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An updated estimate of the Cubs’ 2022 payroll and luxury tax

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... and a question about what direction the team should take when the lockout ends.

Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

It’s going to be a while before the Chicago Cubs, or any MLB team, can make trades or sign any more new players for the 2022 season, due to Rob Manfred’s lockout. (Yes, I know the owners are behind it, but Manfred is the public face of this labor move.)

Today, I am going to ask you where the Cubs should head when the lockout ends. They have already addressed one of the team’s biggest needs — starting pitching — by claiming Wade Miley on waivers and signing Marcus Stroman. That should make the rotation much stronger.

Clearly, the Cubs aren’t done. As you will see in the always-excellent analysis below by BCBer The Deputy Mayor of Rush Street, they’ve still got tons of room under the (current, which could change in a new CBA) luxury tax level, and should have enough current cash to make another signing or two, even a major one.

So do they go for a big-name shortstop such as Trevor Story or Carlos Correa? Or sign a lesser hitter and address the bullpen?

Before I turn the rest of this post over to Deputy, here’s how the Cubs payroll stacks up for 2022 as of now, in table form:

Cubs estimated salaries and tax hits for 2022

Player Salary Tax hit
Player Salary Tax hit
Marcus Stroman $23,666,667 $23,666,667
Jason Heyward $22,000,000 $23,000,000
Kyle Hendricks $13,875,000 $13,875,000
Wade Miley $10,000,000 $10,000,000
Willson Contreras $8,700,000 $8,700,000
Ian Happ $6,500,000 $6,500,000
Yan Gomes $6,500,000 $6,500,000
David Bote $3,000,000 $3,000,000
Harold Ramirez $1,600,000 $1,600,000
Clint Frazier $1,500,000 $1,500,000
Alec Mills $620,000 $620,000
Rowan Wick $600,000 $600,000
Michael Hermosillo $600,000 $600,000
Adbert Alzolay $590,000 $590,000
Nick Madrigal $590,000 $590,000
Rafael Ortega $590,000 $590,000
Frank Schwindel $590,000 $590,000
Justin Steele $590,000 $590,000
Patrick Wisdom $590,000 $590,000
Codi Heuer $585,000 $585,000
Nico Hoerner $585,000 $585,000
Keegan Thompson $580,000 $580,000
Brad Wieck $580,000 $580,000
Sergio Alcántara $575,000 $575,000
Scott Effross $575,000 $575,000
Tommy Nance $575,000 $575,000
Alfonso Rivas $575,000 $575,000
40-man minor leaguers (estimate) $2,250,000
Player benefits & misc (estimate) $16,000,000
(Reserve for trades) $10,000,000
TOTAL $107,331,667 $136,581,667

You’ll note in Deputy’s analysis that he has listed salaries for 40-man roster players who will likely start 2022 in the minor leagues. I have not included those in the table above. Some of the money attributable to those players will likely be paid as they spend time on the Cubs MLB active roster in 2022, but for now, I’ve left them out.

And now, the rest of today’s analysis is Dep’s.


The 2022 Cubs Roster, Lockout Edition: A big move changes the question

Top Line: Committing nearly $80 million and landing two of the better free agents available* is a sign that (at the least) Jed Hoyer is making a nod to the fans by paying attention to both sides of his version of ‘parallel tracks’. It also opens the question of will the front office go further to set up a plausible playoff spot contender this year - by adding one more key free agent?

To answer that, we’ll have to first see where things stand, and then I’m afraid we’ll have to end the discussion for the time being with more of a question, but a new question. I don’t see clarity at this point.

* - As catchers go, while not necessarily a ‘major’ free agent, Yan Gomes was probably the best available option in the market.

Transactions since our last update

11/19: RHP Ethan Roberts and OF Nelson Velásquez were selected (added to the 40-man) in advance of a Rule 5 Draft that hasn’t happened, at least not yet.
11/22: Cubs acquired OF Harold Ramirez from Cleveland for cash - basically an enhanced waiver claim.
11/30: RHPs Trevor Megill and Jason Adam were waived off the 40-man roster.
12/1: C Yan Gomes signed as a free agent - 2 years, $13 million ($6.5 million AAV)
12/1: RHP Marcus Stroman signed as a free agent - 3 years, $71 million ($23.3 million AAV)
12/1: OF Clint Frazier signed as a free agent - 1 year, $1.5 million (plus up to $1 million in incentives)
12/1: OF Michael Hermosillo signed as a free agent - 1 year, $600,000

Fade. To. Black.

Another reminder that until there is a new agreement, we’re working under the current CBA rules here.

Which means the next date we need to keep in mind is... indeterminate. When a new contract is agreed to between the players and owners, we’ll adapt to whatever new/adjusted rules change the roster-building game. And it seems quite likely that an intensive period to finish locking in a team for the coming season will ensue, possibly as MLB’s answer to “March Madness.”

That said, there has been and will be plenty of coverage of the labor negotiations elsewhere on the site. For now, we watch for additional information from the negotiations. Which as yet, there have been no further talks since the lockdown commenced. Get comfy folks, we’re a ways from urgency.

So where DO we stand with the roster at this point?

(Note, these figures are for each player’s ‘cap hit’, the charge against the Cubs’ luxury tax spending level. The base luxury tax threshold will be assumed to remain at $210,000,000 until a new CBA is agreed to.)

Players with guaranteed contracts

Stroman $23,666,667
Heyward $23,000,000
Hendricks $13,875,000
Miley $10,000,000
Gomes $6,500,000
Bote $3,000,000 (2 options - expected to start the season on the IL)
Frazier $1,500,000 (1 option)
Hermosillo $600,000

================
TOTAL $82,141,667
================

Arbitration-eligible players (based on MLB Trade Rumors Estimates)

Contreras $8,700,000
Happ $6,500,000 (2 options)
Ramirez $1,600,000

================
TOTAL $16,800,000
================

Note: The MLB minimum salary for 2021 was $573,000 - and we’ll assume that stays level, pending a new CBA agreement.

Pre-arb players more likely to make the 26-man roster as things stand

Alcantara $575,000 (OUT OF OPTIONS)
Alzolay $590,000 (OUT OF OPTIONS)
Effross $575,000 (3 options)
Heuer $585,000 (3 options)
Hoerner $585,000 (2 options)
Madrigal $590,000 (3 options)
Mills $620,000 (OUT OF OPTIONS)
Nance $575,000 (2 options)
Ortega $590,000 (OUT OF OPTIONS)
Rodriguez $575,000 (1 or 2 options)
Schwindel $590,000 (2 options)
Steele $590,000 (1 option)
Thompson $580,000 (2 or 3 options)
Wisdom $590,000 (1 option)
Wick $600,000 (1 option)
Wieck $580,000 (OUT OF OPTIONS)

===============
TOTAL $9,390,000
===============

Pre-arb players more likely to start in the minors

Abbott $573,000 (2 options)
Amaya $573,000 (1 or 2 options)
Canario $573,000 (2 or 3 options)
Deichmann $573,000 (2 or 3 options)
Espinoza $573,000 (1 or 2 options)
Marquez $573,000 (2 or 3 options)
Morel $573,000 (2 or 3 options)
Rivas $573,000 (3 options)
Roberts $573,000 (3 options)
Rucker $573,000 (3 options)
Velazquez $573,000 (3 options)
Vizcaino $573,000 (2 or 3 options)

Other expenses

40-man roster players in minors $2,250,000
Pension payments & sundry expenses $16,000,000

(Reserve Withheld for Trades/Buffer)¹ $10,000,000

================
TOTAL $28,250,000
================

GRAND TOTAL FOR CAP PURPOSES $136,581,667

LUXURY TAX THRESHOLD $210,000,000

CUBS CURRENTLY UNDER THE TAX BY $73,418,333

¹- Optional Expense, but some amount figures to be held back from wherever Tom Ricketts has sets the baseball budget.

ADJUSTED FOR ACTUAL PAYROLL EXPENDITURES IN 2022

GRAND TOTAL IN CASH OUTLAY $126,049,667

(This figure includes deducting $532,000 in adjustments between contract payouts and cap valuations, and less the optional $10,000,000 trade buffer.)

Projected roster

OF: Hermosillo, Ortega, Happ, Heyward, Ramirez, Frazier
IF: Wisdom, Hoerner, Madrigal, Schwindel, Alcantara (David Bote is expected to start the season on the IL)
C: Contreras, Gomes

SP: Hendricks, Stroman, Miley, Mills, [Alzolay/Steele]
RP: Wick, Heuer, Thompson, [Alzolay/Steele], Wieck, Effross, Nance, Rodriguez
[with Rucker & Roberts also contending for the last bullpen spot]

Minors: Cory Abbott, Miguel Amaya, Alexander Canario, Greg Deichmann, Anderson Espinoza, Braylin Marquez, Christopher Morel, Alfonso Rivas, Ethan Roberts, Michael Rucker, Nelson Velazquez, Alexander Vizcaino.

(The 40-man roster currently stands at 39.)

Now, the roster here is a bit unrealistic. I don’t see how they can go with six outfielders and just one backup middle infielder to Hoerner and Madrigal, but that’s the way the guaranteed deals have worked out to this point. Six outfielders, none of whom can be sent to the minors without a chance to become free agents. For the last bullpen spot I’ve chosen Manuel Rodriguez’s big arm as a default, but there should be a competition, or even room to add a veteran arm on the other end of the lockout.

But the larger question is: Did the signing of Marcus Stroman open the door for another move, perhaps a move for a “franchise” player?

Last time, I mentioned that it matters if the baseball budget is closer to $140 million vs. closer to $180 million. Well, it stands around $136.5 million now. Of the $70 million or so that I thought Jed Hoyer had to spend, Stroman, Gomes, Ramirez, Frazier and Hermosillo combine for just short of $34 million of it. If a top-level hitter/franchise player like Carlos Correa strikes your fancy, that could take a 10+ year, $300 million+ commitment. Which may not be in the budget unless you’re happy with the rest of the team as is, or if Tom Ricketts is willing to boost the payroll up toward $190 million to land what would be a foundational building block for the next Cubs’ championship contender.

Bottom Line: You can still make a case for another bullpen arm, and at least one more BOR/depth starting pitcher, but a middle infielder, particularly a shortstop seems an obvious add. Considering their track record, I don’t see how you can count on Hoerner and Madrigal to play a combined 280 games. Of course there are still a few options on the free agent shortstop market (age in parentheses):

Carlos Correa (27)
Jose Iglesias (32)
Andrelton Simmons (32)
Trevor Story (29)

Also, but more as utility options:

Mike Freeman (34)
Erik Gonzalez (30)

So I leave you with the new question to chew on — what’s your baseball budget number this year, and are you willing to plan for a step beyond any deal we’ve seen from the Cubs before?

We’ll be back at some point, I imagine, to try and figure out what the new CBA means to the Cub roster in 2022, and perhaps beyond.

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