Total Access Baseball

User login

Who's online

There are currently 0 users and 0 guests online.

Cubs in Prime Position to Use Checkbook to Magnify Future Dominance

The rich get richer. The good get better. It doesn't always work that way, but sometimes it does.

Just ask the Chicago Cubs.

One year after winning their first World Series since the debut of the Model T Ford, the Cubs are positioned for another deep postseason run.

Their potent lineup remains intact. They expect a full, healthy season from Kyle Schwarber. They plugged the hole in the back of their bullpen by acquiring closer Wade Davis and signing veteran setup man Koji Uehara.

FanGraphs projects a 95-57 record for Chicago in 2017, but that feels more like the Cubs' floor than their ceiling.

That's this year. But here's a blood-curdling thought for MLB's other 29 franchises: The Cubs are positioned to get even better in the near future.

I'm not just talking about the growth of the club's young core, though that's part of it. Kris Bryant (age 25), Javier Baez (age 24), Schwarber (age 23) and Addison Russell (age 22) are all climbing toward their primes. Their output up to now may have been merely the trailer for an epic blockbuster, something FanGraphs' Dave Cameron deftly illustrated:

It's no secret that the Cubs have some of the best young hitters in baseball, but it is exceptionally rare for teams with this many young hitters to win it all. The last World Series winner with to give at least 2,400 plate appearances to players in the 25 and under category was the 1971 Pirates; unsurprisingly, the Pirates won 57% of their games in the 1970s, finishing first or second in their division in seven of the next eight years.

In addition to that, the Cubs are about to have money to burn. While this year's free-agent class was weak, the next two will be strong enough for Chicago to flex its checkbook and add even more star wattage.

First, let's don our old-timey green eyeshades and crunch some numbers. Between Davis, Uehara, center fielder Jon Jay, catcher Miguel Montero, right-hander John Lackey and lefty reliever Brian Duensing, the Cubs will shed more than $56 million next winter.

Those players will create holes if they're not re-signed, obviously, though the Cubs can fill some with cost-controlled in-house options. Willson Contreras is already at the top of the Cubs' catching depth chart, for example, and is years away from salary arbitration.

Chicago may opt to extend Davis if he has a strong season on the North Side. If the Cubs choose, however, they can pour their remaining resources into adding top-shelf free agents, particularly in the starting rotation.

One of the biggest studs in next winter's class could be Chicago right-hander Jake Arrieta. The Cubs avoided arbitration with the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Friday, signing him for one year and $15.64 million.

"There is certainly a chance he could be here beyond next year, but we don't have any ongoing talks or anything specific scheduled," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters. "I'm sure it will come up at some point."

Arrieta is a Scott Boras client, which means you should be conjuring cartoonish cash-register sound effects.

He's also coming off an uneven year in which his ERA rose from 1.77 in 2015 to 3.10, his innings dropped from 229 to 197.1 and his strikeouts fell from 236 to 190.

He's still one of the NL's top arms, though, and at age 30 is in the midst of his prime. With all that payroll freed up, the Cubs can pay him and still have cash left over.

They could use it to sign another ace-level starter next offseason from a group that will be headlined by Yu Darvish and Johnny Cueto, assuming Cueto opts out of his current contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Imagine a rotation headlined by Arrieta, Cueto, Jon Lester and control artist Kyle Hendricks, backed by the Cubs offense.

Speaking of offense, here's another route Chicago could take: Save its ducats and sink them into the mythical 2018-19 free-agent class, which is set to feature Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, among others.

Yes, the Cubs are loaded in the infield and outfield. But finding a place to put Harper or Machado is the definition of a good problem to have.

Picture a Bryant/Anthony Rizzo/Machado heart of the order, keeping in mind that Machado is 24 years old and ranked seventh in baseball with 6.5 WAR last season by FanGraphs' measure. Go ahead, I'll wait.

OK, have you caught your breath? Here's where we add a few wet-blanket caveats. While it's undeniably true the Cubs will have money to spend after this season even if they don't raise payroll, it's also true their young stars will get increasingly expensive as they move toward free agency.

The Cubs' service-time shenanigans with Bryant bought them a little wiggle room, but it only delayed the inevitable. His cost will skyrocket when he reaches arbitration. When he hits free agency? Forget about it.

The new collective bargaining agreement raises the luxury tax threshold over the next several years, from $195 million in 2017 all the way up to $210 million in 2021. It also increases the penalties for clubs that go over, however, meaning budget-busting mega-deals will sting extra hard. (The Cubs were one of six teams to go over the luxury tax this season.)

Epstein deserves credit for building this team methodically, stockpiling and developing prospects rather than throwing money at the problem. He's also pulled the trigger on some key free agents, including Lester and Ben Zobrist, who were a big part of the Cubs' title run.

Soon, he'll have more cash to play with and plenty of players worth giving it to. The rich could get richer. The good could get better.

Sometimes, that's the way it goes.

   

All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Poll

Best of the American League:

Recent blog posts

Featured Sponsors