With manager in place, time to pick team

The Chicago Cubs have $58,500,000 coming off their 2011 payroll. How will president of baseball operations Theo Epstein divvy up his baseball budget in 2012?

A team’s baseball budget and baseball payroll are two different things. The Cubs will have around a $200 million budget in 2012, which represents the entire amount of money the Cubs will allocate for major league salaries, employee salaries, running the minor leagues, amateur draft signings and international free agent signings.

After saying all that, the Cubs major league payroll was at $131 million to start the 2011 campaign. The money coming off the books represents the contracts of Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Pena, John Grabow and Carlos Silva.

It’s unknown at this time as to how much money Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer are willing to spend in free agency in order to make the 2012 team more competitive. Since taking over the team, Epstin has talked mostly about long-range goals in his “Cub way” of doing things.

The highest profile free agents on the market this offseason are Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and pitcher C.J. Wilson. The agents for Fielder and Wilson talked to the Cubs at this week’s GM Meetings in Milwaukee. But one major league source said they didn’t go into great detail in any of those conversations.

With the hiring of former Milwaukee hitting coach Dale Sveum as the new Cubs manager, Fielder’s name is in the news in Chicago. The Brewers free agent will be looking for a $200 million payday. Wilson, the top left-hander on the market, is shooting for $120 million.

“I think we are now in the mode of the offseason where we’re starting to look at players,” Hoyer said on Friday. “We had a lot of conversations with agents and a lot of conversations with teams [at the GM meetings]. But we are not close on anything.

“We know what we want. Now it’s a question of continuing some of those conversations to a conclusion.”

Hoyer wouldn’t speak about whether or not the Cubs have interest in Fielder, but said he’d help any club.

“He’s a great player,” Hoyer said. “He provides a ton of production and that goes without saying. Dale [Sveum] has great respect for him. As for whether we will be involved, we can’t comment. But I think he fits anyone’s team, especially anyone that needs a first baseman.”

While the Cubs are in need of impact players, Hoyer, along with Epstein, will personally go see Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in the Dominican Republic on Monday. The Cubs top two executives and some scouts will have a private workout with the 26-year-old Cuban defector, who is now living in the Dominican Republic.

Cespedes agent, Adam Katz, describes Cespedes as as a five-tool player as well as an upstanding individual. The price tag for Cespedes may be five years and $40 million. The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers will all have private workouts as well, and the Florida Marlins have already had one.

The Cubs may also throw their money toward the Japanese market and put in a bid for right-handed pitcher Yu Darvish. The 25-year-old right-handed star pitcher may leave Japan, but getting a Japanese player away from his original team is a complicated issue.

The system is called “posting”. Darvish’s present team in Japan, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, will take sealed bids to buy his services from their team. The highest bid gets the opportunity to negotiate a contract with the player. As an example, in 2006, the Red Sox’s blind bid of $51 million to speak with Daisuke Matsuzaka went to Matsuzaka’s team, the Seibu Lions. Boston then worked out a $50 million deal with Matsuzaka and his agent. If the highest bidding team can not work out a deal with the player, then the posting money is returned to it.

The Cubs, like numerous other teams, are interested in Darvish, who is 6-5 and of Iranian and Japanese descent. Baseball scouts compare Darvish to former Yankees and Mets starter David Cone at a similar point in their careers. According to two scouts, Darvish would go right into a major league team’s rotation and be considered a No. 1 or 2 starter depending on the depth in that team’s rotation.

Some of the Cubs’ roster changes will begin to take place between Thanksgiving and the Winter Meetings on Dec. 5 in Dallas. The Cubs need corner infielders, a run-producing outfielder and at least two starting pitchers in 2012.

“It’s still early,” Hoyer said. "But once we get to the Winter Meetings past the Thanksgiving break, things start to happen quickly.”

The Cubs have their All-Star front office and their new manager. Now all they need are some players.