MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 squads. Click here to read the other entries in this series.

The Cubs will consider major business as they look to improve a team with pits in center field, the pirouette, and the bullpen.

Guaranteed Contracts

Yu Darvish, SP: $81 MM through 2023 Jason Heyward, RF: $86 MM through 2023 Jon Lester, SP: $25 MM through 2020. Includes mutual option for 2021. Craig Kimbrel, RP: $33 MM through 2021. Includes club/ vesting option for 2022. Anthony Rizzo, 1B: $16.5 MM through 2020. Includes club option for 2021. Tyler Chatwood, P: $13 MM through 2020. Kyle Hendricks, SP: $55.5 MM through 2023. Includes club option for 2024. Jose Quintana, SP: $10.5 MM through 2020. Daniel Descalso, 2B: $3.5 MM through 2020. Includes club option for 2021. David Bote, 3B/ 2B: $15 MM through 2024. Includes club options for 2025 and’ 26.

Arbitration-Eligible Players( projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)

Kris Bryant, 3B/ OF- $18.5 MM Javier Baez, SS- $9.3 MM Kyle Schwarber, LF- $8.0 MM Willson Contreras, C- $4.5 MM Albert Almora, CF- $1.8 MM Kyle Ryan, RP- $1.1 MM Jharel Cotton, SP – agreed to $640 K salary Non-tendered: Addison Russell, Danny Hultzen

Free Agents

Nicholas Castellanos, Cole Hamels, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Pedro Strop, David Phelps, Derek Holland, Brandon Morrow, Tony Barnette, Kendall Graveman

This year the Cubs failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since their rebuild culminated in 2015. Following a disappointing 84 -win season, Joe Maddon’s five-year call as overseer comes down to an result. Despite Maddon achieving the impossible with the Cubs’ 2016 championship, the team evidenced little interest in a new deal. It was a pretty usual progression- the Cubs’ achievement had become increasingly disappointing, particularly with 2018′ s one-game Wild Card ouster and missing the playoffs alone in’ 19. That’s not a situation where a manager is typically re-signed, even if most of the denounced falls on the players and front office. Maddon is famously laid-back, so the team raised David Ross in to light-footed a fuel under the players as well to restore camaraderie. Ross seems like he’ll be able to improve those situations, and should be equally adept as Maddon in dealing with the media. Where Ross’ lineup and in-game tactics rank remains to be seen, as he has no prior managerial event. The Cubs protected against that concern by hiring onetime Clergymen manager Andy Green to serve as Ross’ workbench coach.

After hiring Ross, Cubs president Theo Epstein kicked off his offseason by making easy announces on squad alternatives, retaining Anthony Rizzo and Jose Quintana and moving on from pitchers David Phelps, Brandon Morrow, Kendall Graveman, and Tony Barnette. The team also picked up Jharel Cotton, an inexpensive righty who can compete for a fifth starter or long relief capacity. Cotton, 28 in January, gazed promising back in 2016 before traumata set in. The Cubs also made the overdue decision to part channels with infielder Addison Russell, peculiarly accenting that they did so because his stipend was getting too high. That the Epstein regime did not chipped ties with Russell due to the domestic violence allegations against him more than two years ago is something that many of the team’s fans will continue to find disturbing.

Looking forward, let’s start with the matter of the Cubs’ payroll. Epstein’s not talking about it, but the Cubs were one of only three teams to excess the $206 MM luxury tax line in 2019. Back in September, the Associated Press projected the Cubs’ retribution for this infraction to be $6.34 MM. On the surface, it’s difficult to call the team cheap when they’re running a top-three payroll in baseball. On the other hand, it’s hard to see why a 20% tax on the overage would serve as a real impediment to any major market team. It’s worth wonder what would constitute a rational actor payroll for these corporations, rather than taking their word for it or accepting the luxury tax threshold as a wage cap.

Back of the cloth, the Cubs have contract commitments of about $135 MM for 2020, plus an arbitration class that should run around $44 MM. There seems to be enough wiggle room for one payment actor or at least several good ones, right? But the reality is that the team’s competitive counterbalance duty payroll is higher, estimated around $210 MM for 2020 once. As the AP explains,” Luxury tax payrolls are based on the average annual prices of contracts for participates on 40 -man rosters and include $14.5 million per crew in benefits .” Every dollar the Cubs spend between $208 MM-2 28 MM comes with a 30% tax, and every dollar they spend between $228 MM-2 48 MM comes with a 42% levy. If the Cubs were to sign Gerrit Cole at a $35 MM AAV, it would be more like paying him $48 MM in 2020 due to the taxes they’d incur, and it would leave little office for other illustrious adds-on without accompanying subtractions.

On the other hand, with Lester, Quintana, and Chatwood off the books in’ 21, the Cubs could get for the purposes of the $210 MM base tax threshold in that season, at which point all the taxes would go away. Would it be crazy to be done in order to $247 MM in 2020, fee a $14 MM tax once, and then reset? I don’t think so, but $248 MM represents a harder line in the sand since spend beyond that site would be taxed at 75%, and the Cubs’ top draft select would move down ten spots. After going down the rabbit flaw now, you start to see that there’s almost no chance the Cubs will add more than $38 MM in CBT payroll this wintertime, and they could easily choose to draw the line at $18 MM added.

It certainly seems like the Cubs will be sitting out on the major free agents for the second consecutive winter. Obviously, any of the large-hearted dogs would greatly increase the team’s chances of returning to the playoffs in 2020. With Cole Hamels having signed with the Braves, the Cubs’ gyration defines up as Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Jon Lester. With Quintana, Lester, and Chatwood due for free agency after the season, another long-term investment in the gyration in the form of Cole or Stephen Strasburg would be worth considering. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is a tougher fit, as ratifying the game-changing star would involve playing Kris Bryant full-time at an outfield reces, and Bryant has never expended even 500 innings in the outfield in an MLB season. Or, Bryant could be transactions this winter.

Bryant is only under squad command for two more seasons, with a insignificant probability of 2020 becoming his walk year if he prevails his busines go grievance. Though Bryant winning the grievance is considered unlikely, I don’t see why, since the Cubs’ manipulation of his work time to gain a seventh time of control was the most blatant case in recent history. It doesn’t seem crazy is anticipated that an independent umpire could rule in his praise. Regardless, if the Cubs are to seriously entertain trading Bryant this wintertime, it would have to be after the decision is revealed. Moving Bryant generally seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul, as Bryant is a five-win player who should earn around $20 MM this wintertime, and that’s a great deal for the Cubs. Still, it’s possible to trade a five-win player and develop better for it.

Who might haunt Bryant this winter? We could start with Rendon’s admirers. Bryant is about 19 months younger than Rendon, but Rendon has become better on the two sides of the pellet and projects to remain a little better in the short-term. The Dodgers, Rangers, and National, as Rendon admirers, could contemplate Bryant as an interesting Plan B, but those same squads could also look at Josh Donaldson. If we’re presuming Bryant will mostly be deployed at the hot corner, the Angels, Braves, Phillies, Indians, Marlins, Mets, Rays, or Twins could be options. Bryant could be especially interesting for crews that would never be able to sign a player of his stature in free agency. I are simply speculate so much, but I imagine young, controllable jump pitching would be a key part of a Bryant deal for the Cubs. If the Cubs actually do move Bryant and don’t want to replace him with the large salary of Rendon or Donaldson, they could plug in David Bote as his replacement at third base.

Similarly, we’ve seen the proposed regulation the Cubs could sell catcher Willson Contreras this winter. Contreras, 27, is one of the best-hitting catchers in the game, and he has three years of remaining self-control. He’s poorly regarded as a pitch framer, so the teams that lost out on Yasmani Grandal won’t inevitably be all over Contreras. The Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Mets, and Rangers could potentially seek a improve behind the plate and consider Contreras. But the Cubs, much like with any possible Bryant trade, would increase their own exposure by elevating Victor Caratini to regular status, especially with Grandal off the human rights committee.” The Cubs are going to make a move ,” wrote ESPN’s Jeff Passan, so it seems that after years of threatening a probable location musician shakeup, the team will actually do so to some degree this winter.

While the Cubs’ infield could easily be left alone, with Nico Hoerner stepping in as the regular second baseman, the team’s outfield situation seems more unsettled. Heyward has a spot locked down, and has at least settled in as a two-win player who could be used in center field in the short-term. I don’t think the Cubs want to commit to keeping Heyward out of his natural right field position, nonetheless, which is one reason a reunion with Nicholas Castellanos seems unlikely. Mike Moustakas, a pretty good but shortcoming statu participate without a qualifying present affixed, snagged a four-year, $64 MM deal from the Wine. Castellanos, almost three and a half months younger than Moose, seems to have a chance at surfacing that contract. Given Castellanos’ defensive limitations and their current payroll crunch, that doesn’t seem like a contract the Cubs will find palatable.

Plus, Kyle Schwarber once performs the capacity as a solid bat-first corner outfielder for the Cubs, and he should clock in at half Castellanos’ wage without a long-term commitment. While Schwarber is certainly a swap campaigner, the simplest scenario for the Cubs may be to leave him in left and Heyward in right, importing a better quality starting center fielder. That would bump Albert Almora to a fourth outfielder role or craft bait , not that much return would be expected. The Cubs have Shogo Akiyama on their radar as a possible center field solution, according to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. Jackie Bradley Jr . could be a craft alternative, though not a game-changer, and his $11 MM salary projection is problematic. Starling Marte would be an excellent target if the Plagiarist are willing to move him in the subdivision, and his $11.5 MM CBT hit would be worth it. Aside from Akiyama, the free agent market is sparse at center field, with only Kevin Pillar and Brett Gardner qualifying as possible regulars. Though the Cubs’ center fielder doesn’t consequently have to be their leadoff hitter, it would be nice to kill two fowls with one stone. Akiyama has raced an OBP of. 385 or better in each of the past five seasons, so the Cubs’ interest obliges sense.

We haven’t talked more about Ian Happ, the Cubs’ first-round pick from 2015. The 25 -year-old has a career 112 wRC+ in 1,031 plate illusions, though the switch-hitter’s success has been largely against right-handed pitching. He’s been a man without a position in his big league career, though perhaps 2020 could represent a chance to earn semi-regular playing time in center field if the Cubs don’t make a significant pickup. Happ is also a commerce option, though the Cubs is likely to be selling low.

Moving Heyward to center field in the short-term is also agreeable. That could be used the Cubs to consider free agents like Avisail Garcia, Yasiel Puig, Kole Calhoun, and Steven Souza. None represent a clear upgrade for the Cubs, nonetheless. Mookie Betts is to remain crown jewel of the trade market, and of course would be a huge one-year addition for the Cubs. As the GM who drafted Betts, you’d have to think Epstein will at least question, but a stipend estimate near $30 MM could be an issue for the Cubs the same way it is for the Red Sox. More down-to-earth trade options could include Trey Mancini or Whit Merrifield( who could also facilitate at second base ).

The Cubs would be well-served to think bigger with their open spin blot than Jharel Cotton, Adbert Alzolay, and Chatwood, but it’s unclear how large-hearted they’ll rise. I think they’d top out at a $10 MM a year type of free agent, and perhaps wouldn’t travel that far. The decision not to issue a qualifying offer to Hamels evidenced, if nothing else, they weren’t comfortable risking him countenancing a one-year, $17.8 MM deal, even though that’s the contract he resolved up getting from the Braves. It’s also quite possible the Cubs’ rotation will be addressed with an economical young forearm if they wind up transactions a position player.

The Cubs’ bullpen is of greater importance. Given their commitment to Kimbrel, they’ve got to try to fix him after a fatal stint in which he affixed a 6.53 ERA with nine home runs admitted to membership in 20 2/3 innings. After Kimbrel, Rowan Wick and Kyle Ryan probably have spots locked down. Veterans Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Brandon Kintzler are all free agents, though Strop has expressed a desire to return. Ideally, the Cubs would compute a stable veteran who are likely step into the ninth inning if Kimbrel hesitations. Reliability is not a trademark of free authority, though Will Harris might fit the bill.

Assuming Bryant’s grievance croaks the Cubs’ nature, their core arrange musician trio of Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo remains under control through 2021. The three players should be good for 12 WAR at a cost of about $44 MM in total in 2020. While that’s obviously not the strong competitive advantage of all three players less than$ 9MM total for 13+ Crusade, as they did in each of the 2016 and’ 17 seasons, it’s still a great price for the ability and not something to be expended. Logically, if there’s a occasion for the dealership to take a step back and reset, it’s after the 2021 season. With the team’s payroll problems still in full force, talent will be required by Epstein and firm this winter.

Read more: