Today was the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to departing free agents in order to secure draft pick compensation should that free agent sign elsewhere.
As expected, the Chicago Cubs offered arbitration to Aramis Ramirez (he is not expected to accept the offer (which would net him a one-year deal), instead hoping to land a multi-year deal elsewhere – of returning to the Cubs, his agent said “that ship has sailed”), and did not offer arbitration to Kerry Wood (he is expected to be brought back on an extension, so the offer of arbitration was largely unnecessary). The offer to Ramirez will result in an extra draft pick for the Cubs. Swell.
The Cubs also offered arbitration to Carlos Pena, which was either a mild surprise or not a surprise, depending on whom you ask. The offer of arbitration, if accepted, would net Pena a one-year deal for 2012, worth anywhere from $10 million to $13 million (depending on the arbitration process). If he declines the offer, the Cubs will pick up an extra draft pick between the first and second rounds in the 2012 draft.
So, what will Pena do? And does the offer of arbitration suggest anything about the Cubs’ offseason plans?
It’s hard to say what has been discussed behind the scenes. Pena has openly said he’d like to return to the Cubs, and the offer of arbitration could be a precursor to an extension. Perhaps the Cubs aren’t interested in pursuing a Prince Fielder type, instead preferring Pena’s defense, leadership, and relative affordability.
On the other hand, perhaps the Cubs know that Pena will not accept the offer, believing he can pick up a multi-year deal for a lot more money on the market, particularly after Fielder and Albert Pujols sign. In that case, the Cubs were simple picking up an extra draft pick.
This will play out over the next week and a half, until the December 7 deadline for players to accept the offer of arbitration. I would expect to hear from Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer on the offers soon, but they might not say much of substance. One thing the offer suggests: we’re not going to see the Cubs making a major move on, for example, Prince Fielder until after December 7, unless they’re somehow certain Pena is going to decline the offer.
In short: for now, don’t read too much into the offer. It could mean the Cubs want Pena back; it could mean they know he’s not coming back.
And, for what it’s worth: arbitration contracts are not fully-guaranteed. A player who accepts arbitration can be terminated in the first half of Spring Training for just 30 days’ pay, and in the second half of Spring Training for just 45 days’ pay.