Cubs

Taking a long look at the Cubs payroll

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Taking a long look at the Cubs payroll

MESA, Ariz. One day, Theo Epstein will hold up a Cubs jersey at a stadium club news conference and wonder if this really is the right player at the right time.

The megadeal didnt fit into Epsteins plan this winter, as the Cubs tried to reload and assemble as many young players (and years of club control) as possible, scaling down the big-league payroll to almost mid-market levels.

The financial picture came into sharper focus on Monday when the Cubs agreed to contract terms with all 24 players on their 40-man roster with less than three years of service time in the majors.

That group included Jeff Samardzija (2.64 million), Starlin Castro (567,000), James Russell (512,500), Travis Wood (505,000) and Darwin Barney (500,000).

The rest will make less than 500,000, including expected first baseman and cleanup hitter Bryan LaHair. The major-league minimum is set at 480,000 this year.

It depends on how you do the accounting. But the Cubs are projected to spend around 112 million in major-league payroll this season, according to information gathered from a variety of sources.

That estimate includes the more than 15 million the Cubs are paying the Miami Marlins to take on Carlos Zambrano, the final installment on Carlos Penas pillow contract (5 million) and the 2 million buyout for Carlos Silva (part of the Milton Bradley write-off).

The actual 25-man roster that will be at Wrigley Field on Opening Day could cost around 90 million. Again, these are not exact figures, and should not be confused with the overall budget for baseball operations.

But heres a snapshot of how the Cubs have spent on the big-league team the past several years, according to the USA Today salary database:

2005: 87 million
2006: 94 million
2007: 100 million
2008: 118 million
2009: 135 million
2010: 147 million
2011: 125 million

Chairman Tom Ricketts restructured the organization this offseason to give Epstein a president of baseball operations title. Epstein recruited general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod, part of an effort to expand what has historically been one of the smaller front offices in baseball.

The Cubs believe they will have to add more manpower and pay scouts better because of recent changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which will restrict the amount teams can spend in the draft and on international signings.

The roughly 19 million former general manager Jim Hendry pushed the Cubs to spend in those markets last year represented the final talent grab before the labor deal put a cap-and-tax system into place.

Epstein will have to redistribute resources while restocking the farm system. The Cubs could have even more flexibility with the contracts of Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd which are worth 20.5 million combined in 2012 falling off the books after this season.

There is also an opposite reaction. Castro who reached the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits at the age of 21 will be eligible for arbitration as a Super Two player and start to see his salary multiply.

Castros agent, Paul Kinzer, was spotted at HoHoKam Stadium over the weekend. The Cubs could consider a long-term extension for their franchise shortstop. Epstein had a track record of buying out arbitration years (see Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) while running the Boston Red Sox.

Cubs executives used to be obsessed with winning one World Series. They're now trying to build a more sustainable team.

Patience is important, but (so is) urgency, Epstein said at the beginning of spring training. The goal of the 2012 Cubs is to win the World Series. Our goal as an organization is to build an organization that competes on an annual basis in the postseason and gives ourselves a chance to win a World Series.

There arent going to be any shortcuts. Were looking at the big picture and were building this thing the right way.

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

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USA TODAY

Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

The Cubs have made another low-risk gamble on a bullpen arm.

Friday, the Cubs announced they've signed right-hander Daniel Winkler to a one-year deal worth $750K. The deal is a split contract, meaning Winkler will earn a different salary in the major leagues than if he gets sent to the minor leagues. He has one minor league option remaining. 

Winkler, an Effingham, Ill. native holds a career 3.68 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.176 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 117 games (100 1/3 innings). He spent 2015-19 with the Atlanta Braves, undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014 and another elbow surgery in April 2017. The Braves dealt him to the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for closer Mark Melancon.

Winkler posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 big league games last season and a 2.93 ERA in 30 minor league games. His best MLB season came with the Braves in 2018, as he made a career-high 69 appearances and posted a 3.43 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 60 1/3 innings.

The Cubs entered the offseason in search of bullpen upgrades following a rough 2019. That search includes finding pitchers who may not have long track records, but qualities demonstrating their ability to make an impact at the big-league level. In this case, Winkler possesses solid spin rates on his cutter, four-seamer and curveball, meaning he induces soft contact and swings and misses.

“We need to keep unearthing pitchers who we acquire for the right reasons, we work well with and have the physical and mental wherewithal to go out and miss a lot of bats,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference, “which is something we didn’t do a lot of — although we did increasingly in the second half with this pitching group — and find more guys who can go out and pitch in high-leverage spots."

The Cubs were successful in unearthing arms last season, acquiring Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck from the Padres in separate deals. They recently acquired Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s in a similar buy low move.

Not every pitcher will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks were last season, but the Cubs must continue making low-risk bullpen moves. At the best, they find a legitimate relief arms; at the worst, they move on from a low-cost investments.

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