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A closer look at the Chicago Cubs’ payroll

With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado available on the free agent market this offseason, payroll has come to the forefront for many teams. For the Chicago Cubs, it has emerged as more of a concern than some might think.

The Chicago Cubs currently have the highest payroll of any team in Major League Baseball at $167,035,714. And that doesn’t take into account the bevy of guys who are arbitration-eligible, either – if recent projections ring true, that could add another $40 million to that – pushing Chicago past the luxury tax threshold.

Having the highest payroll going into the offseason isn’t ideal, but at least for the Cubs, it is less of a big deal since they are one of the wealthier teams in the league. Also, they have an increase in revenue on the way with their new TV network coming soon.

Still, the payroll complicates things for the upcoming offseason. They likely will not stay at the top of the payroll list—that’s mainly just because they have comparatively few free agents coming off the books from 2018. But after they spent a chunk of change in picking up Cole Hamelsoption, some money is going to have to come off the books if the front office wants to sign a marquee free agent like Harper or Machado.

What does the Hamels option mean?

Last week, the Cubs picked up Hamels’ option to keep him in Chicago for another year. Given how well he pitched throughout the second half of the season, it seemed like the obvious move to keep him on the North Side. But paying for the Hamels option does affect other things a bit.

The Cubs exercised a $20 million option on Hamels for 2019, adding to their already steep payroll. They needed to keep Hamels. At the end of the season, he turned out to be perhaps the most valuable member of the rotation.

Bringing back Hamels affects payroll in that it brings the Cubs that much closer to the $206 million luxury tax set for 2019. Sure, the Cubs could probably afford to pay the luxury tax. But is it worth it? We’ll soon find out what Theo Epstein and Co. think.

Can they still get Harper?

With Hamels’ option now on the books, the potential to sign Harper gets a little iffier. In the MLB Trade Rumors 2018-19 Top 50 Free Agent Predictions, Harper is predicted to sign a 14-year, $440 million deal this offseason.

That comes out to $30 million a year, on average. When added to the projected $200 million-plus worth of Cubs payroll, that blows past the competitive balance tax – in one fell swoop.

Sure, the Cubs could still get Harper on the payroll if they so desired, but it could cost them in a big way via the luxury tax. Some might argue that’s worth it if it means getting a generational talent and winning a World Series. Others might argue there are cheaper options that could get the Cubs where they need to go.

What other options are there?

The Cubs difficult end to the 2018 season showed that a slugger or two added to the lineup for 2019 wouldn’t hurt. The easy answer is that Harper would solve all their problems, but he’s not going to be easy to get.

Aside from Harper, players like A.J. Pollock, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley and DJ LeMahieu, are less expensive, more viable options.

As the Cubs saw last season, free agent acquisitions don’t always work out, and that’s always in play with some of the lower profile free agents. What if they just don’t perform in 2019 and the Cubs wasted all their money? Then again, the Cubs could also catch lightning in a bottle and find a great player for cheap. But you just never know.

The bottom line: signing Harper is going to be tough with where the Cubs payroll currently is. It’s more than likely they’ll either need to trade away talent or settle for someone less than Harper in order to stay anywhere near the luxury tax threshold.

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Or, the Cubs could always determine spending big bucks on a guy like Harper and paying the consequences later is worth it. If he guarantees you a World Series, most people would probably take that, no matter the cost.

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