Many people have looked at the Chicago Cubs roster that has gone 7-21 since the trade deadline (and thank you 5-24 Orioles for saving the Cubs from the worst record in baseball over that span) and ask how that team could possibly contend for a division title or even be a .500 ballclub next year.
You’re right. They couldn’t, not as currently constituted. However, the players currently playing baseball in Cubs uniforms aren’t going to be back in 2022, at least most of them aren’t, and Jed Hoyer and his baseball ops team are going to have money to spend on free agents. Lots of money, in fact.
Let’s first look at the Cubs players who will be back and what they will likely cost in 2022. For now, I am going to assume none of them will be traded, though that isn’t likely true for all of them.
The Cubs have just three players under multiyear contract for 2022: Jason Heyward ($22 million, $23 million luxury tax hit), Kyle Hendricks ($14 million salary, $13.875 million luxury tax hit) and David Bote ($2.51 million salary, $3 million luxury tax hit).
Beyond that, three Cubs are arbitration-eligible in 2022: Willson Contreras, Ian Happ and Jonathan Holder. Yes, Holder, who has spent the entire year on the injured list. My feeling is that the Cubs will non-tender Holder and re-sign him to a minor-league deal.
Contreras made $6.65 million in 2021. 2022 is his final arb year, even in a down season he’s likely getting a raise to around $9.5 million or so. Happ made $4.1 million and he’s not having a good year either, but let’s figure he finishes strong and gets $6 million in arbitration. This is assuming, for now, that Contreras is not signed to a long-term deal.
So among those five players, the Cubs would pay $54.01 million in salaries and have a luxury tax hit of $55,375,000.
The Cubs will have to pay their pre-arb players something as well. In my opinion, these are the only players currently on the 40-man roster (or injured) who are guaranteed a spot for Opening Day 2022: Adbert Alzolay, Alec Mills, Codi Heuer, Rowan Wick, Manuel Rodriguez, Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal, Rafael Ortega and Patrick Wisdom.
We don’t know what the minimum salary will be for 2022 because there’s no labor agreement. This year’s minimum is $570,000, so let’s say if they do get a new CBA done it’ll be $600,000, and just for the sake of argument, those nine players average about $650,000 each.
That’s $5.85 million. So now we’ve got 14 players — just over half a 26-man roster — under contract for $59.86 million and a luxury tax hit of $61,225,000.
My proposed roster so far breaks down as follows:
Hendricks, Mills, Alzolay, Heuer, Rodriguez, Wick
Bote, Hoerner, Madrigal, Wisdom
Happ, Heyward, Ortega
Obviously, this needs work. And the Cubs could have around $90-100 million to spend in free agency to fill those needs. I’ve made some of these suggestions here previously, and now have adjusted some of the dollar figures and have some additional thoughts.
Let’s start with pitching.
Sign Robbie Ray to a three-year, $50 million deal with a fourth-year team option
Ray has resurrected his career this year with the Blue Jays, a 5.7 bWAR season (with a month to go!). He turns 30 in October and I believe he would be worth these three years, and give the Cubs a lefthanded rotation presence they don’t now have. The AAV on this deal for luxury tax purposes would be $16,666,667. For now, let’s assume the salary breakdown is the same for each year.
Sign Alex Wood to a three-year, $33 million deal with a fourth-year team option
Another lefthander to bolster the rotation, Wood has been a guy I’d have liked to see the Cubs acquire for some time. He’s been healthy this year and though his ERA is higher than one might like, he’s posted 1.1 bWAR so far. The AAV here is $11 million, reasonable for a guy who will turn 31 in January.
Sign Andrew Chafin to a two-year, $10 million deal
Chafin liked it in Chicago and the feeling from the fanbase was mutual. The A’s aren’t going to pay him that kind of money. He has a $5.25 million mutual option which Oakland will almost certainly decline, making him a free agent. A two-year deal of this sort would pretty much match that 2022 option year, plus give him one more.
Sign Ryan Tepera to a two-year, $7 million deal
Like Chafin, Tepera appeared to like things on the North Side. He is a good, dependable setup man and that’s a reasonable price for such a reliever who turns 34 in November.
I’ve added four pitchers to the six from earlier, so that’s 10. A rotation of Hendricks, Ray, Wood, Mills and Alzolay is at least competent. Wick or Rodriguez could close, with Heuer, Tepera and Chafin as setup guys.
The other three pitchers could be picked up off the scrap heap — just as the Cubs did previously with Chafin and Tepera — or come from a minor-league group that includes Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Dillon Maples, Brad Wieck, Scott Effross or any one of a number of players from the system who could step up (Ben Leeper, for example). Most likely those would come to minimum salary or slightly above. Let’s be generous and say that if one or more comes from the outside those three would average $900,000 each.
We now have 21 players “under contract” for $98,726,667. The luxury tax hit for those 21 is $100,091,667.
There are eight position players listed above, so for our 26-man roster we need to add five players. Theoretically, there’s about $45-$50 million available to spend for 2022, so let’s go ahead and fake-spend it!
Sign Kyle Schwarber to a two-year, $30 million deal with a third-year team option
Look what Kyle’s been doing in Boston:
Alex Cora hopes Kyle Schwarber can play first base tomorrow. Infielder's coach Ramon Vazquez has been working overtime with Schwarber to get him ready.— Jen McCaffrey (@jcmccaffrey) August 25, 2021
On Schwarber's impact thus far. https://t.co/MmwOvRnWL6 pic.twitter.com/Aeyf4Dq7rH
Yes, I know. Schwarber has played, at the time of this post, just a bit more than one game at first base. And I am here suggesting the Cubs sign him to do exactly that.
Why? He’s hitting the ball like Cubs fans always hoped he would and I believe he can handle the position. He turns 29 in March and seems to be just hitting his prime bat-wise. This move would be popular, help the offense, and cover first base with a player better than Frank Schwindel. (No offense, Frank.)
I asked Mike Carlucci, who writes for our SB Nation Red Sox site Over The Monster, whether he thought the Red Sox would exercise Schwarber’s option:
With the IL stint to start his time in Boston, low cost in cash, and reasonable position flexibility I think it’s gonna happen. I know he’s been called a rental but how could you just punt talent away?
And then he realized:
Aww it’s a mutual option? Oh well he’s gone
So Kyle will almost certainly be a free agent. The Cubs should bring him back. Presuming we get the universal DH in 2022, Schwarber could fill that role as well from time to time.
Sign Jake Marisnick to a one-year, $4 million deal
Marisnick had a $4 million option with the Cubs for 2022, which went to the Padres in trade. They won’t pay it; instead they’ll pay his $500,000 buyout and he’ll become a free agent. The Cubs should match the option they originally had. Marisnick and Ortega would make a pretty good center field platoon for a year — I assume Brennen Davis will be the Cubs’ center fielder in 2023.
So far, I have only “spent” about half of the money I figure the Cubs would have available for next year, so let’s go for broke:
Sign Nick Castellanos to a two-year, $40 million deal with a third-year option
This assumes Castellanos opts out. In some ways, opting out for him is a risk due to the uncertainty over the CBA. But many analysts think he will, and an AAV of $20 million for two years bumps him up 25 percent from the $16 million he’s now guaranteed.
Just note, Castellanos is still a lousy defender. He’s got negative defensive bWAR for basically every year of his career, -9.9 bWAR defensively for his career. This signing would be almost exclusively to DH, with occasional starts in the outfield.
That’s three players of the five noted. For the two others, one could be Sergio Alcántara so the Cubs have a defensive player to back up Hoerner at shortstop and the other Robinson Chirinos returning as a backup catcher. Alcántara gets the assumed league minimum of $600,000 and $1 million goes to Chirinos.
For 2022, that would add $40.6 million more of salary (and luxury tax) to make the final Opening Day Cubs payroll salary number $139,326,667 and the luxury tax hit $140,691,667.
And with that, I present my proposed 2022 Cubs Opening Day roster:
Kyle Hendricks, Robbie Ray, Alex Wood, Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Rowan Wick, Manuel Rodriguez, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, Codi Heuer, Keegan Thompson, Brad Wieck, Justin Steele
Willson Contreras, Robinson Chirinos
Kyle Schwarber, David Bote, Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, Sergio Alcántara
Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, Nick Castellanos, Jake Marisnick, Rafael Ortega
Now, is that a great, all-time team? No, it is not. But it would, I believe, be a team that could easily play over .500 ball and compete for a division title in the NL Central. The signings would send a message that the Cubs intend to retool on the fly — and they’d still have all the prospects acquired in the deadline deals, some of whom might help build the next Cubs champion.