While its been scientifically proven that money does not make the world go ’round, it certainly does have an impact on the implications of running a baseball team.
Cash is king in baseball, and while some players will sell out their souls for a big contract (cough Albert Pujols), its important to note that for the players, this is their career. The players need to be paid and in a multi-billion dollar industry, its not surprising that a lot of these players are granted very handsome sums of money for their services.
The Chicago Cubs are fortunate in this regard as they have a very strong fan base, a high asking price for tickets (much to the chagrin of the members of that very strong fan base), and one of the most marketable products in baseball. Find me a true Cubs fan who doesn’t have at least one piece of Cubs gear….
To break it down simply? It means the Cubs have an ass-load of cash and they’re not afraid to spend it. This is a very clear and obvious luxury that a lot of teams cannot boast, and yet the Cubs’ total player salary seems to be dropping. Why is this?
It may not be obvious, but this is a window into the future of the Cubs.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been in the game for a long time and know what it takes to build a champion. If you notice, the first thing they did was try to purge the long term, high end contracts that were burdening the Cubs. That means that Carlos Pena, Carlos Zambrano, and Aramis Ramirez were all shipped off (not all for contract reasons, but saving a large chunk of change is always a plus).
Alfonso Soriano is owed a large sum of cash in the future as well. His 8 year – $136 million contract (07-14) means that he will earn $18 million each season until the end of his contract. We in the industry like to call him “dead weight”. He’s also been publicly shopped to many teams in the AL in an attempt to relieve the Cubs of his massive contract burden. Even if he is traded (which is looking less and less likely as time goes on) the Cubs will still have to eat a large portion of his contract to make a deal work.
Interesting to note that while some of the Cubs’ highly paid players have been valuable this season (Ryan Dempster, who will earn $14 million this season before entering free agency) many of the Cubs’ low paid players have had significant impact for the team.
Jeff Samardzija is an example of this. Aside from his abysmal June, he’s well worth the $2.64 million he’s earning this season. He’ll enter his first year of arbitration in 2013 and will likely return to Wrigley next year.
Luis Valbuena, a player who was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays, has been surprisingly good filling in at third base for the injured Ian Stewart. He’s also being had on the cheap, making a meager $495K this season. He’s doing exactly what the Cubs want him to do, and that’s buy time for Josh Vitters as he enters the final stages of his development in AAA Iowa.
Most notably, Bryan LaHair is only making $482K this season before he’ll enter pre-arbitration in 2013. He has been a catalyst in the successes that the Cubs have celebrated, and was granted a spot in the All Star game. How many guys playing in that game do you think make less than $1 million in a season?
Steve Clevenger, who is arguably the future face of Cubs catching, is also making an honest sum of $480K this season. Not to say that isn’t a lot of money to some people, but as a professional athlete who can be effective at the major league level, he’s a steal for the Cubs.
There’s a very clear trend developing here. The Cubs want to stick to short burst, low cost, high efficiency players during their rebuild. This allows players to step up and prove themselves worthy of a starting spot on field for the north siders. By going out and “buying talent”, you simply create a void of young prospects who have grown organically through the system and that does not allow them to prosper under all the work that your system has put into these young players.
Theo and Jed have also been smart about ROI (return on investment) of their players – especially those who are entering free agency. Dempster will be traded for certain before the deadline so that the Cubs can obtain strong prospects for his services, as he has been an elite caliber pitcher this season, and it is of no value to the Cubs to simply let him go to free agency. Shawn Camp, who is a free agent after this season, may also be subject to the same fate because of his valuable performance.
In a league where the mid term-mid pay contract is dead, this seems to be a solid strategy – especially considering the new CBA rules. It frees your team from the heavy burden of slumping players with big contracts and allows your front office to have some flexibility to makes some moves. This tools will be especially valuable once the Cubs are contenders and want to add a few last minute pieces before the trade deadline to help compliment their core players.
Money management is half the game, and I’m glad we have the new brass taking this franchise in the right direction.
Having money is good, but spending smart money is better.
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