You probably already have figured this out by now, but every time I write about the Cubs from here until spring training, if I can even bring myself to do it depending on what happens, might send me into a rage that causes me to spontaneously combust and the article will remain partially finished. I will leave specific instructions to the minions to print it as is so you’ll know when and where exactly it happened, because I don’t want you to be uninformed.
Anyway, Joe Sheehan usually puts it better than I do:
If you’re a sports team owner that ever uses the word “afford”:
1) Open your books or
2) Shut up
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) December 5, 2019
That was in response to the Lerners saying they can’t afford both Strasburg and Rendon, which they definitely can, but it applies anywhere. And so it is with the Cubs and the Ricketts family. And one thing they’ve seemingly kept under wraps, as Sheehan pointed out in his newsletter today, is that we will be operating with a completely new CBA in just two years.
So the idea that the Cubs will not be able to afford everyone when they’re a free agent…you simply can’t know that because we don’t know what the CBA will look like. Perhaps the owners and union have some inkling on where things are going based on preliminary discussions. Or perhaps the players will get their head out of their ass and hire an actual lawyer to head their union instead of a middling, power-hitting first baseman whose basic negotiating tactic has been to present his belly to be tickled.
Again, as Sheehan pointed out, the MLBPA failed to peg the luxury tax to revenue for the whole league. The tax threshold jumped 16% between ’10 and ’17, while revenues went up 70%. But you can’t renegotiate that now, only in the future for what’s to come.
Still, the fear for the Cubs has always been going too far above that threshold for a second straight season, which is at $208M for this season. After arbitration and such the Cubs are projected to come in above that again or right at it, which is what apparently has Tom Ricketts shitting himself in public so you can understand his suffering. They want to get in under that mark.
But how far above this are we really talking? Some have the Cubs coming in at $182M before any free agent additions, while some others have them around $210M. It seems unlikely the Cubs are in for much more than a $3M-$4m payment this year at the 30% rate, if they even get above the threshold. Obviously their arbitration numbers will grow next year from where they are now, but also Lester’s money comes off the books as does Chatwood’s, as does Jose Quintana’s. That’s $43M right there.
And then the year after there’s a new CBA, which could peg the luxury tax at $250M for all we know. Or possibly not even have one, depending on how hard the players want to go at this (and it should be exceedingly hard). Let’s be nice and dream, and say that the Cubs come to their senses and decide they’re going to keep everyone because y’know, they’re good at baseball and that’s sort of the idea here. And I’m going to say it costs $125M total to keep Schwarber, Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras, and Baez. Fuck, let’s call it $135M, because Bryant likely should end up with $10M more than any one else at least per year. And it’s another $30M for Kimbrel and Hendricks after that, but Kimbrel will only have one more season left. Darvish gets $19M. Heyward is in at $24M. That’s $208M for a reliever, 2/5ths of a rotation, corner outfield spots, and three-fourths of your infield as well as a catcher.
Sounds like a lot, but you also have Hoerner around who will make nothing, perhaps a fully developed Happ, and also two years to fill in those blanks with your system, which should be enough time to come up with something. Basically, if the luxury tax bumps to where it should in 2022, you’d have to work to get there.
Let’s call it all told $245M in 2022. That’s after your own network for two seasons and assuming no new hotels or luxury suites, though you never can tell. It’s higher than say a $220M bill with salaries and luxury tax penalties tacked on that you might get this year or next, but is it astronomical? Is it fuck.
If you want to convince me that, at most $15M over two seasons is enough to break the Cubs financially, I want to see some fucking books opened. Again, this isn’t about “can’t” afford. It’s about “don’t want to.” And it’s all a lie.