2012 NL Central Champion Cubs, part 1

As much as I’ve written about the need to rebuild, it’s not going ot happen. The Cubs have some decent players on their roster and some you’d really like to get rid of. Since they’re planning on contending, we have to first figure out which of the current players on the roster are worth keeping around. To do that, we also have to keep in mind the payroll limitations so we’ll start with payroll. (click the link below to continue reading)


I’ve covered that here and here. The second link is the most recent and more thorough article on next year’s payroll. I’m going to quote the important parts here so if you’ve read that already and want to skip ahead, you can do so by clicking here. 

Guaranteed Contracts

Player 2012
Ryan Dempster 14
Carlos Marmol 7
Sean Marshall 3.1
Carlos Zambrano 18
Marlon Byrd 6.5
Alfonso Soriano 18
Other 7
Total 73.6

Other: the Cubs owe Carlos Pena $5 million next year (he was paid $5 million in 2011) and the Cubs owe $2 million in a buyout to Aramis Ramirez. That’s assuming they don’t pick up their option, which is not at all likely. The Cubs are more likely to re-sign Kosuke Fukudome for $14 million than pay Ramirez the additional $14 million.

Arbitration Eligible Players

Player, Arb Year Est. Proj WAR Estimated $ mb21 Estimated $
Matt Garza, 3 3.3 9.7 9
Koyie Hill, 3 0 1 0
Geovany Soto, 2 3.3 9.7 6
Jeff Baker, 2 0.8 2.5 1.5
Blake DeWitt, 1 0.4 1.4 1.3
Randy Wells, 1 2.9 5.7 3.5
Total 30 21.3

For the projected WAR, I used current rest of season ZiPS projections and then adjusted for age. I’ve assumed the Cubs will finally part ways with Koyie Hill, but included him in the estimated $ based on projections. I did this because he had the same projection this season and they had no trouble offering him arbitration. My estimated salaries include him being non-tendered. For the Estimated $ I used the 40%, 60% and 80% of free agent values for 1st, 2nd and 3rd year eligible players. Matt Garza is eligible for the 3rd time, but he’s a Super 2 so his 3rd year is the equivalent of a 2nd year.

Auto-Renewal Contracts

Only 12 players under contract, which means a minimum of 13 auto-renewal players. They make the league minimum and that toal is $5.2 million

Non-Active Roster

The players on the 40-man roster, but not on the 25-man roster are paid a minimum of $50,000. I’ve assumed all 15 will be paid $50,000. This is a total of $750,000.

Total 1: $109.6 million
Total 2: $100.1 million

This year’s payroll is about $135 million. It’s important to note that in the year’s Wreckard recently covered, the Cubs payroll increased only $5 million from 2006 to 2007 despite the spending spree. This team is worse than the 2006 team so we’re going to need $145 million and we’ll obviously have to backload contracts. We’ll talk about that in a later part. 

Now that we know the Cubs current payroll and what they have on the books for next year, we need to look at the current roster and figure out who the team wants to keep. The types of players that any team wants are guys who are likely to produce more value than they’re being paid. There are a handful of players on the Cubs roster under contract next season who do produce more value than they are paid. Starting with positions players, we have Geovany Soto (the only player not under contract that I will include) and Marlon Byrd. Among pitchers, Matt Garza, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol all produce more value than they are paid. So these 5 players stay put. You can’t replace any of them with free agents and pay them less per win than the Cubs will be paying them. If the right trade comes along, sure, but it’s not likely that one will.

Along with those 5 Cubs, we also have the arbitration eligible players: Randy Wells and Jeff Baker. Then there are the auto-renewal players the Cubs shouldn’t consider trading because they produce a lot more value than they are paid: Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Andrew Cashner.

That’s a total of 10 players: Soto, Byrd, Garza, Marshall, Marmol, Wells, Baker, Castro, Barney and Cashner. 

It’s equally important to look at the players who aren’t currently as valuable as their contract and see if it makes sense to trade them while almost certainly throwing in some money. Let’s use Carlos Zambrano as an example. He’s under contract for one more year after this and is being paid $18 million. According to some reports, the Cubs would have to cover almost all of that. Say they sent $12 million. They saved $6 million and that buys a little over a win on the free agent market. Carlos Zambrano is probably worth 2 wins or closer to $9 million. As nice as it would be to free up that salary, the only way you would want to trade him is if you could buy more wins than you expect from Zambrano with the money you saved. It’s unlikely that’s possible.

It’s not like the Cubs have 5 starting pitchers better than Zambrano so you have to keep him. The same is true with Ryan Dempster after his less than impressive season. But what about Alfonso Soriano? The truth is, it really depends on what you think of his defense. Is he average like the metrics seem to think he is? I have a very hard time believing that and I think most of you do as well. Also, do the Cubs have 3 better outfielders than Soriano? That’s the tricky part. I’m confident that Byrd and Brett Jackson are better and wouldn’t even be surprised if Tony Campana was as good or better, but that might be it. The reality here is that Soriano is probably more valuable than what they could get on the free agent market with what they saved by trading him assuming they do in fact kick in a very high percentage of his remaining contract. 

Our 2012 roster now includes the 10 I listed above, Zambrano, Dempster and Soriano. 

The reason I keep talking about producing more value than a player is paid is because the 2007 team is a great example of a team that got more value. Ted Lilly was worth 12.5 rWAR in his career with the Cubs and 1.4 more with the Dodgers after being traded last season. The Cubs paid him to be worth about 10 WAR over those 4 years. Each year, Lilly produced more value than he was paid. The same is true with Mark DeRosa. Two of the players the Cubs signed that 2006 offseason became players who were underpaid. I don’t think we can reasonably expect the Cubs to sign free agents like that. That’s especially true when we’re talking about signing guys who are going to command $100 million contracts or more. The 2012 Cubs need their Lilly and DeRosa and those guys are going to be paid about the same amount those two were. 

They also need their Alfonso Soriano who produced a lot of win at one position. It’s going to be difficult to accomplish and unlike the previous time, it’s likely going to require a trade or two. The Cubs need to get at least a couple more players who provide more value than they are paid so they can acquire a legitimate star or two. 

There’s also the issue with 3rd base and what to do. Aramis Ramirez has a club option for $16 million, but there’s a $2 million buyout so it’s only $14 million above the guaranteed buyout if they decline. Is Aramis Ramirez going to be worth $14 million next season? Will a Jeff Baker and Ryan Flaherty platoon be just as valuable or close enough that it makes no sense to spend that additional money? I’ll look into that in the next article, as well as looking at how valuable these players I’ve named here that the Cubs should be keeping. This will give us an idea how good they are and what they must do in terms of acquiring wins.