Most Cubs fans these days are clutching the shirsey or bobblehead or whatever other paraphernalia of their favorite player, rocking back and forth, and quietly repeating to themselves, “They won’t trade my (insert favorite player here).” It feels like a section of Cubs fans are going to get their hearts broken as the Cubs look to shore up their rotation for the now and the future, and that’s going to be via trade.
Of course, the Cubs could solve the rotation by just tossing a bunch of money at people. I don’t want to say Alex Cobb is an outright certainty, but man does it seem likely he’s coming. Still, that’s a mid-rotation starter that won’t let you down but also won’t blow your eyelids back. Jake Arrieta is all but gone, off to… well, likely some point west of here.
There’s one top of the line starter out there, if we just conclude Shohei Otani is more likely to go to an AL team where he can DH on the days he doesn’t pitch (at least that would be the best use for him). That’s You Darvish. But Yu is going to command probably the same money that Arrieta is. So where are the Cubs with their payroll and would Yu fit?
What we do know is that the Cubs are on the hook for $56.6 million next year for Heyward and Lester (ouch). That number for the two of them drops to $49 million in 2019 and $43 in 2020.
Add $16.5 million next year for Zobrist, and that’s $73.1 million for three players (baseball is fun). Quintana gets $8.8, Rizzo $7.2 million, and Strop $5.8 million. So the Cubs are at $94.9 million for those six players. The rest is harder to figure out, because of arbitration hearings.
The first is obviously Kris Bryant. We know the Cubs would love nothing better than to knock out these arbitration years with an extension, but thanks to Scott Boras that’s never coming. It’s hard to find a parallel. Mike Trout signed an extension before he ever got to arbitration. Bryce Harper signed a one-year deal for next season in the middle of this past one for $21 million, and that’s kind of the rarified air we’re talking about. It was thought that Trout would shatter the record of $10 million, and get somewhere around $15 mildo. Some thought $12 million. I think that $12 million figure sounds about right, and it’s only going to go up from there. So that’s $106 million for the Cubs next year.
Another intriguing name is Kyle Hendricks. It wouldn’t seem so, but two years ago Dallas Keuchel set a record for pitchers in arbitration with a $7.2 million award. He had pitched basically four years before that, winning a Cy Young. And uh… well…Hendricks’s three years in the majors, or three and a half, might be better than Keuchel’s at that point. I know, I know. Hendricks isn’t coming off his best season into arbitration as Keuchel was, which helps the Cubs. But by FIP and ERA+, Hendricks has a pretty strong case. Maybe $5 million is what he gets? Four? Let’s put the Cubs at $110 million then.
Addison Russell is another, and if they really pound the defensive metrics on him I suppose he could make more than we think, but I doubt he pushes more than $2 or $3 million. Justin Wilson is in year three of arbitration, and he can at least point at save numbers and his first half before crying when the Cubs point out the last half of the season. Let’s just say it’s a nice, even $120 million for this year before the Cubs sign anyone.
And that $120 million before any big commitments are made to people outside the organization should hold pretty steady for a few years. Rizzo’s salary goes up for the next three years, but only to $14 million and when he goes UFA Lester comes off the books. Zobrist’s salary decreases in 2019 and then he’s off the books. Bryant’s arb-years are obviously going to escalate and so might Russell’s or Baez’s, but that’s assuming both are here. Or Happ and Schwarber are. Strop might not be. Willson Contreras is two years away from making anything.
So if we just assume Cobb is going to make $12-$15 million (even Jason Hammel got nine, folks), the Cubs are somewhere around $135 million. Bryant is still four years away from making the $40 million a year that’s assuredly coming, and any extension he might sign would aim to keep him under that (which is why he won’t sign one assuredly).
The hope would be that Darvish’s terrible World Series might scare some teams off, but with the pitching market so thin that seems a pipe dream. If Arrieta is counting on seven or eight years and $175-200 million, there’s really no reason Darvish can’t expect the same. And Darvish has been good for longer than Arrieta, even with missing a year after Tommy John surgery. He was better last year too, especially in his time in Los Angeles.
Honestly, if Darvish would come for that $25 million, I’d pull the trigger. Next year that wouldn’t have the Cubs anywhere near the $197 million luxury tax threshold, and I doubt they’d be looking at it for another two or three years after that depending on where some arbitration hearings go. And again, Zobrist and Lester come off the books in the not too distant future to balance that out, and Zobrist especially will be replaced by younger, cheaper talent. At least for a bit.
But then I’d probably eschew the Cobb signing and just trade for Chris Archer, as wary as I am of him, but I’m crazy like that.