Making (dollars and) sense of Cubs' quiet off-season

Just like the final three months of 2019, it's been a quiet stretch for the Cubs as the new year begins and the new season starts coming into view.

The biggest news since the Cubs hired David Ross as their new manager on Oct. 23? How about the closing of Wrigleyville restaurant Maddon's Post, named after former manager Joe Maddon.

There hasn't been much to chew on for Cubs fans still stinging from a 2019 season that showed plenty of promise before a 2-10 closing collapse ended a streak of four straight playoff appearances — including winning the 2016 World Series.

The clock has been steadily ticking, so why have the Cubs stood pat outside of a flurry of inexpensive bullpen additions?

It still goes back to money, and the Cubs continue to wait for a ruling on Kris Bryant's service-time grievance, which was filed in October.

A decision is expected soon, and Bryant is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2020 season if he wins the case. If he loses, the three-time all star is under contractual control with the Cubs, or another team, through the 2021 season.

Even though they are one of baseball's top drawing teams and have gone over the 3-million mark in attendance four years in a row, the Cubs are one of only three teams that had to pay a luxury tax for the 2019 season, joining the Yankees and Red Sox.

According to The Associated Press, the Cubs' payroll ($220 million) was over the $206 million threshold last year and they were slapped with a $7.6 million tax bill. Since they didn't go over in 2018, the Cubs were only taxed 20 percent of last season's overage.

AP is reporting the 2020 threshold is going to be $208 million, and the Cubs' projected payroll for the upcoming year is $212 million.

If they go over the cap again this season, the tax increases to 30 percent and the Cubs's 2021 draft pick drops 10 spots, as first reported by NBC Sports Chicago.

They have already cut ties with starting pitcher Cole Hamels, infielder Addison Russell and several other cheaper players like Derek Holland and David Phelps, but

a major trade is likely coming to get the Cubs comfortably under the salary cap and better situated for the years ahead.

“We can't just pretend that we can keep putting off making some important decisions for the future,” Cubs president Theo Epstein told reporters at the winter meetings last month. “If there is an opportunity to strike and help ensure a better future, we have to do that.”

Cutting payroll is an obvious move, and so is restocking a decimated minor-league system.

Trading a star player like Bryant, who has an $18.5 million salary coming this season, takes big money off the books and brings back some prime prospects, especially if Bryant is under contractual control the next two years.

More than anyone, the Cubs are anxious for a ruling on his grievance. Once it comes down, they can start moving forward.

Standing completely pat is not an option due to the luxury tax issue, but the Cubs still have plenty of talent on their roster and they could trade a lesser player, like starting pitcher Jose Quintana, and try to win the NL Central this season.

“We have the makings of a very, very good team that's currently under control on our roster and we have the chance to win a division,” Epstein said. “We do that, and you have a chance to have a great October. That's not to be taken lightly. We're not happy about where we ended up last year after four really successful years.

“Last year didn't meet our standards and we want to try to do better (this) year. After five consecutive years of charging straight ahead and pouring a lot of resources in terms of prospect capital and dollars into trying to win now, we're also at a point where we have to really think ahead and secure our future as well and try to create sustained success over a long period of time.”

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