This past offseason was not one to remember for the Cubs, a big-market, high-payroll team that spent a mere $3.5MM on free agents after failing to make the playoffs in 2019. The club also lost quite a few of its own notable free agents, including reliever Pedro Strop, even though the right-hander revealed Wednesday that Chicago had interest in retaining him.
“They did try hard to bring me back. It’s just money-wise, they couldn’t, because they weren’t allowed [with] all the salary cap stuff; they wanted to try to stay below,” Strop said (via Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times).
The 34-year-old Strop, a Cub from 2013-19, ended up with the National League Central rival Reds on a modest single-season pact worth $1.825MM. The Cubs weren’t even willing to go to those lengths for Strop, however, thanks in part to their desire to stay under the luxury tax (not the nonexistent salary cap) this year. They were one of three teams that had to pay the tax in 2019, when they were forced to fork over a $7.6MM bill. The threshold then was $206MM, but it has climbed to $208MM for 2020. Although they spent next to nothing over the winter, the Cubs project to start this season about $6MM over that mark, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and FanGraphs.
Should the tax really be a concern for the deep-pocketed Cubs? Arguably not. Regardless, there’s a case that the Cubs won’t get hurt by letting Strop walk, even though a divisional foe grabbed him for a relatively inexpensive guarantee. Strop was an excellent late-game option for a large portion of his tenure in Chicago, but he took noticeable steps backward last year. For example, Strop posted the worst full-season run prevention marks of his career (4.97 ERA/4.53 FIP) and one of his highest walk rates (4.32 per nine) across 41 2/3 innings. Furthermore, after averaging more than 95 mph on his fastball in each of his prior seasons as a Cub, his mean velocity dropped to 93.7 in 2019. A Strop rebound remains possible, though, and the Cubs are left to hope he doesn’t return to his old form for a Reds team that bought low on him.