cap spending for this category.

That would presumably leave Theo around $9.5 million in cap spending as a trade budget.

For Ben Zobrist, while the Cubs are saving around $9.85 million in cash payroll if he doesn’t return, that’s actually $10.9 million in cap spending, based on Zo’s contract AAV of $14 million.

Which means you would want to figure that his return will “cost” the Cubs $2.33 million per month — and that needs to come out of the trade budget (again, assuming that $246 million shall NOT be breached).

So that’s a $9.5 million trade budget, less (for example) $2.18 million if Zobrist were to be reactivated on September 1.

For further illustration of how this may play out, I’ve heard the name Will Smith come up as a trade target. He’s getting paid only $4.225 million this year and is a free agent after the season. If he’s traded for at the 7/31 deadline, that would be around a $1.4 million cap hit to the Cubs. (Or more like $2.1 million if they got him at the beginning of July.)

Shane Greene of the Tigers is similarly priced ($4 million, one more year of arbitration control).

So either of those options should be within reach, at least from a financial standpoint. I imagine the prospect cost will make me wince.

I would also add Sean Doolittle to the list of players who have reasonable contracts who could be acquired at the deadline. Doolittle is under contract for $6 million this year, so that would be about $1.9 million as a cap hit, presuming he was acquired at the deadline. Doolittle also has a team option for $6.5 million for 2020 or a $500,000 buyout. (The option was to become mutual if he finished 100 games between 2018 and 2019, but as his total GF for 2018-19 is currently 62, that’s not likely to happen.)

Deputy also thinks the Cubs might be in the market for a veteran backup catcher, but not to carry on the 25-man roster before August 31. He suggests Victor Caratini could be optioned to Iowa for a month, then return in September.

Personally, I wouldn’t do this. Caratini has become a valuable member of this team. He’s hitting well, and has become, sort of, Yu Darvish’s personal catcher. Caratini could start for a lot of teams, and that gives the Cubs the option to give Willson Contreras more days off. It’s true that if either Caratini or Contreras is injured, the current backup options are Taylor Davis and Francisco Arcia. That’s not optimal, but I wouldn’t want to see the Cubs give up a lot to acquire someone like Welington Castillo or Kevin Plawecki (just to cite two guys who might be available). Most backup catchers hit the way Davis or Arcia do — that’s why they are backups! For now, I think the Cubs can get along fine with those guys stashed at Iowa.

In any case, the Cubs do have money around for further acquisitions. The single trade deadline is now just six and a half weeks away. I’d expect trading action to begin ramping up soon.