The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players (well, technically all rights-controlled non-free agents) is tomorrow. Put far too simply, “tendering” a contract to an arbitration-eligible player means that the team wants to keep the guy for next year, and is willing to pay him whatever salary an arbitrator deems he is worth. Only players with at least three years of service time, but not yet six years*, are eligible for arbitration and thus must be tendered or non-tendered tomorrow.
*(Except for Super Two players, who are among the top 22% of players with at least two years, but not yet three years – such players also qualify.)
Players tend to finally start making some real money in arbitration (which is what can make the decision to tender sometimes difficult), though they don’t quite get a market rate. The factors that go into an arbitration salary are complicated, but, the two primary ones are performance and service time (the latter of which is why salaries start out small in arbitration, and then grow over the years).
The Chicago Cubs currently sport 11 arbitration-eligible players, which is a relatively huge number, and is thanks largely to the rebuilding efforts currently underway. The Cubs’ arbitration-eligible gentlemen this year include Jeff Samardzija, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Wood, James Russell, Luis Valbuena, Pedro Strop, Donnie Murphy, Darwin Barney, George Kottaras, Daniel Bard, and Mat Gamel.
Among them, Samardzija, Schierholtz, Wood, Russell, Strop, and Kottaras are mortal locks to be tendered a contract. Valbuena and Murphy are extremely likely to be tendered.
Some folks, including MLBTR, believe that Darwin Barney is a non-tender candidate. I tend think it’s very unlikely that Barney, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, will be non-tendered. First, Barney projects to make just $1.5 to $2 million in his first arbitration go-around, and has openly said that he doesn’t expect there to be much of a fight on his value. Second, even as a bench player, you’ve got to believe that Barney is worth that meager sum. He brings a plus-plus glove at second base, and would presumably still be well above average defensively at shortstop. There are reasons to believe the bat could bounce back a little bit next year (but, make no mistake, he’s never going to be an average or even slightly-below-average bat). I just don’t see a non-tender on Barney.
As we’ve discussed quite a bit this offseason, Daniel Bard is your most obvious non-tender candidate. He could make anywhere from $1.5 to $2 million next year if tendered a contract, and, for all the potential, hasn’t shown any effectiveness in nearly two years. Worse, he lasted just three walk-filled appearances in winter ball, and did nothing to encourage the Cubs that he was over his uniquely awful control problems. If the Cubs still think he’s worth hanging onto – and, as a power reliever, there’s still a glimmer of hope – they could try to non-tender him, and quickly work out a minor league deal. (Contracts awarded in arbitration are not fully-guaranteed, so there’s also that angle – which is to say, the Cubs could agree to terms with him now on something like a $1 million, non-guaranteed contract.)
As for Mat Gamel, he was a waiver flyer for the Cubs, and is arbitration-eligible for the first time. If the Cubs feel like he’s in good health (he’s coming off back-to-back seasons derailed by knee injuries), he could still be worth a tender (under which he’d probably earn something like $800K to $1 million). For Gamel, the tender decision is more about the 40-man roster spot than the amount of money committed, given his potentially limited role (back-up first base, possibly play a little left field, bench bat).
Speaking of which, because the Cubs’ 40-man roster is at 40, and because they’ll want to have at least one spot open going into the Rule 5 Draft in a couple weeks (I say at least, because they’ll likely want to open up several spots for free agents over the coming weeks), we may also see the Cubs non-tender a player or two who is not arbitration-eligible. You can think of this effectively as releasing the player, as he would then be free to sign with another team. But, if it’s a guy the Cubs like, they may have worked out a deal in advance to bring the player back on a minor league deal. Chang-Yong Lim, Brooks Raley, Zac Rosscup, Josh Vitters, Logan Watkins, Brian Bogusevic, Brett Jackson, and Matt Szczur are all theoretical possibilities for a non-tender, though just about any of those guys getting the boot right now would surprise me.
In any case, we’re going to see some roster maneuvering by tomorrow, so you’re on alert.