Carl Edwards Jr.

Where Cubs payroll stands after the arbitration deals

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USA TODAY

Where Cubs payroll stands after the arbitration deals

The Cubs' 2019 payroll figure became a bit more clear on Friday, as the team agreed to deals with all seven of their arbitration-eligible players.

Of the seven players, shortstop Addison Russell — who is serving a 40-game suspension for domestic violence — has perhaps the most interesting contract. Russell's contract is worth $3.4 million, though he will lose about $600K while serving the remaining 28 games of his suspension. 

Russell could recoup the lost salary through five bonuses if he is on the active roster for 30, 60, 90, 120 and 150 days, respectively. The shortstop made $3.2 million in 2018 and was projected to make $4.3 million in 2019, though his suspension surely affected the figure that he ultimately received.

Here are the salary figures for the other six arbitration-eligible Cubs:

-Javier Báez -$5.2 million 

-Kris Bryant - $12.9 million 

-Carl Edwards Jr. - $1.5 million

-Kyle Hendricks - $7.405 million 

-Mike Montgomery - $2.44 million

-Kyle Schwarber -$3.39 million 

Despite this offseason being his first as an arbitration player, Báez's salary is the biggest surprise of the group. Not only was he the Cubs' best player in 2018, but he also finished second in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.  In fact, MLB Trade Rumors projected Báez to receive $7.1 million.

Bryant, who is in his second year of arbitration, will see his salary increase modestly from 2018. His $10.85 million salary last season set the record for the highest awarded to a first-year arbitration player. Hendricks, who is also a second-year arbitration player, will receive a substantial raise from the $4.175 that he made in 2018.

Edwards Jr. ($594,000), Montgomery ($611,250) and Schwarber ($604,500) will all receive handsome raises from 2018. However, they were not eligible for arbitration until this offseason, hence the hefty raises.

If Russell does ultimately recoup the $600K, the Cubs will pay the aforementioned seven players about $36.235 million combined, short of the $38.9 million total projected by MLBTR. The difference here is marginal, but it's worthy to note when considering how the Cubs' budget constraints have been discussed at length.

Including the estimated $14.5 million for player bonuses and $2.2 million for minor league players on the 40-man roster, Friday's deals will push the Cubs' projected 2019 Opening Day payroll to a little more than $225 million.

The projection does not account for any additions that the Cubs could still make, such as adding bullpen help and/or a backup catcher. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs will surpass MLB's $206 million luxury tax threshold by a wide-margin. Hopefully this puts things into perspective for any fans clamoring for the Cubs to make more offseason moves. 

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Cubs reportedly agree on arbitration-avoiding deals with seven players, including the suspended Addison Russell

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly agree on arbitration-avoiding deals with seven players, including the suspended Addison Russell

The Cubs have reportedly settled with a host of their arbitration-eligible players, including suspended shortstop Addison Russell.

Russell is reported to be getting a one-year deal worth $3.4 million, with bonuses built in should he be on the major league roster for a certain number of days this season following the conclusion of his suspension — handed down by Major League Baseball at the end of last season in the wake of detailed descriptions of mental, emotional and physical abuse by Russell's ex-wife, Melisa Reidy — which will last through roughly the first month of the season.

Some of that $3.4 million will be taken out of Russell's salary while he's suspended, so the bonuses allow him a chance to make that money back should he stay on the roster, as explained by the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmeyer.

Russell, though, wasn't the only Cub to reportedly agree to a new deal and avoid the arbitration process. Reports have numbers for third baseman Kris Bryant, NL MVP runner-up Javy Báez, starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, swingman Mike Montgomery and relief pitcher C.J. Edwards.

These numbers have long been projected, but with the contracts officially agreed to, the Cubs now have an even more exact layout of their 2019 payroll, a big roadblock in their ability to augment the roster this offseason.

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As Cubs search for bullpen help, how much should they weigh closing experience?

As Cubs search for bullpen help, how much should they weigh closing experience?

The Cubs undoubtedly will add options to their bullpen this winter, but in what form remains to be seen.

Will they acquire a high-leverage left-hander or continue to fill in the roster with veterans and unproven young southpaws and hope lightning strikes? Will they add more guys capable of throwing multiple innings per outing? Do they need to add another pitcher with closing experience?

Let's tackle that last question.

The Cubs signed Brandon Morrow during the MLB Winter Meetings last year and tabbed him as the closer assuming no other deals with Wade Davis or another stopper came to fruition.

Obviously no other deal came about, with Morrow and Steve Cishek serving as the top bullpen additions last winter. The Morrow Experience got off to a great start as he went 7-for-7 in save opportunities and didn't give up a run until May 5.

But then disaster struck — first in the form of a bad pants-taking-off experience in mid-June and then a bone bruise in his forearm in mid-July. The end result was Morrow missed the entire second half of the season, only throwing off a mound twice before being shut down in September.

Pedro Strop stepped in at closer and did a fantastic job...before he, too, went down with an injury in mid-September.

That left Joe Maddon to piece together a closer on a daily basis from Cishek (who seemingly ran into a wall in the season's final month from overuse), Justin Wilson and Jesse Chavez. Heck, even Randy Rosario (Sept. 13) and Jorge De La Rosa (Sept. 14) picked up saves in that span.

Morrow and Strop are in line to be 100 percent healthy by spring training and Cishek is well rested, but Chavez is gone and Wilson is expected to sign elsewhere this winter.

The Cubs have tabbed Carl Edwards Jr. as a future closer, but he needs to rebound from his most recent late-season fade and prove he can be a consistent, dominant force for a full season before jumping into that role.

Theo Epstein historically does not hand out megadeals to closers, understanding the volatility of relievers and how risky it is to sink so much of a team's payroll into a guy whose performance can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year and who will only throw 60-70 innings a season even in a best case scenario. That stands to reason this winter more than any other given the financial constraints the Cubs are working under.

So does that take the Cubs out on free agent pitchers like Craig Kimbrel, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino and Zach Britton?

"Just weigh all the alternatives," Epstein said last month. "I do believe getting those last outs can be a little bit more challenging than getting the other outs, so it's not just any job. But I'm a lot more concerned with just like the overall [bullpen]. The way we look at it is I want as many really talented options as we can in the 'pen. That's what we ask ourselves more than do we have a 'closer'?

"...I just want to make sure we have a really talented 'pen with lots of different options and see how things shake out. I don't think given our other needs, given our roster and payroll situation now and going forward that investing long-term at closer at big money is really high up our priority list right now. But stranger things have happened. I think we have some other areas to address."

The Cubs took that same approach to building the bullpen the last two winters, opening the season with at least 5 arms they felt could be "even or ahead" guys - pitchers who can come in and get outs in high-leverage spots.

The Cubs would ideally add to their current stable of "even or ahead guys" — Morrow, Strop, Edwards, Cishek, Mike Montgomery (if he's not needed in the rotation) — but considering they are already projected to eclipse the $206 million luxury tax threshold even before any other signings or deals this winter, it'd be hard to see Epstein and Co. out-bid the rest of the market.

There are other guys on the open market with closing experience who probably won't break the bank this winter (Greg Holland, Ryan Madson, A.J. Ramos, Joakim Soria, etc.), but it's a matter of whether the Cubs feel those guys can become reliable pieces in the 2019 bullpen.

The issue hasn't been a lack of talent on the Opening Day roster, but rather injuries and late-season slumps. Edwards isn't the only Cubs reliever who has run into a wall in August or September.

However, the key may not lie in the season's final months, but rather in April and May, when the Cubs' top bullpen arms are being utilized early and often.

"We have to provide that depth," GM Jed Hoyer said. "It's hard. If the same guys are pitching in every close game, you're gonna wear them out. We have to have a deep enough bullpen where Joe has more options. When you're a good team — and we're a good team — you play a lot of close games. You win a lot of close games and the games you don't win are usually close and that wears down your bullpen.

"It's easier to protect your relievers if you're getting blown out every fourth or fifth day. When you're playing games that are in the margins all the time, it's hard. So going in, the only thing you can do is have depth."

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