The Cubs are Coming

The Cubs are Coming
Joe Robbins, Getty Images

Prospects coming up, getting over their debut jitters, smashing the baseball long distances.  Pitchers actually doing their jobs in whatever role they're put in.  So many options exist for the Chicago Cubs going forward that we actually argue about who's going to play shortstop out of the bajillion elite shortstop prospects in the system, and who is likely to remain in the rotation come 2015.  So many options, in fact, that we can speculate as to whether the Cubs can let go of past rotation anchors like Travis Wood.

We wrote earlier about how the Cubs seem to have created a lot of financial flexibility before this coming offseason, and also speculated on whom they can persuade to sign on in free agency.  This financial flexibility allowed us to start dreaming about a contender as early as next year.  This does assume that prospects will hit, nobody takes a step back, people stay healthy, free agents are available etc etc.  The part that is within the Cubs' control, however, is the money.

Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein made some very optimistic statements today about just that.

"I think because we have so many young players that are going to be cost-controlled over the next several seasons, we have tremendous flexibility built into our roster as it is," Epstein said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "We'll be able to field a pretty good nucleus with a very low payroll associated with that.

"That in of itself -- and some of the savings that we made over the last offseason, for example -- will allow us the flexibility to be very aggressive if the right player or players present themselves to us."

The biggest contract left on the books actually belongs to Edwin Jackson, and that only has two more years to go.  It is possible that the Cubs give him a shot to rebound in the final two years of the contract, but they could eat the contract and not even feel the pain too much due to the financial flexibility.  Several key pieces going forward, including Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and the recently promoted Jorge Soler, have cost certainly on team-friendly deals.  The Cubs could probably eat Edwin Jackson's contract, splurge on guys like Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, and not even blink.

"I think because we have so many young players that are going to be cost-controlled over the next several seasons, we have tremendous flexibility built into our roster as it is," Epstein said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "We'll be able to field a pretty good nucleus with a very low payroll associated with that.

"That in of itself -- and some of the savings that we made over the last offseason, for example -- will allow us the flexibility to be very aggressive if the right player or players present themselves to us."

I wonder if the pre-arbitration contracts would coax the Cubs towards front-loading a few contracts to mitigate the cost of arbitration raises as prospects like Javier Baez, Soler and Kris Bryant hit arbitration.  Either way, with profits increasing and the Cubs nowhere near the luxury tax threshold, barring another CBA restructuring that could potentially screw them over, the Cubs have the option of grabbing free agents left and right while watching their prospects grow and develop around veterans.

Hold on to your hats, folks.  The Cubs are coming.

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  • Really? We're already talking about handing out 7-year multi-year extensions to players who have yet to even play 30 games in the majors? (P.S.-- Soler already has a nine-year $30M contract. Why tear that contract up?) And how does giving such early extensions improve the prospects of these players achieving their potential? And who really believes Boras is going to let Bryant sign a team-friendly contract like Castro's?

    Overly early long-term extensions also have a tendency to be development kryptomite. Let's review the last three early extensions the Cubs have given. We gave long-term contracts to Rizzo and Castro, and they both immediately had step back seasons. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Prior to this Hendry gave Marmol a pointless 3-year extension (with no-trade clause!), and Marmol immediately went into the tank. Totally predictable.

    Theo/Jed have emphasized the advantage the organization has with their large number of cost-controlled young players. This gives the Cubs the ability to go after more expensive veterans in the next couple years. So why would you unilaterally give up this advantage to "lock-in" players who are already lock-in for the next 6 years?

    In terms of Travis Wood, after this season, I don't see the Cubs trading low on Wood. At the very least, you hope him to have a rebound first half next year and then consider what the market might return at the trade deadline. Again, no need to be impatient, which has not been a problem with this front office.

    That said, I do see them considering trading high on Arrieta this off season. Arrieta has had a fine truncated season this year, but he has yet to prove an ability to have an arm that can put into TOR innings. The Cubs have been seriously protecting his arm last year and this year, capping his pitch counts and going to 6 man rotations at times. Thus it is a major open question whether he will have the gas needed to effectively pitch additional post-season innings when the Cubs get there in two years or so and when he's a 30-something pitcher. I investigate trading high on his this off-season.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Rice only said "I wonder," indicating the possibility. Other teams do it, but it doesn't seem to be the Theo way.

    In that he also said "barring another CBA restructuring that could potentially screw them over" it appears that the CBA is up in 2016, and I wonder if a large segment of the MLPA membership are going to be favorable to a system that makes them (well paid) indentured servants for 7 years after some exec decides to start the clock. Instead of assuming that the CBA will continue to reward that manner of doing business, maybe some execs will prefer offering long term contracts. Soler, being an international player, apparently had a choice.

  • In reply to jack:

    It's a possibility not worth wondering about. Castro was extended after two full seasons in the majors, and Rizzo after his second season in the majors (although both were partial seasons). Both were exceptional deals and timing that I don't see needing to be repeated.

    The Cubs long-term budget also looks good on several other fronts. They are playing it cheap right now, but they will have $48 M to play with next year with free agents and trading for vets with more expensive contracts. Theo also regularly tells us that with the stadium renovation and two-stage expiration of the current TV contracts, even more money will be available to truly flex big-market budget dollars in 3 to 5 years. That will add further budget flexibility and lower the need for the Cubs to take on the risk of super early extensions.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    The interesting thing about these super-early extensions is that they're less risky and hefty than free agent contracts. I mean...would you rather risk up to 8 years and $60MM on a Madison Bumgarner, or blow $75MM over 5 years for a B.J. Upton? Hindsight being 20/20 of course.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    The extensions of the type jeff is discussing (Castro, Rizzo, Sale on the other side of town) are always characterized as "club friendly." However, I doubt that the players are going all Scottie Pippen in taking a bad long term deal in return for the security.

    Theo may be willing to deal with some players, but I still don't think that one can rely on the CBA remaining unchanged after 2016. That acknowledges that the real purpose of the CBA is not bargaining with the players, but protecting the owners from antitrust liability (15 U.S.C. section 26b), but the owners still have to bargain with the players.

  • In reply to jack:

    It's a two-way street. Kris Bryant got all kinds of paid as a draftee so he's unlikely to need financial security as much as Rizzo or Castro, who didn't receive such big bonuses upon signing. Not everyone is going to agree to the Evan Longoria special, as I call it.

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