Today is the deadline for teams to tender a contract to their arbitration-eligible players, namely, those players who have accumulated at least three years of service time, but not more than six. Such players start to see their salaries rise through the process of arbitration (before skyrocketing once they reach free agency after six years of service time), but teams are not bound to them: today, they can be “non-tendered.”
Salaries for 2012 are not determined today (unless the player is actually signed to a contract), mind you. Today is merely the deadline for saying: yes, we want to keep you under team control. If the Cubs and the player cannot agree to a salary for 2012 in short order, then the arbitration process kicks in. But we’ll get there when we get there. Today is just about the contract tender.
For the Chicago Cubs, there are seven arbitration-eligible players on whom the team must make a decision: IF Jeff Baker, IF Blake DeWitt, RHP Matt Garza, C Koyie Hill, C Geovany Soto, 3B Ian Stewart and RHP Randy Wells. Garza, Soto, and Wells merit no discussion at all. They will be tendered contracts.
Baker and Stewart will also receive contracts, but I break them out separately for a small point on each. Baker is in his final year of arbitration, will make around and $2 million in 2012. He could have some value on the trade market if the Cubs decide they don’t need another utility player (depends on their other moves). That is all to say: the Cubs will tender Baker a contract, but it remains uncertain whether he’ll actually break camp with the Cubs. If he does, he could split some time at third with the other subject of this paragraph: Ian Stewart. Obviously the Cubs will tender him a contract after trading for him last week. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened today if the Cubs hadn’t pulled the trigger on the trade. Would the Rockies have tendered Stewart at the risk of taking on some $2.5 million in salary for a guy they didn’t want anymore? We’ll never know.
Which leaves the only two real questions: Blake DeWitt and Koyie Hill.
Let me dispense with Hill up front. If the new front office believes 32-year-old Koyie Hill, his .573 career OPS (that’s not a joke), his two fingers (that one is a joke), and his declining defense are really worth about $1 million AND a roster spot, then I simply won’t know what to believe anymore. Actually, I will know what to believe: after tossing his now useless naked photos of Jim Hendry, Hill stalked Theo Epstein for weeks until he finally got that magical shower shot.
The Cubs can turn over backup duties to Welington Castillo or Steve Clevenger, or can bring in an equally cheap, but far more productive veteran back-up. I simply do not see a scenario where Hill at $1 million is the Cubs’ best back-up catching option in 2012. Heck, if you absolutely have to have Hill around, non-tender him, and offer him a minor league deal.
DeWitt is a much tougher choice, and the tender decision is probably more about the roster spot than the money. As a first-time arbitration-eligible player coming off another down year, DeWitt doesn’t figure to make much more than $800k or so. DeWitt’s case for sticking around got a major boon last week when both DJ LeMahieu and Ryan Flaherty – young guys who theoretically could have covered the same back-up role as DeWitt – left via trade and the Rule 5 Draft, respectively.
DeWitt plays great defense at third base, and can fill in at second. He can even play left field in a pinch, or at least Mike Quade thinks so. But he’s never been able to hit much at the big league level – last year’s 95 OPS+ (.265/.305/.413) was a career best. Jeff Baker can play the same positions as DeWitt (and more), and is a more reliable bat. Is DeWitt’s remaining upside (he’s still just 26) and his left-handed bat enough to offer him a contract? I’m betting it is. From there, the Cubs might see about shopping him around in Spring if it no longer looks like he’s necessary.
The tender decisions could be announced any time today or tonight.