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While the Chicago Cubs were able to sign just five of their eight arbitration-eligible players yesterday, the team is hopeful it can finalize contracts with the other three before going to arbitration – something the team has successfully avoided for more than fifteen years. The three remaining are shortstop Ryan Theriot, closer Carlos Marmol, and swingman Sean Marshall, each of whom is eligible for arbitration for the first time.

Theriot and the Cubs are $800,000 apart. Theriot, 30, who made $500,000 last season, his third as the starting shortstop, is seeking $3.4 million while Chicago offered $2.6 million. Marmol, 27, who made $575,000 last year and heads into the 2010 season as the team’s closer, is asking for $2.5 million. The Cubs offered him $1.75 million.

Marshall, who will be competing for a spot in the rotation or could be a swingman again, asked for $1.175 million while the Cubs offered $800,000. The left-hander made $450,000 last season. cubs.com.

Marshall and the Cubs are sufficiently close that they should settle with relative ease.

Theriot’s request is, however, I’m sorry to say, egregious. In his first year of arbitration eligibility, there is no reason Theriot should have expected to get more than $3 million. A starting shortstop in name only, Theriot has limited range and a weak arm. He has decent speed, but is now a terrible base-stealer and a terrible base-runner. He is intermittently good at the plate, but still managed just a .712 OPS (83 OPS+) last year. And with hot middle infield prospects on the way, Theriot’s greedy request is only setting himself up to be non-tendered in the future. If he duplicates his numbers this year, do you really think the Cubs are going to be looking forward to ponying up some $5 million for him in 2011? To be frank, I believe the Cubs’ $2.6 million offer is far too generous for Theriot. $2 million is plenty.

Uncomfortable thinking, reading, and saying all of this? I am, too. But this is what lies ahead for Theriot and the Cubs if they go to arbitration (which is why the Cubs never do).

And for all the hoopla about how far apart Theriot and the Cubs are, the team is actually even further apart with Marmol. Though Theriot’s request was $800k over the Cubs’ offer, on a percentage basis, it is much closer than the Marmol spread, which is approaching a 50% difference. Think of it this way, which sets of offers are closer to settling: Player A requests $15 million but is offered $12 million, and Player B requests $3 million but is offered $500k. Clearly it’s the former.

That doesn’t mean I think the Cubs will have trouble settling with Marmol, probably somewhere around the mid-point. But it’s worth watching. Marmol clearly has asked for money based on his brief closer experience and closer potential, and the Cubs are offering based on his inconsistent setup experience.

Arbitration hearings take place throughout the month of February and these things can be settled at any point before the hearing.

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