While there remains a chance that the Cubs will continue dealing in August, it’s likely that the bulk of their 2014 in-season trading is behind them. While we spend the bulk of our time, understandably, analyzing the player comings and goings in the deals, there is another layer to consider: the money.
With a “closed system” that directs all revenues, after paying expenses, to the baseball operations department, every dollar the Chicago Cubs save in trade from a given year’s baseball budget can be used thereafter (confirmed, in part, by the front office with respect to the money not spent on Masahiro Tanaka in 2014 rolling over into 2015). Until the most significant revenue increases kick in over the next five years, even modest sums of money (in baseball terms) can really matter.
So, against that backdrop, let’s take a look at how much money the Cubs have saved this year in trades, and also look at how those deals impact the projected spending for 2015. Here are the players traded, the amount they were owed this year, and the amount the Cubs saved in the trades:
Jose Veras ($4 million) – The Cubs did not trade Veras, instead releasing him earlier this year. The Astros picked him up on a minor league deal, calling him up in late June. They’ll pay a prorated portion of the Major League minimum for Veras the rest of the way, so the Cubs save about $250,000.
Jeff Samardzija ($5.345 million) – The Samardzija/Hammel deal went down with just about half of the season left, so the savings to the Cubs here are pretty simple division. The Cubs save about $2.673 million.
Jason Hammel ($6 million, plus $1 million in incentives) – Hammel was very likely to reach his incentives, on which we’ll assume the Cubs save a proportionate amount. Splitting that $7 million, and the Cubs save about $3.5 million.
Darwin Barney ($2.3 million) – Although Barney had about $800,000 left on his contract when he was traded, the Cubs chipped in about $300,000. So, the Cubs save about $500,000.
Emilio Bonifacio ($2.5 million, plus up to $425,000 in incentives) – Bonifacio was likely to reach some of his incentives, which we’ll peg at $200,000 (to be conservative), and on which we’ll assume the Cubs save a proportionate amount. That leaves about $900,000 owed to Bonifacio from the date of the trade through the end of the year. The Cubs chipped in $1 million on the Bonifacio/Russell trade, so let’s wait for the total after Russell.
James Russell ($1.775 million) – Russell was owed about $590,000 the rest of the way when he was traded, so, adding that to Bonifacio’s $900,000, and then subtracting the $1 million the Cubs sent to the Braves, and the Cubs save about $490,000.
On some of those lesser amounts, keep in mind that the players’ spots were taken up by new guys on the roster, making the minimum, as well as 40-man additions like Dan Straily, Felix Doubront, and Jacob Turner. Taken together, you can probably lop off about $1 million from the savings.
So, the total savings to the Cubs this year in trades: About $6,413,000, give or take an incentive here or there.
Keep in mind, that’s the amount of money the Cubs now theoretically have available to spend in 2015 above and beyond what the budget would otherwise call for, and above and beyond whatever money has already been rolled over.
Further, having traded away Jeff Samardzija, Darwin Barney, and James Russell, the “arbitration raises” calculation changes for 2015. Even if you were expecting a non-tender for Barney and/or Russell, there’s still a significant drop in projected 2015 payroll from Samardzija, alone, who was set to make as much as $9 to 10 million in his final trip through arbitration.
Stripping away all three guys from the 2015 roster (but then adjusting upwards for guys who have emerged as probable 2015 tenders (Ruggiano/Coghlan types), and for guys who are likely now to make a whole lot more than it looked at the start of the year (Arrieta, for example)), you’re still left with a ballpark estimate of $50 to $55 million in projected 2015 payroll, depending on non-tenders, and incorporating generous arbitration raises.*
That means, even forgetting about any Tanaka-related rolled over funds, and even assuming the Cubs do not increase payroll from the current $90ish million range this year (which puts them in the bottom 1/3 of the league, and includes payments to guys not even on the roster), the Cubs will have $35 to $40 million to spend this offseason on payroll PLUS the $6.4 million we just tallied above.
Think this front office might be able to do some things with $40 to $45 million to spend in 2015 payroll commitments? And what if payroll increases slightly to a still-below-league-average $100 million? What if they spend the $20+ million in rolled over Tanaka funds? And what if they backload contracts (because that’s just smart business, and because it will align with revenues coming)?
The Cubs can do a whole lot this offseason if they want, and without dramatically increasing payroll.