One of the arguments presented in opposition of the Cubs trading for Justin Verlander is that the 34-year-old is due $28 million in each of the next two seasons. But as we’ve reasoned here at Cubs Insider, that’s not necessarily prohibitive in either the short or mid-term. Consider that some of the team’s biggest salaries will fall off the books after this season and that they won’t need to shell out for big extensions until after Verlander’s deal expires.
Add in the escalating luxury tax threshold and you’ve got plenty of room to make things work. In a Facebook post — again, due to the decision by FOX Sports to pivot to video — he made Tuesday morning, Ken Rosenthal confirmed as much regarding the Cubs’ ability to take on Verlander’s contract (all emphasis mine).
Here’s something interesting you might know about the Cubs: Their luxury-tax number for 2018 is $74.6 million, leaving them more than under $120 million under the threshold, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
So, if the Cubs want to pursue Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander – one of perhaps 20 trade options they are considering, according to major-league sources – they’ve got the financial flexibility to pull off such a move.
Verlander, 34, is earning annual salaries of $28 million through 2019, and his contract includes a $22 million vesting option for 2020. It’s unlikely any team would be willing to absorb that entire commitment. But for the Cubs – and every other potential suitor – there is a salary number at which Verlander becomes feasible.
On the other side, a team such as the Cubs must consider the opportunity cost. Verlander might thrive in the National League and find additional motivation playing for a contender, assuming he is willing to waive his full no-trade rights. But every dollar spent on him in his ages 34, 35 and 36 seasons would be a dollar that could go to another player – say, a free agent such as Alex Cobb or Tyler Chatwood. Every prospect traded for Verlander, meanwhile, is a prospect who might be a future Cub or fodder for another deal.
The Cubs do not necessarily need another starter after acquiring Jose Quintana – they might be better off adding a reliever, and definitely intend to add a veteran backup catcher, sources say. But true to form under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, they are remaining active on all fronts.
Still, they can fit Verlander, if they view the acquisition cost as acceptable, if they determine that he is indeed the pitcher they want.
There’s more in the full post regarding the Cubs’ likely inability to land Sonny Gray, but you probably already knew that. With all the rumors swirling, including the fluctuating availability of Yu Darvish, the Cubs could view Verlander as the best option. He’s no young buck and he’ll cost a lot of bucks, but he’s a known commodity and isn’t a very long-term asset.
Cobb and Chatwood, among other free-agent pitchers this winter, present interesting opportunities as well, but they’ll require longer commitments. While neither should command an AAV on par with Verlander, both will be on the books when the Cubs’ young position players come due for monster raises.
In the end, it’s all a balancing act and Verlander might end up making the most sense due to the timing of his deal. While it’s been nothing but smoke to this point, expect the Cubs to start setting some fires here really soon.