The Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan suggests that unless the Cubs have success in 2010, the team's roster could face a dramatic overhaul next winter. Another disappointing season like their 83-78 performance in 2009 could lead to a rebuild, which must just thrill fans of a team has gone over a century without a World Series title.
Sullivan notes that the Cubs' core of stars are all in their 30's, so let's take a look at the ones perhaps most likely to leave Chicago should the team struggle next season. Manager Lou Piniella is on the last year of his contract, and would almost certainly not stick around for a lengthy rebuild. Ted Lilly and Derrek Lee are free agents, and Lee has already said he doesn't want to begin negotiations on an extension during the season. Perhaps the most intriguing case is that of Aramis Ramirez, who has the option of voiding his contract after the season or remaining with Chicago and earning $14.6MM in 2011. (MLBTR's Tim Dierkes broke down Ramirez's situation last month.)
On the surface, the Cubs losing three of their top players and their veteran manager doesn't look like good news. But, if the worst happened and all four left, the Cubs would suddenly be left with a lot of open money with Lee, Lilly and Ramirez all off of the books. The trio is set to earn a combined $40.75MM in 2010 according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, and if Ramirez opted out of his contract, that would free up the $14.6MM owed to him in 2011 and the possible $16MM that he could earn in 2012 should he reach his vesting options.
The Cubs would still have a lot of money tied up in the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano in the short-term. But, with the Lee/Lilly/Ramirez millions to spend and a minor league system ranked seventh in baseball by ESPN's Keith Law, a rebuilding process under a new manager (and probably a new general manager) might not be too long or painful. It could give Chicago a chance to invest in some younger talent rather than re-sign Lee or Lilly.