An Early Look at the Cubs’ Arbitration Situation: Garza, Samardzija, Volstad, Stewart, More

One of the more important, but frequently less reported, stories of the offseason for every team is the status of their so-called “arbitration-eligible” players. In short, players who have accumulated between zero and three years’ service time are eligible to have their contracts renewed for the next season by the team that controls their rights, and the team can pay whatever they feel like (above the minimum). Players who’ve accumulated more than three years’ service time, but less than six years, are still under the teams’ control, but the price tag falls out of the teams’ total control. Those players are eligible for arbitration* – a process by which, if the player chooses, an arbitrator decides how much the player should be paid for the coming season based on a variety of factors, including productivity and service time. Players usually get about 40% of their total value in their first year of arbitration, 60% the second year, and 80% their third year (subject to fluctuations, of course). While salaries can technically go down up to 20% in arbitration, they never do. Just assume that if a player is tendered a contract (i.e., the team wants to keep the player for the next year, and is willing to risk the arbitration process if the two sides can’t settle on a salary), his salary is not going to go down, no matter how crappy he was the year before.

Ok, that turned out to be a really long “in short.” It’s relatively complicated stuff, and we’ll be addressing arbitration rules/players/price tags/etc. when the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players comes on November 30.

In the meantime, it’s worth starting to discuss the Cubs’ seven current arbitration-eligible players, and how much they might receive in 2013 if the Cubs decide to tender them a contract. MLB Trade Rumors took a look at those seven players, and estimated a price tag on each, based on its own experience in such matters. MLBTR tends to be very good with these numbers, so they’re worth a look. The projections, in order of service time:

First time: Luis Valbuena ($900K), Jeff Samardzija ($2.9MM), James Russell ($900K)

Second time: Chris Volstad ($3MM)

Third time: Manny Corpas ($1.4MM), Ian Stewart ($2.3MM)

Fourth time: Matt Garza ($10MM)

You have some immediate reactions, and I can address them. Primarily, you’re saying, “what in the world are the Cubs doing paying Chris Volstad $3 million or Ian Stewart $2.3 million?!” Ease up. These are merely the projections of what the players would receive if the Cubs tendered them a contract and went through the arbitration process.

In other words, the figures are instructive, if for no other reason, on whether it makes sense to tender certain players. Volstad is at least still questionable, given the upside (I know, I know), but working out a $2 million-ish deal before the tender deadline comes would be a far more preferable option. There is virtually zero chance the Cubs tender Stewart, and it’s conceivable that they will not even have interest in a $1 million deal. Instead, Stewart may have to try and find another team willing to take a chance on him coming off a terrible and short season, which ended with wrist surgery. If not, he might get a minor league deal somewhere (with a Major League split that, for example, pays him $1.5 million if and only if he makes the big league roster out of Spring Training). I’d think the Cubs would be interested in that kind of deal.

As for the other players, I think they are fair bets to be tendered (with the possible exception of Corpas). The numbers, on a glance, look reasonable, though I’m not sure that Samardzija’s and Garza’s aren’t a hair low. Yes, Garza missed half of the season with elbow problems, but he did make $9.5 million in 2012, which would make $10 million a mere 5% raise. I could see him getting a bit more, though I don’t expect him to take his case to arbitration (or even the doorstep of arbitration, like last year). Guys coming off serious injuries and missed playing time tend to settle early.

Samardzija is an interesting case, given that he was making “real” money before he even reached arbitration (thanks to his big league contract out of the Draft). Thus, he earned $2.64 million in 2012, which would make $2.9 million a 10% raise, which isn’t atrocious. But FanGraphs had Samardzija worth 3.3 WAR, which, assuming a win value of about $5.25 million, would put 40% of his value at a whopping $6.93 million. On the other hand, Baseball Reference has Samardzija’s WAR at less than half of FanGraphs (just 1.6), which would put 40% of his value at $3.36 million. Obviously this is an inexact science (both on the value side and the WAR side – I mean, heck, look at the stark difference between FanGraphs and Baseball Reference), but both suggest Samardzija’s arbitration number should probably be north of $3 million. I could see him getting something between $3 million and $3.5 million, and, unlike Garza, I could see his case taking a little while to settle – or even possibly making it to an arbitrator.

*Players who haven’t quite yet reached three years of service time, but who are among the top 22% in service time of such players, are also eligible for arbitration. But, since they will not have enough service time for free agency by the end of their “sixth” year of control, the players wind up getting four years of arbitration before they reach free agency. Matt Garza is an example.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

96 responses to “An Early Look at the Cubs’ Arbitration Situation: Garza, Samardzija, Volstad, Stewart, More”

  1. Kyle

    Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs tend to be very different on WAR for pitchers because they measure two very different things. Baseball-Reference’s is descriptive, showing you what the player did that season in terms of runs allowed. Fangraphs’ is predictive, saying “this is how many WAR you’d expect from a player with his peripherals, and so it’s a good bet that’s what he’d be worth if he repeated his season.”

    Descriptive is more appropriate in an arbitration setting, so I’d expect Samardzija to get no more than about $3 million.

    I agree that Volstad and Stewart are obvious non-tenders. Both can come back on minor league contracts, I guess, but I see no reason to give guaranteed money or a roster spot to either. Or Manny Corpas, for that matter.

    I think $10 million for Garza is noticeably low. Cubs offered $7.95 and Garza asked for $12.5 last time around. Injury or not, that’s going to go up on both sides this year. I’d expect them to settle closer to $12.

    1. MoneyBoy

      Thanks for weighing in Kyle. Since you are clearly the be-all, know-all of all, it’s always good to see what the “glass is always half-empty” view of the world is.

      1. Kyle

        Happy to help! Especially as we enter the holiday seasons, those as gifted as myself need to think of the less-informed and be willing to share with them.

        1. DarthHater

          Yes, those of us who are douchebag-deficient really appreciate your relentless efforts to fill the void.

          1. Spencer

            You’re sort of a douchebag yourself. Perhaps you’re filling your own void.

        2. Tommy

          Hubris is a beautiful thing. At least you kept this post to under 5000 words.

  2. Spencer

    I don’t think any one of these guys goes to arbitration. And I think the only one that gets non-tendered is Stewart.

    1. terencem

      I’d argue Volstad is almost definitely gone. His performance is going the wrong way and yet he’s due for a raise.

  3. cjdubbya

    Hey, I recognize that picture. In fact, it’s the backdrop on my computer currently. Thanks for making me feel special today, Brett. That noise you may hear is my own personal squeal.

  4. CubFanPaul

    if i’m Garza, i wouldn’t risk another injury or poor performance going into next year. I’d sign a John Danks 5yr/$65-$70M extension this offseason and stay put.

    if i’m Theo&Jed i’d lock up Samardzija in a 4-7 year deal too. Or it’ll be Garza all over again salary wise and then we lose him because his free agent contract years will cost too much.

    Same thing with Rizzo. Young All Star first basemen get Expensive in arbitration. It would be very smart to buy low now on an extension to lock up the core for 4-8 yrs (Castro, Garza, Rizzo, and The Shark)

    1. Cubbie Blues

      They still have 5 more years of control on Rizzo. I would say it’s still a little early to be signing him long term.

      1. bbmoney

        I think it’s too early for Shark and Rizzo. One good year for each in the bigs (well as a starter for Shark at least which is what the contract would be based on …him being a starter), give me one more and then we can talk.

      2. CubFan Paul

        the Point of signing Rizzo now is to not pay $10M-$15Millions of dollars in his final 2-3 seasons of arbitration. Slugging first basmen get PAID. There’s examples of high arbitration figures all over the League.

        It’s smart to lock him now to keep the major league payroll low when we’re expected to Playoff competitive (2014 and beyond)

        1. bbmoney

          No i understand the point. But he’s two full years from his first year of arbitration. My point is why now? Why not see it for another year.

          Slugging 1b get paid, all good players get paid, but they rarely get paid 2 full years away from arbitration after 1 year in the show.

          I’m all about signing him to a deal just like they did with Starlo, after next year assuming its a reasonably good one.

          1. bbmoney

            I mean he’ll still be making the minimum (assuming no extension) through 2014. Iove Rizzo, I’m just not yet in a rush.

            1. Cubbie Blues

              These are exactly the points I was thinking of as well.

            2. CubFan Paul

              No, I believe Rizzo will be a Super Two after 2013. That’s 4 years of arbitration, two of which will be expensive if he’s a 25hr 80rbi guy with gold glove defense.

              1. Cubbie Blues

                I still say wait for one more year. At least until All-Star break to sign him long term (same way they did Castro).

          2. BD

            I think the point of locking him up now would be to get a deal similar to Evan Longoria- lower salaries but for the long term.

    2. Kyle

      I’m not remotely interested in locking in a long-term deal for a starting pitcher who has not quite one good full season under his belt.

  5. Mick

    Why non-tender Volstad and bring him back for $2M? I can’t see any possible benefit for this deal, I only see negatives. By rostering Volstad the Cubs would need to expose 1 more prospect to the Rule 5 draft, Volstad carries no trade value for a deadline deal, and you’d be paying him as much if not more than other scrap heap reclamation projects which may carry trade value at the deadline. I’d rather the Cubs take a chance in February on fliers like Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona), Chien-Ming Wang, Jonathan Sanchez, or Bartolo Colon who all have had MLB success, wouldn’t require a roster spot until the end of March and if successful could be traded for prospects at the deadline.

  6. BD

    I believe the Cubs should tender Ian Stewart, because there aren’t that many options for 3B. It’s a 1-year deal so they aren’t locked in beyond 2013. What else could they put out there for less than $3M that would have the chance to be above replacement level?

    1. Kyle

      3b options I would prefer over Ian Stewart being tendered

      1) Luis Valbuena
      2) Josh Vitters
      3) Adrian Cardenas
      4) Every available FA who has ever played 3b at any professional level
      5) Theo Epstein himself suiting up and ending all the “he never played the game” arguments.
      6) A rehabbing Derrick Rose
      7) Jozy Altidore
      8) Retired Australian cricket star Shane Warne
      9) The little LED blip who played 3b and SS simultaneously in Electronic Arts’ 1988 handheld Tiger Baseball game
      10) The loser of the Obama/Romney election
      11) Tom Ricketts himself
      12) Brett
      13) Extremely early call-up of Javier Baez
      14) The larger of my two cats. with or without pajamas
      15) Darwin Barney
      16) Kevin Orie (dude got BABIPed and deserves another shot, imo)
      17) Extremely early call-up of Christian Villanueva
      18) Zombie Ron Santo
      19) Ronnie Woo Woo
      20) Jay Cutler

      1. JR

        Vitters sucks. I would prefer Stewart.

      2. Cubbie Blues

        You don’t have to tender him a contract. Let him go and sign him to a MiLB or split contract.

      3. college_of_coaches

        Hmm, I just don’t understand how you could have left Ben Kflafczerki off this list.

        1. Kyle

          He’s a pitcher now. I want him to be our closer.

          1. college_of_coaches

            LOL. Okay, here’s another: Neifi Perez. Is there a reason he’s not on the list?

            1. Kyle

              True story:

              2006, I was at a college journalism convention in St. Louis that just happened to coincide with the World Series, and we shared a hotel with the Detroit Tigers. Had a lot of interesting athlete run-ins that week, but one of my favorites was sitting in the lobby when Neifi Perez was standing by a door waiting for a cab.

              The conversation between myself and a fellow student went something like this:

              Guy: “That’s Neifi Perez. I hate him so much. He was awful with the Cubs.”
              Me: “Yeah, but that’s not a reason to hate him. He can’t help that he sucks. Hate Dusty Baker for playing him so much.”

              Neifi turned and gave us a slight look, at which point we realized we were having this conversation within 10 feet of the guy who we were burying, and stopped.

              1. bbmoney

                that’s a great story.

      4. Myles

        Post of the Year

        1. Myles

          If only because you think Brett is a better 3B than Darwin Barney

      5. Mick

        So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

      6. King Jeff

        I like number 9. That little dot could cover two postions. Castro could play short center and the Cubs wouldn’t suffer the consequences when he decides to bird watch or daydream or whatever the hell he does.

      7. terencem

        This is a really good Kyle post.

      8. David

        you had me until you threw in ronnie woo-woo.

  7. Jeff

    Volstad sucks worse than Stewart, Stewart is worth a gamble since we don’t have much options at third base. Volstad needs to go because we have plenty of pitchers who can throw lettuce as bad as he can and are way, way cheaper!

  8. Idaho Razorback

    Kyle, no Gary Scott?

    1. TWC

      He technically falls into #4 I imagine.

  9. Northside Matt

    Bring back Luis Salazar!!!

    1. Jeff

      You think Ron Cey has anything left in the tank??

      1. terencem

        Re-animated Ron Santo.

        1. Northside Matt

          Shane Andrews???

  10. North Side Irish

    I think Ron Cey is still younger than Gary Gaetti was when he played for the Cubs…

  11. Internet Random

    My $0.02: Telling us what you’ve heard with caveats that it’s unconfirmed gets around some obstacles.

  12. BluBlud

    I stated the very moment we traded for Volstad that he was a bum and that last years Arb number didn’t matter because we would non-tender him after the season. There is no way in hell that Volstad is offered arbitration. I would rather pay Stewart twice his Arb number then pay Volstad half of his Arb number. There is no upside to Volstad what so ever.

    Good riddance, good bye and get the hell gone.

    1. Drew7

      Well, you also said Randy Wells should start instead because he was a “true Cub”.

  13. Mike Taylor

    I honestly think we’ve moved on from Ian Stewart. The report that he didn’t have a good work ethic kind of sealed that deal. Even if that wrist is 100%, at best (in a hitter’s park), he’s a .250 / 25 HR guy with a good glove. If we were to bring him back, that would give limited playing time to our Front Office’s man-crush, Luis Valbuena, unless we traded Darwin Barney. But, you’d still need to platoon Stewart with a free agent or a Josh Vitters call up.

    Chris Volstad is another story. We’ve already spent $15.5M on him to pitch a 6+ ERA for a whole year (albeit, how much of that did Ricketts eat to send Zambrano packing). I don’t think he’ll ever recoup that value, no matter how long he pitches. There’s no room for him, especially when we’re going to be active in free agency to plug up our 2 available rotation spots.

  14. Rizzofanclub

    With Nick Swisher’s recent struggles in the post season it might keep the yankees from re-signing him this offseason. What type of contract would he be seeking? Is it something the cubs could bid on? Maybe a 3yr 33million? Anything more then that I would decline but I remember Jason Kubel and Cuddyer signing deals in that range.

  15. lou brock lives

    Cubs need someone to hold hands on the stadium renovation with the Rahmfather & it’s not Crane Kenney. Considering the deal needs to get done when Obama loses the election look for a non baseball insider, politically connected, like huge Cub fan David Axelrod to get the job Kenney could not accomplish.

  16. Fastball

    I believe it’s in our best interest to extend Garza for 4 years at $13M a year. A little higher than some suggest but he is affordable at that price when I think about inflation in MLB with regards to pitching. Volstadt, I would offer a minor league contract but(what I would tell him to do is go pitch winterball and learn how to pitch out of the pen). If he does that and shows some success I keep him in our pen. He just can’t get past the 4th or 5th inning period. He is not a starter. The quicker he gets on with his life the better. Stewart is one of those guys who keeps making money playing baseball. He has the look and the feel but doesn’t produce. Yet people keep falling for him. Minor league contract come to camp lets see what you got when the position isn’t just handed to you on a silver platter like last year.
    Valbuena, If he gets a raise then make it an even $1M and tell him his role is utility infielder on this team and that he needs to prepare for that role. Shark, I would try to extend him for 3 more years at $18M. If he makes it we got one hell of a bargain at $6M a year. His contract can always be renegotiated if he becomes a world beater. Rizzo, I let him play another full season and make sure there isn’t a sophomore slump. I love him but he has to prove it to me just a little bit longer.

    My summary is Theo doesn’t have to pay out very much this year to tighten things up. He should do that ricky tick and set a positive tone for 2013.

    I think Theo, Jed and Dale really need to let the players know where they stand and really define what their roles are going to be on this team. They started doing that with Vitters and Jackson. What they need to do is tell each one of these guys where they fit into this team going forward and if they don’t fit what they need to do Exactly to fit.

    Too many players get lost because they don’t really know their role. It most definitely applies to pitchers. If guys are going to be BP pitchers when they come up to Chicago then they need to be BP pitchers in the minors. It takes a lot of practice for a guy to make that shift from starter to the bullpen. A good example of being prepared to do the job is Shark. He had a green light to be a starter. He worked all off season preparing himself for that role. The BP guys need to understand when they are going to be called upon to pitch. What innings, what scenarios, righty vs lefty, lefty vs lefty etc. They have to no so they can prepare to be effective.

  17. EvenBetterNewsV2.0

    I think Volstad could be a good bullpen guy. He always has that one bad inning.

  18. MoneyBoy

    Brett, Luke … I’m only a fan, so I have no clue.

    Shark, IMHO, was just so much better than expected that it wouldn’t surprise me to see him take them to arbitration. He took a 20% cut last year from $3.3mm. $2.6 in 2011? I could easily see $3.5mm …

    Garza is really a tough call. Last year his camp asked for $12 and the Cubs offered $8 (if memory serves). Arguably the ace, the injury AND the decision to shut him down leave so many question marks I just don’t know where this will fall.

    There seems to be a high level of discontent between both the Cubs and Stewart. With Hoyer and McLeod coming from SD, it’s a head scratcher that they even took the flyer knowing about the injury. Valbuena plays decent enough defense and is cost controlled that unless a FA falls into their laps, I’d wait for the lower minor league prospects and see if anyone “Castros.” How’s that for a nickname? (smirk)

  19. Jeff

    First smart move in three years for Mr. Ricketts just happened and that would be lowering ticket prices for 2013. Finally he makes a smart move. On the other end I’m glad he realized it was necessary after posting a 423 winning percentage since he took over as owner of the Cubs

    1. CubFan Paul

      Lowering bleacher and outfield prices don’t count. Season ticket holder prices in the bowl will stay the same or increase. Lowering an overpriced bleacher seat by 10% is a crock after .423 percentage

  20. Carne Harris

    Thanks for the explanation on arbitration. Never knew the specifics. If they could work out a cheaper deal for Volstad and Stewart, I think they’d be interested. Volstad because of his age and Stewart because the 3b free agent class is just so damn weak this offseason. I think Corpas is gone though.

  21. Crazyhorse

    The Lazy Stewart is worth about 1 empty can of RedBull and full of bullshi

  22. Trent

    I’m interested to see if that wrist surgery had any affect on Stewart. Maybe he has just been battling that injury and with a healthy wrist could take a step forward. I think it could be worth a cheap CHEAP risk…

    1. CubFan Paul

      Supposedly Stewart’s surgery was a success, as in, it started out exploratory, but they found the problem – a bump, or growth or something protruding from a bone that was touching/rubbing nerves. It was removed/cut off/shaved down. So in theory, Stewart should be 100% without discomfort. We’ll havta wait & see of course, but if his medicals look good, he’s better bet at 3B in 2013 than he was in 2012.

      I have no problem with Stewart at third because if the surgery worked & he mashes the first half of the season then he can be traded in July at max value (1.5yrs of control left)