Are Cubs’ Moves Pointing to Something Big on Horizon?

The Cubs have added several players since the lockout ended, most notably by bringing in what feels like a full bullpen of veteran relievers. Their official 40-man roster currently stands at 42 without the additions of Steven Brault, Mychal Givens, Robert Gsellman, Daniel Norris, or Jonathan Villar. Neither Codi Heuer nor David Bote has been added to the 60-day IL, but that still puts them way over.

Michael Cerami of Bleacher Nation has them at 47, so it’s possible I’m missing someone. Regardless, it’s obvious the team is going to need to do something to get the roster back under the allowable limits. But how exactly do Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins accomplish that?

The most obvious answer is a trade, though this isn’t like fantasy baseball where you can just propose a 5-for-1 and hope the other manager sees value in the deal. More than likely, it’ll take a series of different moves by the front office to make everything work out with the numbers while also getting the Cubs to a more competitive position. Because let’s face it, they aren’t set up to win as things currently stand.

Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman were great additions that signal a desire to win in short order, but it’s going to take a lot more than just those two to make it happen. When it comes to how the Cubs might be able to achieve that end, let’s first look at an interesting wrinkle in Suzuki’s contract.

The five-year, $85 million pact comes out to $17 million AAV, but not all the years are even in that regard. There’s a $5 million signing bonus that could presumably be spread over the course of the deal, the first year of which is a mere $7 million. That could simply be a way to help offset the $14.625 million posting fee the Cubs owe the Hiroshima Carp, in which case this doesn’t really matter.

As a matter of clarification here just in case it isn’t common knowledge, the posting fee does not count toward the luxury tax calculation. Not that the luxury tax matters here since we know the Cubs aren’t going to be getting close to it. What is far more important here is the actual payroll limit Tom Ricketts has set for the front office, which could be in the $175 million neighborhood.

Or rather, it should be at least that high.

Let’s get back to what the Cubs could do with their remaining payroll flexibility, specifically the idea of buying picks and/or prospects by taking on another team’s “bad” contract. We’ve talked about Eric Hosmer here several times, so I’m simply going to link to more info and assume you’re up to speed on that situation. If the Padres are still looking to unload the veteran it’s possible their comp balance pick could still be included in addition to a prospect.

Top catching prospect Luis Campusano has been mentioned previously and others have named 20-year-old outfielder Robert Hassell as a possibility. The latter would help matters more because Campusano is MLB-ready and would require a 40-man spot, though trading Willson Contreras would make that a wash. I don’t think the Cubs try that just yet, so we’ll table it for the time being.

The Cubs would need to send relatively inexpensive players back to San Diego in order to make the deal work, so you’re probably looking at some combination of Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal, and Ian Happ. There’s a lot of middle infield depth and Suzuki takes up an outfield spot, so those three naturally come to mind. Please realize that I’m oversimplifying here in order to wrap this up before it hits 2,000 words.

Perhaps more important to the organization’s master plan is the acquisition of a draft pick that would mitigate the loss that would occur when the Cubs turn around and sign either Nick Castellanos or Michael Conforto. The latter is a better fit for the team’s needs because he’s a lefty batter, plus he’s a year younger and will command a much smaller contract. Either way, the outfield is full again.

Now the Cubs flip some combination of players, prospects, and maybe a comp pick to the A’s for Frankie Montas or the Marlins for Pablo Lopez or one of their other young pitchers.

That would give them a hard-throwing pitcher they’ve expressed a need for and the lefty power they so desperately lack while cleaning up the roster without also decimating the farm system. We’re talking about several dominoes having to fall just so, making this grand plan a bit too complicated to be entirely plausible, but it’s very clear something needs to happen.

Based on what they’ve done to this point and what they’re going to have to do in order to get to 40 men, it feels like something big is in the offing for the Cubs. Like maybe Carlos Correa, who they can sign one way or the other.

Ed. note: Some additional context on the posting fee payment may shed additional light on the Cubs’ machinations. AZ Phil explained at The Cub Reporter that only half of the total is due by April 1, after which the remainder can be paid out in three installments at six-month intervals. While that’s only around a $7.3 million savings in cash outlay over the next six months, it’s important to understand.

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