Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Chicago Cubs
Billy Goats and Bartman be damned. The curse over Wrigley Field has been lifted, and the Chicago Cubs are the kings of baseball for the first time in more than a century.
While fans continue to pinch each other, making sure this isn't all some beautiful dream, the Cubs have little time to rest of their laurels. For the MLB offseason is officially underway, and team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their staffs have work to do.
It'd be nice to keep the World Series-winning roster intact, but change is inevitable—even for the reigning champs. What follows is an overview of some of the decisions the team will have to make and how the roster might look when Opening Day rolls around roughly five months from now.
Chicago had a franchise-record $171.6 million Opening Day payroll in 2016, and while the bulk of the team remains under contract heading into 2017, odds are that the defending World Champions will come close to meeting, if not exceeding, that total next season.
|Player||Pos||2016 Salary||2017 Salary|
|Tommy La Stella||IF||$532,000||$600,000|
Jason Heyward may never live up to his gaudy salary, but if he can fix his approach at the plate over the winter, his $28 million salary in 2017 won't seem quite as ridiculous as it does now.
Speaking of ridiculous, consider this: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber—combined—will cost the team $3.6 million less than its paying Miguel Montero, who, per ESPN.com, wasn't happy with his role on the team in the playoffs.
That's what you call the biggest bargain in baseball.
Note: Players with renewable contracts, such as Lindor, are listed with estimated salaries of $600,000 due to the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining process and how that will impact their earning power. Bryant's renewable salary is pegged higher, as he made over $600,000 in 2016.
Chicago doesn't have a lot of arbitration-eligible players to deal with in the offseason, but there are three crucial members of the pitching staff due substantial raises through the process.
|Player||Pos||2016 Salary||Proj. 2017 Salary||Player Comp.|
|Jake Arrieta||SP||$10,700,000||$16,500,000||No Comparison|
|Justin Grimm||RP||$1,275,000||$1,800,000||Adam Warren|
|Munenori Kawasaki||IF||$507,500||$850,000||Andrew Romine|
|Hector Rondon||RP||$4,200,000||$6,000,000||Tyler Clippard|
|Pedro Strop||RP||$4,400,000||$5,750,000||Travis Wood|
None are more crucial than Jake Arrieta. While his numbers pale in comparison to his Cy Young Award-winning campaign in 2015, it's impossible to argue that he's not due a significant bump in pay after going 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over nearly 200 innings of work.
Hector Rondon, the team's former closer, and Pedro Strop, a key setup man, were largely forgotten about by skipper Joe Maddon down the stretch in the World Series. But both played huge roles in helping the Cubs to reach the Fall Classic in the first place and will be rewarded for their efforts.
Taking these projected figures into account, Chicago's Opening Day payroll now sits at nearly $150 million—and we've yet to discuss any players with options or potentially re-signing the team's own free agents.
Players with Options and Chicago's Free Agents
Picking up Jason Hammel's $12 million team option should be an easy decision for the Cubs. While he's far from an ace, the 34-year-old is a solid, reliable, back-of-the-rotation arm. Besides, there's not really a better option available in free agency, where the few quality starters will command far higher salaries.
|Dexter Fowler||OF||$8,000,000||Free agent, declined mutual option|
|Jason Hammel||SP||$9,000,000||$12M team option, $2M buyout|
Free agency is where Aroldis Chapman is headed, and Joe Maddon certainly used the flame-throwing southpaw like he wasn't going to be a part of the team's plans in 2017. The good news for the Cubs is that there are plenty of quality free-agent closers they can target as his replacement.
Shortly after the completion of the World Series, Dexter Fowler announced on SportsCenter (via ESPN.com) that he was declining his half of a mutual option for 2017 and would test the free-agent waters for the second consecutive offseason.
While keeping Fowler in the mix makes a ton of sense for the Cubs, the team's crowded outfield and eventual need to work out long-term deals with nearly all of their young talent makes re-signing the veteran to a multiyear deal unlikely. Albert Almora Jr. can take over in center field moving forward.
Travis Wood seems to have found his calling as a reliever and could return, but he may find more lucrative offers elsewhere. He'll be looking for a raise over his $6.17 million salary, a price the Cubs could deem to be far too expensive.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
Chicago has some internal options to fill the holes left by departing free agents, but the Cubs could turn to the free-agent market for more established options.
- Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon, CL: Jansen figures to be more expensive than Melancon, but both are elite closers who would do a terrific job as Champan's replacement in the ninth inning.
- Jon Jay, OF: Should the Cubs decide they're not comfortable handing the center field reins to Almora, Jay would be a relatively inexpensive platoon partner for the youngster. While he lacks a plus tool, the veteran is a solid all-around contributor.
- J.P. Howell, RP: The 34-year-old didn't have a great year in Los Angeles (4.09 ERA, 1.40 WHIP), but he did spend six years playing for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay. That familiarity could make him a fit in Chicago, especially if Travis Wood departs as a free agent, creating the need for another lefty in the bullpen.
Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and all payroll and salary information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus). All player comparisons link to Baseball Prospectus.
Hit me up on Twitter @RickWeinerBR to talk Cubs' offseason plans.