Since Theo and Co. have taken over the Cubs front office, I pegged 2014 to be the first year the team is competitive, and 2015 to be the first season they’re playoff contenders. The team this year has been a fringe .500 team if you put stock into run differentials or their Pythagorean winning percentage.  Luckily, at least in my mind, we’ve had a terrible bullpen blow plenty of games to keep us out of the 76 to 83 wins range which is too good to get high draft picks and too bad to make the playoffs.  I think we’re pretty close to schedule but this off season will be very interesting, as it’s the first time this front office has significant money to spend, and it’s going to be very telling on where they think the team is.

First let’s take a look at the payroll so we have some idea what the Cubs can spend.

Position Players Already Signed:

Player

Position

2014 Salary

Year Current Deal Expires

David DeJesus

OF

6,500,000

2014 Can be bought out for 1.5M

Starlin Castro

SS

5,857,143

2019 + Club Option for 2020

Anthony Rizzo

1B

1,535,714

2019 + Club Options thru 2021

Jorge Soler

OF

2,667,000

2020

Welington Castillo

C

520,000

2018

Junior Lake

OF

500,000

2020

Estimated Total

17,579,857

Pitchers Already Signed:

Pitcher

Position

2014 Salary

Year Current Deal Expires

Edwin Jackson

SP

13,000,000

2016

Carlos Villanueva

RP

5,000,000

2014

Kyuji Fujikawa

RP

4,500,000

2014

Gerardo Concepcion

SP

1,200,000

2014

Michael Bowden

RP

520,000

2018

Arodys Vizcaino

SP

520,000

2018

Estimated Total

24,740,000

Arbitration Eligible:

Player

Position

Estimated Salary

Year Cubs Lose Player’s Rights

Nate Schierholtz

OF

4,000,000

2015

Darwin Barney

2B

1,200,000

2017

Luis Valbuena*

3B

1,350,000

2017

Jeff Samardzija

SP

4,200,000

2016

Travis Wood

SP

1,600,000

2017

James Russell

RP

1,500,000

2016

Pedro Strop*

RP

1,050,000

2018

Jake Arrieta

SP

1,200,000

2017

Estimated Total

16,100,000

 * – Designates player has Super 2 Status.

That’s 18 of the 25 players on the major league roster minus Soler and Concepcion who will both still be in the minors to start the year. That puts the team at an estimated payroll of $72,419,857, after adding in the 14M going to New York as part of the Soriano trade.  If the team can spend 110M on the major league roster again next year, that gives the Cubs somewhere around the neighborhood of 37.5M to fill 7 roster spots.

The bench will need to be filled out with a couple of outfielders, a backup catcher, and another infielder to go with Barney, but most of that will be cheap internal options and none should cost more than a million for next year.  If they spend 1M each on a RH bench bat for the OF to split time with Schierholtz and another 1M to sign a backup catcher, then use internal options for the 5th OFer and 2nd IFer, that’s only 3M total.

As for the bullpen, Russell, Strop, Bowden, Villanueva and Fujikawa are in. After that, I’m penciling in Vizcaino which leaves 1 spot open.  I’d assume it’ll be whoever pitches best in the Spring out of all the internal options from the long list of pitchers already on the 40-man: Raley, Rusin, Dolis, Cabrera, Rondon, McNutt, etc. So that’s only another 500K unaccounted for.  We’ll say we’re at 76M with 23 of 25 spots filled giving the team about 34M to match this year’s payroll.

So let’s shift to the important parts of the roster.  As of right now here’s what the Cubs have controlled and should be penciled in for next season:

C: Castillo
1B: Rizzo
SS: Castro
RF: Schierholtz
CF: DeJesus

That leaves 2B, 3B, and an OF spot open for debate in my mind.  Lake could be an option at any of these positions, and I’d expect him to be in one of those spots given his production since being called up this year. Also, one of our left side infielder prospects will force their way to Chicago next season, be it Olt, Baez, Alcantara, Bryant or whomever, but the Cubs will play the service time game with these guys so they won’t be called up until June at the earliest.  Vitters is a possibility at 3B or LF but he has to get healthy, and show he can play at the major league level when he gets called up later this year.

That means we could be looking at the exact same roster on opening day as we have right now and I just don’t think the front office is going to let that happen with so much money available.  Looking at the free agent market, it’s beyond pitiful and 2015 will be even worse. There’s a couple pipe dreams in Robinson Cano & Brian McCann who are going to get 100M+ deals. I don’t think the Cubs are ready to drop that kind of salary on any player over 30. Then on the second tier there’s Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Hunter Pence; but I also think these guys are also out of the Cubs price range. There’s also the option to go after an aging vet like Beltran but I’d rather not sign a 37 year old with diminishing skills and health.

There is one interesting name left on my list who shouldn’t cost too much and won’t be receiving a long term deal, and that’s Nelson Cruz. He just accepted his 50-game suspension from the Biogenesis investigation so he’s going to be back for the playoffs (if the Rangers make it) but he’s going to go into the off season with a lot of uncertainty.  Would Cruz look to sign a 1-year deal with a player option for a 2nd year to re-establish his value for next off season and have some security if he doesn’t perform? Or would he take a higher priced 2-year deal with a vesting/club option for a 3rd to give him a moderate deal in length with a higher pay to surrender a team option? I think that’s the type of high reward contract the Cubs will be fishing for in the free agent market next year. Cruz could give the Cubs a middle of the order power bat that the team desperately needs and fill an OF spot for a couple years until our prospects are ready; and as always it would give the team a potential trade chip for next deadline in case the Cubs are sellers again. I’d expect Cruz could be signed in the 10-14M per year range depending on contract length.

I’d go aggressively after Cruz, let Lake play 3B, shift Valbuena to 2B, bench Barney, and we’ll figure the rest out later when prospects are knocking at the door during the summer and the team has a grasp on how close they are to contention heading into the deadline.

The rotation is currently set as:

SP: Samardzija
SP: Jackson
SP: Wood
SP: Arrieta

The first 3 are givens, and Arrieta is out of options so he will be on the team as well. That leaves one rotation spot open. It could be Baker on a team friendly deal after we gave him 5M to rehab all this season.  However, there’s also a couple options in free agency.  Our friend Matt Garza and Ervin Santana are both #2/3 types. I don’t think the Cubs front office likes Garza’s asking price, so I don’t see a fit there. Santana will be tied to compensation but if the Cubs are one of the 10 worst teams (and they should be given that they’re 5th worst right now), their first draft choice would be protected.  Santana is having a breakout year for the Royals and I’m always a fan of bringing a guy who has been on contending teams in the AL to the NL. I’d expect Santana to get better than Edwin Jackson money, but not quite Anibal Sanchez money. That’d be something like 4 years/64M or 16M each year.

A rotation of Shark, Santana, Jackson, Wood, & Arrieta on paper is just as good as what we had this year and has much higher potential if Arrieta ever figures it out how to control his stuff.

A lineup of something like:

CF DeJesus
SS Castro
1B Rizzo
LF Cruz
RF Schierholtz
3B Lake
2B Valbuena
C Castillo

could be pretty potent if Rizzo and Castro take a step forward next year and we get solid production from the veterans. This doesn’t block any of the top prospects, and we retain excellent flexibility when we need to make space for one, or a few of them. Lake’s ability to play 2B, 3B, and in the OF, make it easy to find him a home if Mike Olt, Javier Baez, or Kris Bryant are ready. Schierholtz and DeJesus are free agents after next year so they are expendable if the Cubs need to make room for Soler, Szczur, Lake, or even Bryant. Valbuena is a solid stop gap, until Baez or Alcantara are ready.

Those 2 signings would spend 30M of the estimated 34M available and put the Cubs at about 106M-pretty much exactly where the team went into this season at. It’s also important to note that the Cubs will have more money to spend on the major league payroll if they choose to, since they cannot go crazy in the international market due to their punishment for this year’s spending spree which after the tax penalty they spent about 10M.

As for trade options, that’s much harder to gauge; who knows what other teams are thinking. David Price should be available since the Rays probably won’t pay him and they have plenty of internal options to replace him. Trading him with 2 years left will net them the biggest return and trading their pitchers early is business as normal. Giancarlo Stanton’s unhappiness stemming from last year’s fire sale will continue to fuel rumors around him. Yovani Gallardo and Rickie Weeks were heavily shopped by the Brewers at this year’s deadline (in my opinion, no thanks on both). And there’s a few interesting pitchers that are impending free agents in 2015 that could be potential trade targets like Clayton Kershaw (#notgoingtohappen), Homer Bailey, and Justin Masterson if they can’t reach deals with their current teams.

The Cubs are going to be in a lot of rumors this off season so it will be fun. We’re also going to get a glimpse of what this regime is going to do with a big amount of cash to spend for the first time and that should give us some insight into the timetable they are expecting.

Game Notes

  • Samardzija had the worst outing of his career going only 3.1IP while allowing 11 hits, 9 ER, and striking out 3.
  • Schierholtz continues to crush righties with another HR moving his SLG over .550 vs RHP on the year.
  • Cubs selected JC Boscan’s contract today from Iowa in case Navarro misses more than a few games after his home plate collision with Chase Utley 2 nights ago. Boscan had played in a handful of games with the Braves at the major league level over the past 3 years and has a career 263/300/263 line in 20 PAs.
  • Matt Guerrier went to the 60-day DL with a sore right elbow.
  • Thomas Neal went to the 15-day DL after dislocating his right shoulder on a throw 2 nights ago.
  • Cubs recalled Eduardo Sanchez who pitched 2.1 innings, giving up 1 hit, 2 walks, 1 run on a solo homer and striking out 3.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Third Base

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Kris Bryant

Bio- Kris Bryant was born January 4, 1992 in Las Vegas, Nevada, US (Age 21). On that day a star was born, Bryant attended Bonanza HS in Las Vegas and continued his baseball career there. The Toronto Blue Jays actually drafted Bryant in the 18th round right out of high school in 2010 but Bryant decided to go to college first. Bryant, a 6-foot-5, 215-pounder hit .329 with 80 runs scored, 13 doubles, three triples, 31 home runs and 62 RBIs in 62 games as a junior at the University of San Diego. He also led the nation in home runs, runs scored, walks (66) and slugging percentage (.820). His 54 career home runs are a school record. Pretty sure Bryant made the correct decision on going to school first to harness his ability and become one of the most talked about draft picks this year in the class of 2013.

2013 Season- After Bryant signed his record bonus of 6.7 million this summer he reported to Arizona where he went to shake off the rust of not playing in a month. It was a short stay for Bryant as he only played in two games going 1 for 6 with a double. The Cubs first round draft pick also added two runs batted in during his short stint in Arizona. The next chapter in Bryant’s baseball career was a call-up to Boise, Idaho to play third base for the Boise Hawks of the Southern Division. Through 14 games so far Bryant has hit .294/.362/.627 while putting up an insane OPS of .990. He also has kept up his power surge by hitting four homers this season while driving in 12 runs during only 51 at-bats. Another stat to keep an eye on is his hit streak which has reached eleven games with his 1 for 3 last night where he homered.

Looking Ahead- After two weeks in Boise, Bryant has earned deep consideration for a call-up to A Ball. The problem is that Kane County already has a young third baseman in Jeimer Candelario who might become a great prospect as well. Most people think the Cubs wouldn’t want to move up Candelario to Daytona as he hasn’t fully developed yet at Kane County. In my mind Bryant will play out this season at Boise and then start next season at either High A Daytona or Double A Tennessee. The Cubs don’t want to rush Candelario as he is still a raw prospect at nineteen years old with great potential to be an above average third baseman at the big league level in time.

Sleeper Prospect: Jeimer Candelario

He is one of those names in the Cubs system you don’t hear enough. Candelario was born in New York and at 17 he started play in the Cubs system at the Dominican Summer League. 2011 was a great year for Candelario as it showed us that he was ready to move to Boise after tearing it up in the Dominican Summer League. Candelario’s stats included a line of .337/.443/.478 for a total OPS of .921. To think that Candelario went into the 2012 season only 18 years is mind boggling. He played the whole year at Boise where he hit .281/.345/.396 that also included six homers, 12 doubles and 47 runs batted in. John Arguello who is the Editor in Chief for Cubs Den a prominent blog on the Chicago Now network gives us a great view of Jeimer Candelario’s swing http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/04/photos-and-breakdown-of-jeimer-candelarios-swing/#image/12.

2013 Season- After two years in the Cubs system Candelario has joined the Kane County Cougars of the Low A Midwest league where he has played third base regularly and batted either four or fifth in their lineup. Through 105 games he has 104 hits which 39 of those are for extra base hits. Candelario has shown us the power with 30 doubles and 8 home-runs this year. These stats reflect greatly in his line .256/.343/.394 for a total OPS of .738. In my mind I believe Candelario deserves a call-up next year to Daytona as he has played well every step of the way since age 17. As I mentioned above since third base is one of the positions the Cubs have a lot of depth at there will be a lot of interesting decisions next summer on where Candelario starts.

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