We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.
Next up: Will the payroll issues bleed into the season?
In case you've been living under a rock and have completely missed the storyline that has persisted all winter about the Cubs' financial constraints, we'll catch you up quickly:
The Cubs did not sign Bryce Harper. Their biggest offseason additions were Daniel Descalso and Brad Brach (on top of picking up Cole Hamels' $20 million option). Chairman Tom Ricketts said there isn't any more money to spend for the Year of Reckoning.
Think that pretty much covers it.
To be clear - the Cubs are not cheap. The roster Theo Epstein put together for Opening Day a year ago cost about $182 million, which was the highest in franchise history. This year, that number has ballooned to north of $220, which is just behind the Boston Red Sox for the largest payroll in the game.
Still, it's easy to understand why fans are upset. The bullpen was already filled with question marks heading into the winter and the Cubs couldn't beat the $8 million offer Jesse Chavez got from the Rangers to keep the reliable reliever in town. The game's top closer (Craig Kimbrel) is still unsigned with Opening Day just over a week away while the Cubs bullpen continues to deal with injuries.
Who knows what the payroll will look like next offseason with a bunch of money coming off the books, but will Epstein's front office have any wiggle room for the remainder of this year?
Last season, the Cubs had the flexibility to add a few months of salaries for veterans like Hamels, Daniel Murphy and Brandon Kintzler before the trade deadlines (both July and August). If they're in contention again this summer, will they have the same freedom?
Epstein's front office usually plans on setting aside a chunk of money in the budget to add to the payroll midseason and there's nothing to indicate that won't be the case in 2019.
Then again, the Cubs haven't had a winter quite like this one in a long time.
Another wrinkle to the money issue is the status of a trio of high-paid veterans. If Tyler Chatwood (still owed more than $25 million), Brian Duensing ($3.5 million) and Kintzler ($5 million) can't find their form again, will the Cubs be forced to consider a release and eat the rest of the money? On the other hand, in the best case scenario, maybe a guy like Chatwood can do enough to boost his trade value where the Cubs could deal him away and only be on the hook for part of his salary.
Even if the Cubs are still somewhat hamstrung financially midseason, the good news is that the area they're most likely to have to augment - the bullpen - can be fixed on the cheap. Nowadays, reliable relievers can be found anywhere and won't necessarily cost much in terms of prospects or money (Chavez is a perfect example).
And hey, maybe this is the year the Cubs actually have some reinforcements come from within to help the bullpen.
The complete 19 for '19 series:
19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?