The Chicago Cubs have at least two more games to play in 2015.
But the rumors about their plans for next season’s club are already starting to waft from Wrigley Field. And a couple of St. Louis Cardinals free agents are reportedly high on their wish list.
The Chicago Tribune opined in its NLDS preview that the Wee Bears would make a strong push for Cardinals veteran starter John Lacky, a close friend of current Cubs hurler Jon Lester from their days with the Boston Red Sox.
As of Tuesday morning, dawindycity.com reports that the Cubs plan to let their own free agent outfielder, Dexter Fowler, walk in favor of a run for St. Louis flychaser Jason Heyward.
It would be an interesting move on Chicago’s part. Their biggest apparent need is deeper starting pitching. And, if their previous pronouncements are to be believed, the Cubs aren’t going to go on a major shopping spree this off-season. Ownership, which is trying to pay itself back for its investment in the club and improvements to the oldest ballpark in the National League, said they’re only willing to go up about $10 million in 2016 from their current payroll of $120.3 million.
While some money will come off the books, with Cot’s Baseball Contracts reporting Chicago being committed to $82 million for next season before arbitration and any effort to re-sign the club’s free agents, it’s likely not going to be enough to sign two premium free agents.
Jake Arrieta could be in for a major raise or an extension in his second year of arbitration. He made $3.6 million last year and could see that figure double or triple depending on in arbitration plays out or if he agrees to a long-term contract. So that puts the Cubs in the realm of $90 million on the ledger.
Pedro Strop, Travis Wood, Hector Rondon and Chris Coghland are all in their third year of arbitration and could get healthy raises if the Cubs want to keep them. Fowler made $9 million, Jason Motte made $4.5 million and Chris Denorfia made $2.6. It is unknown if the Cubs will attempt to re-sign any of them. But, minimally, the team will spend close to $100 million to keep the bulk of its roster intact before it thinks about street free agents.
A bump of $10 million a year would give the club about $35 million to spend. If Heyward is expected to field offers in the $25 million a year range, that means the club wouldn’t be likely to afford making a run at the likes of Zack Greinke or David Price who will likely command $25 million per year. But the Cubs might be able to afford Heyward and Lackey if the latter signs a two-year deal.
While Cubs ownership could get excited after a playoff run that came sooner than anticipated and raise the payroll, it would seem unlikely that the club could stay within its self-imposed limitations and blow St. Louis out of the water on a Heyward deal while addressing other openings.
The Cardinals ought to be willing to commit to at least $150 million over six years for Heyward, a young, well-rounded player still on the upswing of his career.