Kendall Graveman

Where Cubs payroll stands as 2020 offseason ramps up

Where Cubs payroll stands as 2020 offseason ramps up

Over the last couple days, the Cubs' financial picture for the winter has come into focus.

The organization surprised no one by picking up Anthony Rizzo's $16.5 million option and Jose Quintana's $11.5 million option nor by letting veterans Derek Holland, Brandon Morrow, Tony Barnette and David Phelps walk instead of picking up their respective options.

The only mild surprise came when the Cubs opted not to retain Kendall Graveman for $3 million after he spent all of 2019 — his first year with the club — rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The 28-year-old right-hander has 83 career big-league games (78 starts) under his belt and $3 million is not a hefty price to pay for a potential back-of-the-rotation guy, but the Cubs clearly felt it wasn't worth the gamble at that price for a guy who would have an innings limit even if he had no other ill effects from the elbow procedure.

They also chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Cole Hamels, as the soon-to-be-36-year-old would've likely taken the $17.8 million to return to the Cubs on a one-year deal for 2020 and that would've been a huge blow to the organization's budget for the new season.

Just like last year when Theo Epstein traded away Drew Smyly and his $7 million salary to be able to afford Hamels' $20 million option, how the Cubs approached the first offseason domino (options) gave us our first clue for the winter's budget. But they won't ever come right out and telegraph their financial plan:

"We're not gonna really talk about our payroll or budget, just for strategic reasons," Epstein told David Kaplan and Pat Boyle on a Halloween interview on ESPN Radio. "It also doesn't really matter — words don't matter there. But we don't want to tip off the rest of the league to what we're trying to do. 

"I think when we're done assembling the team, you'll have a good feel for what our budget was, but we're gonna attack the offseason with the various means of player acquisition and try to shape the team for next year and for the future. We have to be mindful of both as we attack the offseason."

So with all the options out of the way, here's where the Cubs' payroll stands as the offseason picks up in earnest.

Committed salary

Jason Heyward - $23.5 million
Yu Darvish - $22 million
Jon Lester - $20 million
Anthony Rizzo - $16.5 million
Craig Kimbrel - $16 million
Tyler Chatwood - $13 million
Kyle Hendricks - $12 million
Jose Quintana - $11.5 million
Daniel Descalso - $2.5 million
David Bote - $960,000

Total (10 players): $137.96 million

Arbitration players (figures estimated by MLB Trade Rumors)

Kris Bryant - $18.5 million
Javy Baez - $9.3 million
Kyle Schwarber - $8 million
Addison Russell - $5.1 million
Willson Contreras - $4.5 million
Albert Almora Jr. - $1.8 million
Kyle Ryan - $1.1 million

Total (7 players): $48.3 million

Pre-arb players 

Note: MLB minimum salary was $555,000 in 2019 but will see a bit of a spike in 2020, so let's pencil it in at $560,000. Teams can pay players more than that and often do based on performance and good will, but they don't have to do that, so let's stick with the base salary for every player to keep things simple.

Ian Happ - $560,000
Victor Caratini - $560,000
Tony Kemp -$560,000
Nico Hoerner - $560,000
Colin Rea - $560,000
Rowan Wick - $560,000
Brad Wieck - $560,000
Alec Mills - $560,000
Duane Underwood Jr. - $560,000

Total (9 players): $5.04 million

There's also a $3 million buyout included for Morrow that will be on the books for 2020.

Add it all up and we're looking at $194.3 million next season for only 26 players (remember, MLB teams will have 26-man rosters beginning in 2020). 

That figure doesn't include other players that will be on the 40-man roster in the minor leagues or any other raises for the pre-arb players in the big leagues. Throw in an estimated $15 million for player benefits and Roster Resource estimates the Cubs' 2020 luxury tax payroll to be $219.8 million — quite a bit over the $208 million luxury tax. 

And that's not even taking into account any offseason moves via trade or free agency. 

Last season, the Cubs were one of three teams (along with the Red Sox and Yankees) to eclipse the $206 million luxury tax threshold. Epstein and Co. blew by the figure by nearly $29 million, according to Spotrac, and were subsequently taxed $6.8 million as a result.

The Cubs did not hit the luxury tax in 2018, so this was only a 20 percent tax on the overages. If they eclipse the threshold again in 2020, they will be looking at a 30 percent luxury tax and would see their top draft pick drop 10 spots if they go over by $40 million.

If the Cubs are really trying to get under the luxury tax to reset the penalties in 2020 (as Kaplan mentioned on the latest CubsTalk Podcast), Epstein has his work cut out for him this winter. They would need to shed around $12 million in salary, and that's even before any acquisitions.

That explains why they didn't want to take the risk that Hamels would accept the qualifying offer and also why $3 million was too much to commit to a pitcher (Graveman) coming off major injury.

Now, looking at the roster and salary figures above, there are some easy ways for the Cubs to save money. 

It's hard to see Russell returning to the team in any capacity in 2020 and even if he did, there's no way the Cubs would pay him more than $5 million given his off-field issues and on-field struggles. It's also tough to envision the Cubs shelling out nearly $2 million for Almora when he's coming off a season in which he posted a .271 on-base percentage and a negative WAR.

Beyond that, there are also trades the Cubs could make to shed some salary. Maybe they find a taker for Chatwood in the final year of his deal. Or maybe Quintana and his $11.5 million salary on a one-year deal would be enticing to a pitching-needy team.

If ever there was a time to deal away players from the position-player core, now would be it as trades might be the only way to fill holes on the roster while also freeing up payroll.

Fans undoubtedly aren't worried about resetting the luxury tax and would love their team to go all-in trying to win the World Series in 2020. But for an organization coming off a disappointing 84-win season and back-to-back falls sitting at home watching the majority of the playoffs, it's hard to see that as a realistic course of action for the Cubs this winter.

Cubs fans frustrated by the team's lack of spending last offseason don't figure to be much happier this winter, but there should still be plenty of change coming to the roster. 

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Cubs decline 2020 options on four pitchers, including former closer Brandon Morrow

Cubs decline 2020 options on four pitchers, including former closer Brandon Morrow

The Cubs have declined the 2020 team options on four pitchers, the club announced on Monday.

Tony Barnette ($3 million), Kendall Graveman ($3 million), Brandon Morrow ($12 million vesting option) had minimal-to-no impacts on the field for the Cubs in 2019. Barnette started the season in Triple-A, joining the Cubs in June for two appearances before getting sent back to Iowa. He went on the restricted list soon thereafter to contemplate his future in baseball.

The Cubs signed Graveman last offseason, a move viewed as more for the 2020 season than 2019. The 28-year-old right-hander — who holds a career 4.38 ERA in 83 games (78 starts) — underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2018. He was expected to miss at least a chunk of the 2019 season, at least, and while he made one rehab start with Iowa, he has yet to throw a pitch with the Cubs.

Morrow was stellar for the Cubs when healthy (35 games, 1.47 ERA, 22-of-24 save chances in 2018), but he last pitched on July 15, 2018. He missed the entire 2018 second half due to right biceps inflammation, eventually undergoing a debridement procedure on his right elbow last November.

That procedure was expected to keep Morrow out for at least the first month of the 2019 season. However, he suffered two setbacks during his rehab (in April and August), the latter of which ended his season. The Cubs bullpen missed Morrow dearly, struggling in high-leverage spots all season while blowing 28 saves (tied for sixth-most in MLB). Craig Kimbrel was supposed to help address these issues, but he struggled to get into a groove after missing spring training and seeing his free agency last into June.

Although Morrow didn't make any appearances to come close to qualifying for the vesting option, the Cubs do owe him a $3 million buyout.

The Cubs also declined David Phelps’ 2020 option, which rose from $3 million to $5 million because he made 40 overall appearances in 2019. Phelps joined the Cubs in a trade deadline deal with the Blue Jays, posting a 3.18 ERA in 24 appearances on the North Side.

While it’s very unlikely Barnette and Morrow will return, it’s possible that the Cubs could re-sign Graveman and Phelps. The former would provide starting rotation depth in a 2020 group that has some question marks behind Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester. And depending on the number, Phelps could be a solid bullpen piece in a group that the Cubs surely will address this winter.

The Cubs have no decisions left regarding 2020 team options. Over the weekend, they declined lefty Derek Holland's ($6.5 million, $500,000 buyout) and picked up the options of José Quintana ($10.5 million) and Anthony Rizzo ($16.5 million).

The Cubs also added right-hander Colin Rea to the 40-man roster and outrighted Allen Webster to Iowa's roster. Rea went 14-4 with a 3.95 ERA with Iowa in 2019 and was named Pitcher of the Year in the Pacific Coast League. Rea presents the Cubs with more rotation depth for 2020.

Chicago's 40-man roster now stands at 32 players.

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