Can the Cubs be competitive in 2022 with free agents?

I'm working on a little project to see if I can get the Cubs up to 90 wins next year based solely on players currently under team control and a mix of free agents. Obviously this involves a certain amount of statistical projection, and I don't have the skills to do it objectively. But I think my predictions are at least reasonable.

I'm assuming Hoyer will have a budget of $180 million. Of course, we have no idea what the actual budget will be, but $180 is sort of in the middle of where it's been over the last five years. I've made estimates for arbitration and pre-arbitration players (including non-tendering Kyle Ryan), and I've got the Cubs starting with $81 million in salary before they add a single free agent. That includes Heyward ($22), Hendricks ($14), and Bote ($4.01). I gave all the arbitration-eligible players a 67% boost and the pre-arb players a 20% raise. I also assumed $10 million total for random replacement-level players that may be up and down all year.

Not very scientific, but I had to start somewhere.

Finally, I signed four free agents. I'm focused on the annual value rather than the length of the contract.

Marcus Stroman, SP. $25 million.
Zack Greinke, SP. $28 million.
Freddie Freeman, 1B. $30 million.
Robinson Chirinos, C. $1 million.

I assume Stroman signs a longer deal than Greinke, who might sign for two years with a third year option.

Anyway, here's what the roster would look like. Number in parenthesis is my projected WAR for that player.

C1 - Willson Contreras (3.5)
1B - Freddie Freeman (4.5)
2B - Nick Madrigal (2.0)
3B - David Bote (0)
SS - Nico Hoerner (2.0)
LF - Greg Diechmann (1.0)
CF - Ian Happ (2.0)
RF - Jason Heyward (1.5)

SP1 - Kyle Hendricks (3.0)
SP2 - Marcus Stroman (3.0)
SP3 - Zack Greinke (2.5)
SP4 - Adbert Alzolay (1.5)
SP5 - Justin Steele (1.0)

RP1 - Rowan Wick (1.5)
RP2 - Codi Heuer (1.0)
RP3 - Keegan Thompson (1.0)
RP4 - Rex Brothers (0)
RP5 - Brad Wieck (0)
RP6 - Alec Mills (0.25)
RP7 - Someone from Iowa (0)
RP8 - Someone from Iowa (0)

IF1 - Sergio Alcantara (0)
IF2 - Patrick Wisdom (0)
OF4 - Rafael Ortega (0.5)
OF5 - Someone making minimum (0)
C2 - Robinson Chirinos (0.5)

I'm assuming a few things here that you may disagree with:

1. Happ rebounds and has a season more like the rest of his career

2. Heyward rebounds too, but not as much.

4. Hoerner is able to handle shortstop full-time.

5. Neither Wisdom or Bote is very good at all.

If my projections are correct, this team would be expected to win 84 games (32.25 WAR) and have about $15 million left to spend. I think the rotation would be okay, but I don't like the composition of the outfield at all, and third base is a black hole.

I'll continue to pick at it. Feel free to disagree publicly with my assumptions.

UPDATE (8/12/2021)

I've changed a few assumptions.

1. I replaced Freddie Freeman as the big position player signing. Now I have the Cubs signing Carlos Correa. I figure he'll get something resembling the Manny Machado contract, so I've got him penciled in for $32 million. I gave him 5.0 WAR.

2. I pushed Hoerner to center field. I guess it's possible Hoerner goes to third and Happ stays in center. With Hoerner in center, however, I've dropped his WAR to 1.5. Not sure it's a good fit for him.

3. Hoerner in center means Happ is on the bench or platooning with someone. I reduced his WAR to 1.0.

4. The loss of Freeman means Wisdom is probably the first baseman. I'm still bearish on Wisdom long term, but I bumped his WAR up to 1. We'll see.

When all is said and done, this actually had no impact on the projected wins. We're still at 84. There's less money left in the budget though. We're down to $13 million. Probably not enough to re-sign Anthony Rizzo, but enough for Mitch Moreland or maybe Brandon Belt.

Budget: $180 million
Salary: $166.9 million
Total WAR: 32.25
Projected Wins: 84.25

UPDATE (8/13/2021)

Let's see what happens if we increase the budget to $195 million. I've made the following changes under that scenario:

1. I traded Ian Happ for a prospect, which removes his projected $6.8 million salary from the ledger.

2. I signed Starling Marte for $14 million AAV. He will play center field. 3 WAR.

3. I signed Mark Canha for $13 million AAV. He will play left field. This pushes Diechmann to the bench. We also don't really have any right-handed outfielders on the bench. 3 WAR.

4. Wanting some experience in the bullpen, I signed Colin McHugh for a $3.5 AAV. 1.5 WAR.

5. I moved Nico Hoerner to 3B and raised him back up to 2 WAR. Bote is on the bench. Wisdom is still playing first base.

These moves leave the team with about $4.5 million left to spend. It also gets us to 91 wins.

Budget: $195 million
Salary: $190.5 million
Total WAR: 39.25
Projected Wins: 91.25

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