Know Your Enemy – Chicago Cubs

This is the second in a series of 5 articles that will try to get Pirate fans inside the organizations of the Pirates’ NL Central opponents.  I explained the rationale behind these articles here and previously reviewed the Houston Astros.

Next up are the Chicago Cubs, easily the most interesting club in the NL Central.  They are the only large-market/large-payroll club in the division.  They have been owned as a plaything by major corporations (Wrigley Co., Tribune Company) and are now owned by a mega-rich owner in Joe Ricketts (founder of TD Ameritrade).  They have a full stadium for every home game that is jammed with adoring fans decked out in their merchandise.

They are the sleeping giant in the NL Central, because frankly there is no excuse for them not to be winning this division every year.  They simply have more resources.

Payroll Committments 2011-2014 (does not include arbitration or min-scale players)

2011 — $103.525 million

2012 — $62.50 million

2013 — $19.00 million

2014 — $19.00 million

The Cubs have twice the committed payroll for 2011, not even factoring in arb cases or minimum salary players or other free agents, that the Pirates can reasonably expect to have next year.  That’s not a good thing, either, as most of those commitments consist of some horrible contracts.

Estimated Payroll 2011 (includes arb and min-scale estimates)

All players with asterisks (*) next to their names have estimated salaries.  If a player is a first year guy, $400K, two years $425K, three years $450.  For a 3 year arbitration player, arb-1 is 40% of their market value, arb-2 is 60% of market value, and arb-3 is 80% of market value.  Again, these are only my estimates.

C — Geovanny Soto $3.0M (*)

1B — Free Agent $14M (*)

2B — Blake DeWitt $450K (*)

SS — Starlin Castro $400K (*)

3B — Aramis Ramirez $14.6M

LF — Alfonso Soriano $19M

CF — Marlon Byrd $5.5M

RF — Kosuke Fukudome $14.5M

SP1 — Carlos Zambrano $18.875M

SP2 — Ryan Dempster $14.5M

SP3 — Randy Wells $450K (*)

SP4 — Carlos Silva $7.25M (Note — Cubs getting $5.5M of salary relief from Mariners)

SP5 — Tom Gorzellany $2.5M (*)

Bench — Tyler Colvin ($425K *), Wellington Castillo ($400K *), Jeff Baker ($1.2M *),  Micah Hoffpauir ($425K *), Middle Infielder ($1M *)

Bullpen — Carlos Marmol ($4.2M*), John Grabow ($4.8M *), Jeff Samardzija ($3.5M *), Sean Marshall ($1.4M *), James Russell ($425K *), Andrew Cashner ($400K *), Thomas Diamond ($425K *)

That totals up to $133.625M, which is a lot for a team that probably won’t break .500 in 2011.

Historical Payrolls 2005-2010

2005 — $87.0M (79 W – 83 L)

2006 — $94.4M (66 W – 96 L)

2007 — $99.7M (85 W – 77 L)  *made playoffs

2008 — $118.3M (97 W – 64 L)  *made playoffs

2009 — $134.8M (83 W – 78 L)

2010 — $144.4M (56 W – 77 L, as of 9/1/10)

Not exactly the best team money could buy.  There is no trendline here in terms of typical salary caps.  The Cubs will continue to spend whatever they deem is necessary and try to buy a winning record, but I can’t see them spending more than the estimated $133.625M shown above.

Bad Contracts

Have you ever passed by a house and someone has a sign up that says “Free Fill — You Haul Away”?  That sign would be the representation of the Cubs current payroll.  The only player earning more than $10M that is actually earning his salary is Ryan Dempster ($14.5M).

The other 4 players (remember, Carlos Silva is “only” costing the Cubs $7.25M) all are considered bad contracts.  Soriano will be paid $19M from 2011 to 2014 and is probably in the Top 5 of Most Unmovable Contracts in MLB.  Zambrano is a complete headcase and a declining quantity as pitcher and will be paid $18.875M in 2011 and $19M in 2012.  Ramirez has completely fallen off the cliff as a result of some recent injuries.  He will be paid $14.6M in 2011 and has an option in 2012 that should not be picked up.  Fukudome will be paid $14.5M in 2011 and then will be a free agent.

If the Cubs could offload one of those four contracts this offseason and not take back a bad contract, that would be a success.

The Cubs also have two terrible contracts in the bullpen with Grabow ($4.8M in 2011) and Samardzjia ($3.5M in 2011, options for 2012 and 2013).  By this time Samardzjia was envisioned to be a flamethrowing starter in the rotation.  He can’t even develop a reliable 2nd pitch, let alone 3 pitches to be a starter.  He is even worse out of the bullpen.  Grabow was horribly overpaid the minute he put pen to paper on his Cubs contract.  If either of these guys could be unloaded for even the lowest level of prospect, it would be a success.  At this point, their roster spots are more valuable than they are.

Potential Help From the Minor League System

As I said at the start of this article, the Cubs are the most fascinating team in the division.  They’re a large-payroll team that goes absolutely cheap on the draft, unlike the Red Sox and Yankees.  But even with that said, they still have some quality pieces that they have gleaned from the draft and a few shrewd trades.  After going through the rosters of the 4 full-season teams of the Cubs, here are some guys that might be able to be starters (not bullpen/bench guys) and the estimated time of arrivals:

  • Jay Jackson RHP (AAA in 2010), 2011
  • Brett Jackson CF (A+/AA in 2010), 2012
  • Chris Carpenter RHP (AA in 2010), 2012
  • Chris Archer RHP (A+/AA in 2010), 2012
  • Kenneth McNutt RHP (A/A+ in 2010), 2012-2013
  • Hak Ju Lee SS (A in 2010), 2013
  • Brett Wallach RHP (A in 2010), 2013-2014
  • Robinson Lopez RHP (A in 2010), 2014

Brett Jackson could step in once Fukudome’s contract is gone and the Cubs could shift Byrd to a corner.  This would keep Tyler Colvin as the 4th OF, since Soriano is cemented in LF until 2014.  Chris Archer is having a ridiculously good season, especially in AA, so he could be one to watch for in the future of all these pitchers.  There are other guys in the system that either have poor K/BB rates (Josh Vitters) or lack of power (DJ Lemahieu and Logan Watkins) that I don’t see as everyday starters.

What Should They Do? — The Cubs are not realistic contenders for the NL Central in 2011, due to the presence of too many overpaid, underperforming players.  They should try to trade off one or two of those bad contracts and try to reload the farm a little, while saving a few dollars on payroll in the process.

I don’t see how Carlos Zambrano can come back to the Cubs in 2011.  Too many bridges have been burned, not just this year but in years past as well.  But who would be crazy enough to take on a volatile, volcanic-tempered pitcher like Zambrano?  All the Cubs have to do is look across the city.  Can’t you see Ozzie Guillen, a volatile Latino himself, wanting Trader Kenny Williams to bring Zambrano in?  Wouldn’t Zambrano look good in the black and grey?  What about a trade of declining quantities — Zambrano for Peavy?

Why it’s good for the White Sox — The Sox get a classic change-of-scenery reclamation project for Guillen to work on.  Zambrano, although not in his prime anymore, could still slot in well with Mark Buerhle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Edwin Jackson.  The White Sox are always trying to steal some headlines from the Cubs and this could be the way to do it.

Why it’s good for the Cubs — The Cubs get Peavy, who they tried to trade for multiple times in 2009.  Peavy is recovering from a torn muscle in his shoulder, but the word is he should be able to pitch at the start of 2011.  Peavy makes $16M in 2011 and $17M in 2012, with a $4M buyout in 2013, so the total cost of the two players is nearly equal.  The Cubs will save a couple of million in 2011 and 2012, which is helpful.  And most importantly is that they would rid themselves of Carlos Zambrano.

They should non-tender: Koyie Hill and Angel Guzman.  Hill can be replaced and is not worth the escalating arbitration cost.  Guzman is always hurt and not worth the arb cost, either.

They should not re-sign: Xavier Nady or Derrek Lee.  Lee has given this team many good years, but those good years are behind him now.  Lee’s August trade to the Braves doesn’t preclude him from signing back with the team in the offseason.  Nady is just not worth his $3.3M he is making this year.

What Will They Do? – The Cubs have established themselves as a large payroll team, so there is a distrust of rebuilding.  I wonder if part of that was due to the presence of Lou Pinella, who will be retiring after this year.  Maybe some younger and cheaper guys can be incorporated.

At any rate, the Cubs will buy a 1B this offseason and there is no better fit than Adam Dunn and the Cubs.  He could easily get 45-50 HR’s with Wrigley as his home park.  It seems to be a perfect fit, which is why I allocated $14M above for a 1B.  Dunn will also fit right in as someone who won’t be worth the money at the end of the too-long contract the Cubs will inevitably give him.

Trending Up, Trending Down, or In Flux? — The easy answer would be to say the Cubs are trending down, but because of their nigh-unlimited payroll capability, I would say there are in flux.  Once the Cubs can get Fukudome and Ramirez off the books after 2011, there will be a large amount of payroll to dedicate to the team once again.  And if the Cubs can trade Zambrano, even if they have to absorb a bad contract, that would be a huge win for a team with a payroll this size.

The Cubs have enough cost-controlled pieces coming through their system (or in place right now) that they could be a threat as soon as 2012.  The expiring contracts mentioned above will enable them to spend money on perceived holes, while Starlin Castro, Brett Jackson, Tyler Colvin, and Chris Archer will be making peanuts.

Up next: The Milwaukee Brewers

Author: Kevin Creagh

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