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Sunday, August 08, 2021

When Will the Cubs Roar Again?

The thing about the Cubs is there’s no indication that they’re suddenly going to start spending like the Pirates. Contreras and Happ are the two key contributors who are arbitration-eligible, and even assuming they combine to make $20 million in 2022, most of the rest of the roster without guaranteed deals is on pre-salary arbitration contracts. The trio of arbitration-eligible relievers (Ryan, Holder, Brothers) isn’t going to be expensive, either. Depending on your assumptions, with player benefits, that 71-win team above has a luxury tax number of somewhere around $90 million.

The Cubs have given little indication that they’re going to scrape against the luxury tax ceiling anytime soon, but they ought to spend more than that figure. I would expect them to add an outfielder, a first baseman, and at least two starting pitchers in free agency, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them add $50 million or so and end up with a luxury tax number around $140–$150 million. It’s unlikely that they’re going to pay $7.5 million for each of those wins either; there are definite signs that outside of bullpens, nobody pays that amount for the first expected win on a contract.

So, what’s my projection of a projection? I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Cubs enter 2022 as an 81-win team. The division helps them in this regard; the Brewers are a good team but not likely as good as their 2021 record, and there’s little indication that anybody else has an interest in going on a spending spree. The Cardinals are probably the closest, but like the Phillies last season, they have to make up their free-agent losses before improving on this year’s squad. Entering the season as a .500 team in the NL Central leaves you in the divisional race.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 08, 2021 at 10:20 PM | 34 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Walt Davis Posted: August 08, 2021 at 11:26 PM (#6033493)
I think I would like to beg to differ.

Indications: Cubs ownership has not spent extra money in three years, since Kimbrel who was only "made possible" due to Zobrist's leave without pay. Second, I suppose it's not tecnhically an indicator as it is past often predicts future, they didn't spend much in the down years under Theo. They grabbed David DeJesus who was less average than expected, signed a couple of flyers on 1-year pitcher contracts (one worked out, the others didn't if I recall), eventually signed Edwin Jackson (much less average than expected). Third, this is an atrocious team right now. I don't know where 71 wins comes from. They lost 4 of 5 before the deadline, have lost 6 of 7 since. The are 10-21 since the end of June which only includes half of their 11-game losing streak.

As it stands, the 2022 Cubs have 2 above-average players in Hendricks and Contreras (not that Hendricks is having a good season), one who might be in Madrigal (probably depends on health) and if they're lucky 5 average players in Happ, Hoerner, Azolay and the surprising Ortega and Wisdom. The other 18 spots on the roster and 14 on the 40-man are not good. Add $50 M to that and you've got a bad team.

I won't be surprised if they're in on a Miles Mikolas type or Lance Lynn 2018 and you never know when one of those pays off big time. I assume they'll take some flyers on a Scott Feldman type. I won't even rule out the possiblity of a Rizzo or Javy return, especially if Javy is the loser in the SS competition. (Acquiring Madrigal though does strongly suggest Hoerner to SS which means no Javy.) I don't know if SD have any prospects they're willing to part with at this point but I'd be more expecting something like the Cubs using their payroll room to eat the Hosmer contract in exchange for a prospect.

Maybe the Ricketts will surprise me. Maybe Jed will discover an ability to dig up good value FAs three years after we needed that skill. Maybe he'll pull off minor miracles like Cashner for Rizzo and Feldman for Arrieta and Strop.

Anyway, I don't get the confusion. They just traded Darvish, Rizzo, Bryant and Javy mostly for a boatload of 18-19 year-old players. The plan is not mysterious. We will again have to trust in the plan ... and if it works as well as the last plan, then congrats to Jed and the 2024-5 Cubs.
   2. Brian C Posted: August 08, 2021 at 11:49 PM (#6033496)
The plan is "we won in 2016, so whatever" by the looks of it.

Trade away some guys, get whatever they can in terms of prospects, hope they work out, no big deal if they don't. The landscape in MLB has changed so much in the last decade that trading away vets for blue-chip prospects is no longer really a thing, but they're determined to half-assedly follow the same plan anyway.
   3. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: August 09, 2021 at 12:05 AM (#6033497)
It's been quite the week for the three main traded players: All three homered in their first game with their new team. Today, Baez left the game with hip tightness and Rizzo has Covid.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: August 09, 2021 at 12:49 AM (#6033499)
Rizzo was red hot the whole week ... now this. Bryant was Bryant the first week. Javy was not good with the bat.

But let me correct myself. They did spend a lot those first few years under Theo but those were the deadweight contracts nobody was willing to take off their hands. I meant they didn't spend much on acquiring new talent.

I also don't want that to sound too obnoxious (a bit yes) -- the plan worked out pretty well the first time, it would make plenty of sense for Ricketts to think the same plan will work again ... or at least have as good a chance at working as the let's spend $150 M and win 75 plan.
   5. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: August 09, 2021 at 12:51 AM (#6033500)
Today, Baez left the game with hip tightness and Rizzo has Covid.


Well Baez is with the Mets...so that explains that.

And of course Rizzo is with the Yankees, who seem to be the Covid masters of MLB.
   6. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: August 09, 2021 at 01:28 AM (#6033503)
Rizzo also reportedly refused to get the vaccine, so….(shrug).
   7. The Duke Posted: August 09, 2021 at 03:41 PM (#6033554)
The Cubs have tons of flexibility - what they do with that is the interesting question
   8. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 09, 2021 at 03:59 PM (#6033556)
Rizzo had Hodgkin lymphoma, could that be a reason he is unvaccinated? Or is just "doing his own research"?
   9. Walt Davis Posted: August 09, 2021 at 06:05 PM (#6033583)
The Cubs do have tons of financial flexibility. But what they do with that isn't a particularly interesting question. There are really only two things you can do with that -- spend money on players or put the money in the owners' pockets. Your draft spending is limited, your international spending is limited. With CBTs and such, MLB even does its best to make sure there's no point saving it up for the future ... not that any owner has ever done such a thing. About the most exciting thing you can do other than spend it on FAs is say "stuff it" to the international spending limits and sign the next Jasson Dominguez.

I suppose one could argue teams have a choice between extending arb-eligible players or on FAs. Alas the Cubs have just one arb-eligible player possibly worth extending (Contreras who is FA after next year).

Seriously folks. Players under contract for next year are Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks and David Bote. That's it. Arb players are Contreras, Happ, Kyle Ryan (a reliever with 13 lousy innings this year), Rex Brothers (a reliever with an ERA of 5, his best since 2015 ... he's been hurt a lot), Joe Biagini (a reliever who hasn't pitched in the majors this year) and Jonathan Holder who I've never even heard of (another reliever who hasn't pitched in the majors this year).

Among our pre-arb players, you've probably heard of Nick Madrigal, may have heard us Cub fans talk about Nico Hoerner (on the IL again but a high-contact, low-power MI), Patrick Wisdom (an 29-yo former Cards farmhand having an excellent season), Rafael Ortega (a 30-yo OF in his 7th organization having an excellent season), Keegan Thompson (26-yo, once-injured P who may have figured things out), Adbert (a below-average SP), Alec Mills (an average swingman) and Codi Heuer (from one of our trades).

So the 2022 roster:

C Contreras
1B Wisdom
2B Madrigal
SS Hoerner
3B ???
OF Happ
OF Heyward
OF Ortega

bench ??? but Brennen Davis and Miguel Amaya waiting at Iowa.

Now if Wisdom really is anything like a 130 OPS+ hitter and Ortega is anything like a 140 OPS+ hitter and Madrigal hits like he has then that may not be a disasrous lineup. The complete lack of a bench will likely keep things well below-average even if those things happen.

The real disaster is the pitching:

SP Hendricks
SP Adbert
SP Keegan Thompson
SP Alec Mills I guess
SP ??? (eventually Brailyn Marquez if he gets healthy)

RP Codi Heuer
RP ??? (I don't think there's a single 2021 Cubs reliever I'd keep other than Heuer)

Anyway, to turn that into an average much less good team you need at least 1 good SP, 1 average SP, 3 good RP, and some combination of real 3B/OF and a bench. And then you're still counting on probably at least 2 of Wisdom, Ortega and Davis being for real. The Cubs didn't do this to immediately turn around and commit $100 M a year in long-term contracts.

This should be scandalous. MLB's 4th or 5th wealthiest team has only two players making more than $10 M a year.
   10. Willard Baseball Posted: August 09, 2021 at 07:03 PM (#6033591)
Play Bote at 3B and that is most likely what we will do. Give Justin Steele the 5th starter's job. Win 64 games and put some more money so that Ricketts family has enough for the Trump 2024 re-election financing.
   11. Captain Joe Bivens, Elderly Northeastern Jew Posted: August 09, 2021 at 07:10 PM (#6033594)
Cubs don't roar until they're bears.
   12. Howie Menckel Posted: August 09, 2021 at 08:17 PM (#6033598)
MRodriguez is a very interesting young power arm in that pen.
   13. Brian C Posted: August 10, 2021 at 12:57 AM (#6033627)
#12: if you say so, but he sure looks like your completely fungible "walk too many guys but strike a bunch out also" type of young power arm. Sure, a guy like that may refine his skills and be special down the line, but nonetheless pitchers like that are 5 cents/dozen these days.

Somewhat tangentially, one of the weird problems the Cubs have had is trouble posting an above-average K/BB ratio over the past few years, even though they always have a good head start with Hendricks on the staff. As much as the FO likes cycling through relievers and retooling the bullpen every year, they either have a coaching issue or a player acquisition issue or a combination of both, because it's just not very sabermetric and it's not like they're making up for it by excelling in other aspects.

   14. Walt Davis Posted: August 10, 2021 at 12:59 AM (#6033629)
You've got a pretty low threshold for "very interesting" there Howie. He's got the nice K-rate but also the big BB-rate and giving up a hit an inning, giving him a minors WHIP over 1.5. Every team has guys like this. Dillon Maples is older but similarly interesting. So is Trevor Megill. But fine, we can add MRod to Heuer who, admittedly, is only interesting because he's new.
   15. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: August 10, 2021 at 09:34 AM (#6033646)
The Cubs didn't do this to immediately turn around and commit $100 M a year in long-term contracts.

This year, after trading Darvish but still nominally contending, the Cubs had an opening day payroll of about $141 million, which was good for 14th in MLB.

As of now, with no acquisitions and no trades of guys making above the minimum, the Cubs are looking at a 2022 payroll somewhere between $80-$90 million after arb awards. That would be good for somewhere in the mid/low 20s for payroll compared to the 2021 rankings.

My wild guess is they will re-sign one of the guys they traded away and maybe do an Edwin Jackson-style pitcher signing. There are some good FA out there but the Cubs will probably have to overpay since the team isn't trying to win and is likely to trade away any surplus value again next year. There's probably enough mutual sentiment to bring Rizzo back, though.
   16. Walt Davis Posted: August 10, 2021 at 05:41 PM (#6033711)
I just posted this in omnichatter but I'm not sure folks realize how bad it's been. The Cubs were 38-27 on June 13. Since then, a period mostly before trading everybody away, they are 14-35 with a -95 differential. That's sub-300 ball.

After June 13 they lost 6 of 8 before winning 2 in a row. Then they lost 13 of 15 before winning 2 in a row. Then they lost 5 of 7 before winning 2 in a row. Currently lost 11 of 13 waiting for that next 2-game winning streak. This team had turned sour before the deadline and now it looks like a disaster.
   17. Brian C Posted: August 10, 2021 at 06:25 PM (#6033718)
Au contraire, is there anyone who doesn't realize how bad it's been? I called them a 60-win team right after the deadline; granted, I didn't necessarily mean 60 wins this season, but still. The feeling around this team has been disgustedly negative since the 11-game losing streak, I hardly think anyone's surprised that they suck real bad now.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: August 11, 2021 at 12:46 AM (#6033784)
Once again -- sub-300 ball is a whole different level of suck. That's 2003 Tigers suck and it's not just the 11-game losing streak nor is it the deadline (that just made it worse). I think, wisely, we all pretty much stopped paying much attention after the 11-game losing streak, just waiting for the ax to fall. But if y'all noticed it was THAT bad then well done.
   19. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: August 11, 2021 at 01:21 AM (#6033786)
I haven't watched an inning since they unloaded everyone. I'll check the score here and there if I think of it, but have just become numb to the regularity of seeing them trailing almost every time I do that.

There's just nothing to be excited about with regard to this franchise right now. I feel bad for everyone on that roster, especially Contreras and Hendricks.
   20. Brian C Posted: August 11, 2021 at 03:24 AM (#6033788)
The fun part is, even after today's DH sweep, they're still averaging more runs/game in August so far than they did in the month of June, and aren't too terribly far off the pace for what they averaged in July. Pitching's been a horror show, obviously, but you can only put a limited amount of blame on the deadline for that.
   21. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: August 11, 2021 at 10:14 AM (#6033804)
I haven't watched an inning since they unloaded everyone. I'll check the score here and there if I think of it, but have just become numb to the regularity of seeing them trailing almost every time I do that.

The Darvish trade did it for me.
   22. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: August 11, 2021 at 09:32 PM (#6033949)
Not that it matters at this point, but is there a reason they won't just cut Arrieta? The guy is beyond cooked.
   23. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: August 11, 2021 at 10:15 PM (#6033965)
Cubs look like they won't win another game this season. Of course, they will, but would 15-33 down the stretch surprise anyone at this point?
   24. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 11, 2021 at 10:41 PM (#6033972)
I haven't watched an inning since they unloaded everyone. I'll check the score here and there if I think of it, but have just become numb to the regularity of seeing them trailing almost every time I do that.

There's just nothing to be excited about with regard to this franchise right now. I feel bad for everyone on that roster, especially Contreras and Hendricks.


agree 100% on all of this.
   25. Kiko Sakata Posted: August 12, 2021 at 11:22 AM (#6034039)
would 15-33 down the stretch surprise anyone at this point


Honestly, I'd be surprised that they managed to win that many.
   26. Moses Taylor hashes out the rumpus Posted: August 12, 2021 at 12:23 PM (#6034056)
Not that it matters at this point, but is there a reason they won't just cut Arrieta? The guy is beyond cooked.

They just did. Not sure if it was the awful performance last night or him continuing to be a dick. Maybe the cubs will finally pass the 85% vaccine threshold now.
   27. Howie Menckel Posted: August 12, 2021 at 12:44 PM (#6034066)
Contreras to the IL as well (right knee sprain and, presumably, a general sense of ennui)
   28. Brian C Posted: August 12, 2021 at 12:49 PM (#6034069)
Good. I was ambivalent at best about bringing Arrieta back in the first place, but I've really come to dislike him over the course of the season. Honestly, it's a real shame.

And I mean, look - I know it's a lost season and we probably have at least a couple more on deck. But goddammit, this is supposed to be one of the class franchises in the league, and rebuilding or no, it's an abysmal org-wide failure for a Cubs team to be this bad. The whole org should be humiliated, instead of the arrogant bizarro-world self-congratulatory "well we won't do things halfway!" posturing that we're getting instead.

So I know it's unfair to put that on Arrieta's shoulders, and I know it's scapegoating him to make him the symbol of this current team. But as the once-dominant player who is now an utter embarrassment, he pretty much is a perfect symbol. And the accountability is still necessary, IMO.
   29. Kiko Sakata Posted: August 12, 2021 at 01:54 PM (#6034089)
Contreras to the IL as well (right knee sprain and, presumably, a general sense of ennui)


Yikes! The number of good players on the Cubs active roster just got cut in half. The Cubs have to go 11-35 or better this season to avoid losing 100 games. What are the odds they do that? I'm thinking 10 or 11 wins feels like a pretty decent over-under.

It would take a bit of a perfect storm, but Kyle Hendricks has a chance to win 20 games for a team that loses 100. He has to win 7 of his 9 or 10 remaining starts while the Cubs go no better than 3-33 in non-Kyle starts. That's a tall order on both ends.
   30. Brian C Posted: August 12, 2021 at 04:16 PM (#6034129)
Probably would have been better to post #29 on a day that Hendricks wasn't starting, Kiko!
   31. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: August 12, 2021 at 05:04 PM (#6034147)
Honestly, I'd be surprised that they managed to win that many.

Again, I haven't watched an inning since the trade deadline, but given these box scores, I would tend to agree. This is 2012 levels of bad without the optimism.
   32. Walks Clog Up the Bases Posted: August 12, 2021 at 05:07 PM (#6034148)
If you want a nice visual gag, go to the team page on Baseball Ref and see what team's Top 12 players. Not a good sign when you've got that many different team hats in that section.
   33. Howie Menckel Posted: August 12, 2021 at 05:41 PM (#6034159)
Cubs getting younger, handing the mop to a 28-year-old bum as they trail 16-3 today
   34. bfan Posted: August 14, 2021 at 08:18 AM (#6034363)
I think MLB is better with a strong Cubs team and franchise. What is happening now is pathetic to see. The league should consider relegation if the Cubs are going to play like this.

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