Taking a long look at the Cubs payroll

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Taking a long look at the Cubs payroll

MESA, Ariz. One day, Theo Epstein will hold up a Cubs jersey at a stadium club news conference and wonder if this really is the right player at the right time.

The megadeal didnt fit into Epsteins plan this winter, as the Cubs tried to reload and assemble as many young players (and years of club control) as possible, scaling down the big-league payroll to almost mid-market levels.

The financial picture came into sharper focus on Monday when the Cubs agreed to contract terms with all 24 players on their 40-man roster with less than three years of service time in the majors.

That group included Jeff Samardzija (2.64 million), Starlin Castro (567,000), James Russell (512,500), Travis Wood (505,000) and Darwin Barney (500,000).

The rest will make less than 500,000, including expected first baseman and cleanup hitter Bryan LaHair. The major-league minimum is set at 480,000 this year.

It depends on how you do the accounting. But the Cubs are projected to spend around 112 million in major-league payroll this season, according to information gathered from a variety of sources.

That estimate includes the more than 15 million the Cubs are paying the Miami Marlins to take on Carlos Zambrano, the final installment on Carlos Penas pillow contract (5 million) and the 2 million buyout for Carlos Silva (part of the Milton Bradley write-off).

The actual 25-man roster that will be at Wrigley Field on Opening Day could cost around 90 million. Again, these are not exact figures, and should not be confused with the overall budget for baseball operations.

But heres a snapshot of how the Cubs have spent on the big-league team the past several years, according to the USA Today salary database:

2005: 87 million
2006: 94 million
2007: 100 million
2008: 118 million
2009: 135 million
2010: 147 million
2011: 125 million

Chairman Tom Ricketts restructured the organization this offseason to give Epstein a president of baseball operations title. Epstein recruited general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod, part of an effort to expand what has historically been one of the smaller front offices in baseball.

The Cubs believe they will have to add more manpower and pay scouts better because of recent changes to the collective bargaining agreement, which will restrict the amount teams can spend in the draft and on international signings.

The roughly 19 million former general manager Jim Hendry pushed the Cubs to spend in those markets last year represented the final talent grab before the labor deal put a cap-and-tax system into place.

Epstein will have to redistribute resources while restocking the farm system. The Cubs could have even more flexibility with the contracts of Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd which are worth 20.5 million combined in 2012 falling off the books after this season.

There is also an opposite reaction. Castro who reached the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits at the age of 21 will be eligible for arbitration as a Super Two player and start to see his salary multiply.

Castros agent, Paul Kinzer, was spotted at HoHoKam Stadium over the weekend. The Cubs could consider a long-term extension for their franchise shortstop. Epstein had a track record of buying out arbitration years (see Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) while running the Boston Red Sox.

Cubs executives used to be obsessed with winning one World Series. They're now trying to build a more sustainable team.

Patience is important, but (so is) urgency, Epstein said at the beginning of spring training. The goal of the 2012 Cubs is to win the World Series. Our goal as an organization is to build an organization that competes on an annual basis in the postseason and gives ourselves a chance to win a World Series.

There arent going to be any shortcuts. Were looking at the big picture and were building this thing the right way.

GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

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GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

The St. Louis Cardinals talked about how hard they played until the end against the Cubs, claiming a moral victory, yet another sign of how much this rivalry has changed.

“Do something!” is always the natural reaction when a team struggles, even one with the best record in baseball, even when a three-time Manager of the Year fills out the lineup card, and even coming off a 97-win season and an all-out winter.  

But scoring 21 runs within 23 hours against the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday again showed how the Cubs were built (and how much St. Louis might miss John Lackey). The next time the Cubs fail to hit with runners in scoring position, or get shut out by a Madison Bumgarner, or experience a three-game losing streak, those offensive answers will have to come from within.

“No question,” general manager Jed Hoyer.

Between the final out of the National League Championship Series and getting swept by the New York Mets last October – and their first Cactus League game this spring – the Cubs committed $253 million combined to Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs have gone 4-for-4 with hitters in their top draft picks – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ – every year since president Theo Epstein took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field. Plus taking Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft during the final weeks of the Jim Hendry regime.

The Cubs invested $30 million in the Cuban market to sign Jorge Soler and used pitching trade chips (Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija) to acquire half of their infield (Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell) potentially through the 2021 season.   

Rizzo is coming off a 3-for-35 road trip where the Cubs lost series to the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants before closing strong in St. Louis. But Rizzo is also so much more mature and competitive than the overmatched hitter Hoyer rushed to the big leagues in 2011 with the San Diego Padres.

“As he goes, sometimes offensively we go,” Hoyer said. “With Anthony, when he’s good, he can carry you for a week to 10 days. He’ll get it going again. He knows he’s good now. He knows he can do it. When he goes to bed at night, he knows he’s an All-Star first baseman.

“That’s important when a guy’s going through a slump, that they have that confidence in themselves. (Now) it’s just a matter of that one swing that’ll click.”

Imagine what manager Joe Maddon described as “the butterfly effect” on the lineup once Heyward (.596 OPS) starts hitting the ball with authority to augment all the other subtle aspects of his game.

“He’s just a winning player,” Hoyer said. “Our players know that. He has that presence. Offensively, he’s been a slow starter like three of the last four years. There’s no question he’ll get it going.

“Once he (does), I think everyone will see the kind of player he’s been for most of his career. Everyone appreciates the defense and the baserunning. But the offense is a big part of that, too, and it will come here very shortly.”

If Heyward can’t be measured by batting average and RBIs, then the Cubs also dug into Zobrist’s peripheral numbers and underlying performance and found the super-utility guy had actually gotten better with age.

Zobrist turned 35 on Thursday and is hitting .346 and leading the majors with a .453 on-base percentage in the first season of a four-year contract.

“We love youth, (but) having some veterans is important,” Hoyer said. “With Ben, we felt like his skill set matched us perfectly. But we did really dig into the numbers to make sure that was the case.

“One of the things we look at is his ability to hit fastballs – it’s kind of gotten better and better throughout his career. Guys that can still hit a really good fastball don’t show a lot of signs of aging.”

It will be impossible to match the infusion of youth and energy Schwarber brought to the Cubs last summer, when he hit 16 homers in 69 games plus five more during the playoffs. 

The Cubs are 31-14 with Schwarber getting only five plate appearances during the first week of the season and now recovering from major knee surgery. 

Schwarber comparisons are unrealistic/unfair, but the next wave at Triple-A Iowa includes Almora, a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s hitting .326 and top catching prospect Willson Contreras (.933 OPS).

“We knew we were going to miss Kyle,” Hoyer said. “There’s no question about that. You take a guy like Kyle (away) – that’s like taking Michael Conforto out of the Mets’ lineup.

“He’s that good a left-handed hitter. He kills right-handed pitching. We knew we were going to miss it. I think our guys have done a great job of filling that hole.

“As for Contreras and Almora, I look at those two guys and I think there’s a little development left. We know that they’re doing a great job at Triple-A. If the need arises, those are guys that might get forced into action.

“But right now, we want those guys developing. Obviously, if the major-league team needs that player at that moment, (Kyle) will be the precedent. But right now, I think they’re still developing, still learning.”

A 10-game homestand begins Friday afternoon against the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. As the Cardinals know by now, the Cubs are no longer a franchise that keeps score with minor-league updates or prospect rankings or moral victories.

Jennie Finch will become first female to manage professional men's baseball team

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Jennie Finch will become first female to manage professional men's baseball team

Retired softball legend — and former Chicago Bandits star player — Jennie Finch is set to make history by becoming the first female to manage a professional men's baseball team, albeit for one game. 

Finch will take the helm of the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League as a guest manager this Sunday, May 29, as they face off agaisnt the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard.

Finch led a standout career as a pitcher, winning a College World Series in 2001 with the Arizona Wildcats before helping team USA to gold and silver medals (in 2004 and 2008). She played for the Chicago Bandits from 2005-2010, and due to her success the team named the street leading to its stadium in Rosemont, Ill., 'Jennie Finch Way.' 

Minor League Roundup: Heartwarming Cubs story; Tim Anderson stays hot

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Minor League Roundup: Heartwarming Cubs story; Tim Anderson stays hot

Each week, CSNChicago.com goes down on the farm for a minor-league report from both the Cubs and White Sox system, presented by Service King.

CUBS

Cubs minor leaguers have been making headlines since Theo Epstein took over the front office nearly five years ago. Everybody has been enamored with what guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell have been doing at ridiculously young ages.

But this week, it was actually a 66-year-old Cubs minor-league consultant who took the baseball world by storm.

Mike Roberts, the father of former big-leaguer Brian Roberts, is a roving minor-league consultant for the Cubs and just finished up the trip of a lifetime with the big-league club.

Roberts lost his wife of almost 46 years in February, yet still reported to spring training just days later and the Cubs have responded by rallying around him in a time of need. Epstein invited Roberts up to hang out with the big league club on its recent road trip to San Francisco and St. Louis.

FOXSports' Ken Rosenthal has a fantastic account of Roberts' grief and how the Cubs - and players' wives and girlfriends - have helped one of their own. Worth a read for all baseball fans and serves as a perfect reminder of the human aspect of the game.

WHITE SOX

Tim Anderson is really starting to find his groove this season.

In the last 10 games, the 22-year-old shortstop is batting .375 with a homer and three RBIs. His season average has increased to .313, which is the highest it’s been all year.

The Charlotte Knights also added a new outfielder to the mix last week. The White Sox acquired 34-year-old outfielder Jason Bourgeois from the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 16 and he was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte.

Bourgeois has been absolutely on fire right from the get-go in 2016, even before he got to the Sox. In 40 games this season, the outfielder is batting .397/.437/.534 with one homer, 14 RBI, three triples and seven stolen bases.

A change of scenery hasn't thrown him off. 

In seven games with the Knights, Bourgeois is batting .556/.600/.889 with one homer and five RBIs. 

If those numbers continue, the White Sox will certainly attempt to make room for him on the main roster – especially with the offensive struggles the team has been having as of late.

Kevan Smith returned to Triple-A after missing a month of action due to a back injury. 

The 27-year-old catcher went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run on Wednesday in his first game back.