Much has been made about the Cubs’ affinity for Justin Verlander because of their forthcoming favorable payroll. Although Verlander is owed $28 million over the next two years and has a $22 million vesting option for 2020 if he finishes top five in Cy Young voting, the Cubs don’t have many big deals on their books for the next three years.
In breaking down what the payroll might look like if Theo and Co. did trade for the Detroit pitcher, I estimated each player’s arbitration using previous deals (e.g., Xander Bogaerts ~$4 M arbitration for 2017, etc.). Admittedly, the ever-changing environment severely limits my ability to be pinpoint accurate here. Moreover, I only included players the Cubs are likely to field, which means I am missing several unknown players’ minimum salaries. Despite those limitations, I’m still confident that the below estimates provide an appropriate snapshot of how Verlander would influence future Cubs payrolls.
Acquiring Verlander brings the Cubs estimated payroll for 2017 to roughly $154 M, which is only 78.38 percent of the luxury tax threshold. Likewise, their projected 2019 salary count with the veteran righty for is under the luxury tax by 23.65 percent. If Verlander indeed pitches like a top-five Cy Young candidate, his $22M salary would be a steal and only brings the Cubs’ book to ~$140M. All of these calculations, of course, are the product of educated guesswork and are to not be taken literally.
Even so, they’re based on enough factual evidence to give us a fairly solid snapshot of the next two or three years. In essence, Verlander’s salary doesn’t have a significant negative impact on the Cubs’ payroll flexibility. The defending World Series champs would still have the luxury of adding players because the majority of their team is only now approaching the early years of arbitration.
This isn’t to say the Cubs should absolutely go after the former Cy Young winner. The front office might decide that signing a bunch of free agent starters (Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, etc.) would be a better route than trading for Verlander. On the other hand, the short-term commitment to Verlander is enticing enough that the Cubs might pull the trigger.