Where does the Cubs payroll stand heading into February?

It feels like ages ago since the Cubs were in this position. Whether you want to call it rebuilding or retooling, Tom Ricketts and Jed Hoyer have not done anything to improve this team in 2021.

As a fan, I can’t stress enough how frustrating this is. The Cubs won the division last season, and yes, the NL Central did stink compared to the rest of the league. Guess what? The NL Central still stinks in 2021. It’s like all five teams are trying to compete with one another to see who can do the worst job of improving their squad.

For me, that’s the frustrating part because you can argue last season’s Cubs team was one or two players away from once again being a feared contender in the National League. Instead, the team has parted ways with 80 percent of its starting rotation, along with Kyle Schwarber and Victor Caratini (and others).

Some of the moves like Schwarber, I understand maybe it was time to move on, but to have him walk away for nothing in return without an improved replacement makes no sense to me.

The same can be said about Jon Lester. I would rather pay an aging Lester $5 million to stay in the rotation, rather than having to rely on whatever reclamation projects are brought in like Shelby Miller, no offense. Sure Lester is old and not the pitcher he once was, but he is a proven leader and winner, which is worth more than trying to recover from these ‘biblical losses’.

Alright, that’s enough of my rant, let’s get down to what this payroll is looking like. After the biggest offseason acquisition of backup catcher Austin Romine for one-year, $1.5 million, the current Cubs payroll for 2021 sits around $134 million.

To put things in perspective, this is the lowest the payroll has been, prior to Opening Day, since the 2014 season. Edwin Jackson was the team’s highest-paid player that season.

Cubs Payrolls Prior to Opening Day:

  • 2020: $73.4 million (pro-rated)
  • 2019: $203.1 million
  • 2018: $182.4 million
  • 2017: $172.2 million
  • 2016: $171.6 million
  • 2015: $120.3 million
  • 2014: $92.7 million
  • 2013: $106.8 million
  • 2012: $109.3 million

One can make the argument players were not paid the same types of salaries eight years ago, but I think you still see the pattern of what the Ricketts family is willing to spend when they believe the Cubs are a true contender.

Cubs payroll sends a clear message: we don’t care about competing

As it stands, the Cubs are on a downward track, and until proven otherwise they are heading in that direction. Yu Darvish’s hefty contract was shed and you can bet ownership would love to follow suit with the money left on Jason Heyward’s final three years and would do pretty much anything to dump the final year of Craig Kimbrel’s deal.

I will say it’s probably not the worst thing considering Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo will be free agents following this season. Willson Contreras will also be a free agent after the 2022 season. One or more of these players will need to be paid handsomely if the team wants to keep them on the North Side.

So the departures and lack of impact additions can be used as an excuse for the eventual long-term commitments of these current Cubs. That being said, it shouldn’t be. There’s ways to continue paying high-level talent while keeping your team competitive.  That’s why the Dodgers have stayed competitive the last decade, and the Yankees never stop. I will say ownership has done the best job of building this franchise into a contender, now it’s a matter of sustaining it.

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Whether or not the Ricketts family understands this concept, I’m not sure. If I had to guess judging by this offseason, I’d say probably not. If that’s the case, they need to bring in a better support team who can get this concept through, or maybe it’s time to take their business ventures elsewhere.