The shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic will cause further trouble for the Chicago Cubs as they try and get under the luxury tax.
As we all know, the Chicago Cubs have been battling payroll issues the last few seasons. Some weighty contracts have hurt the team and the looming 2021-22 offseason, during which more of the core hits free agency, is looming large.
Now having a big payroll doesn’t always translate to wins on the field as we have seen. Last year, the two teams with the highest payrolls (the Cubs and Boston Red Sox) missed the postseason entirely. So throwing money at weaknesses doesn’t always work out.
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Heading into the 2020 season the Cubs do have some big contracts on the books. Jason Heyward will be making $21 million and has four more years under contract with the Cubs. Jon Lester will be making $20 million in 2020 but then has a $10 million team option for 2021. As things currently stand, Yu Darvish will be the highest-paid player on the Cubs roster in 2020 as he will earn $22 million. From what we saw some starting pitchers get in free agency this year that $22 million will look good for the Cubs if Darvish can keep up his performance from the second half of last season.
Chicago’s plan this offseason was abundantly clear. Get under the luxury tax threshold and reset penalties heading into next winter. If they’re unable to do this, they’ll face a 30% luxury tax on any dollars spent above the lowest threshold.
Now with a shortened season, it will be even tougher to get under the luxury tax. The Cubs are still several million dollars over the $208 million luxury tax threshold as we sit here now. So they would have to shed some salary to fall under that limit so they don’t go over for the third straight season and receive huge payroll problems.
This presents some challenges for the front office. Because what if the Cubs are competitive come the trade deadline? What do they do? Do they add at the deadline and go and try to win another championship? We would all love for that to be the case but it might not happen. I think the front office will have to be very honest with themselves come the deadline. If they don’t think that this team can win the World Series by just adding a few pieces at the deadline I think they will try and shed some salary and get under the tax and start being able to spend again in free agency.
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Now if the season is completely canceled it will be like there is no luxury tax at all. So if you are over you will not be affected next season. But also it will not count as a year of getting under the tax so that would mean that the Cubs would still be in that area of not wanting to go over the tax in 2021.
It will be a tricky slope for the Cubs front office to try and navigate but I have confidence in Theo and Jed that they will figure it out.