A Little More on James McDonald’s $1 Million Contract


The Cubs have announced that the deal with pitcher James McDonald is a one-year, big league contract, and reports say it’s worth $1 million. As is typically the case with deals for arbitration-level players, McDonald’s deal is not guaranteed, about which more below. McDonald also has some incentives built into the deal (presumably designed to pay him a little better if he sticks in the rotation), and he’s under control through the 2015 season by way of arbitration.

So, the Cubs clearly liked something they’ve seen from McDonald this offseason, as he’s had some time to recover from the reported shoulder issues that derailed his 2013 season. What concerns me is that, from mid-2012 on, McDonald has given up 73 ER over his last 104.2 IP – that’s a 6.28 ERA. Perhaps the front office and the coaching staff believe they can get something out of McDonald by re-working a few things, but I’m still surprised that the Cubs had to give him a 40-man spot to get a deal done. Then again, maybe that was the difference maker between what the Cubs were offering and the presumably many other teams that gladly would have brought him in on a minor league deal.

The $1 million salary is obviously higher than a guy gets on a minor league deal – even a veteran – but it’s not that much higher. What he’s really getting here is the big league roster spot, and a slightly better chance of sticking than a guy on a minor league deal. Why? Because even though his contract is “not guaranteed,” it’s rather difficult to boot a guy on a non-guaranteed deal and not have to pay his full salary.

The short version is this: every player in his arbitration years (as McDonald was when the Pirates DFA’d him) gets a “non-guaranteed” contract. That means the team can cut him in Spring Training while paying only a portion of the contract. If he’s cut before 16 days from the start of the regular season, he gets 30 days’ pay. If it’s closer to the season, he gets 45 days’ pay.

The rub is, you can’t just cut a guy for any reason – you can cut him only for baseball reasons. If he gets hurt, you’re stuck with him. If you simply feel like the roster is too full, you’re stuck with him. Those are not adequate reasons to cut him pursuant to the non-guarantee. The standard is “failure to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability,” and it’s almost never actually employed to cut a guy. In McDonald’s case, if he looks bad in the Spring, he might simply argue that it’s tied to his shoulder issues from last year, and the Cubs took that risk by signing him.

The bottom line here is that, yes, it’s modestly comforting to know that McDonald’s deal is not guaranteed, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll actually be cut in an effort to save some salary. Then again, a $1 million salary isn’t an enormous deterrent to cutting a guy if he’s really scuffling (and paying him the $1 million), so a lot of this is just academic. If the Cubs really need his roster spot at some point, they may just have to bite the bullet on the money, and turn him loose.

Add it all up, and together with the Jake Arrieta injury news, and this particular deal for McDonald makes a little more sense to me than it did last night.

As for what McDonald might bring to the table, I’ll discuss that much more in the coming days, now that we know for sure he’s in on a big league deal.

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

82 responses to “A Little More on James McDonald’s $1 Million Contract”

  1. woody

    From what I have read McDonald put up some good numbers in the first half of the season with the Pirates and then the shoulder problems contributed to his decline in the second half. It’s easy to hate on the guy, but we don’t know squat. We aren’t privy to his medical information. I don’t see why he can’t be effective if the injury is really behind him.

    1. Jon

      I’m just amazed at the hand-wringing over what boiled down was a backend 40 man spot spot(McDonald for Marshall)

      1. Kyle

        I’m more intrigued about the 25-man spot it almost suredly assures him. The bullpen was tight enough as it is.

  2. kj1

    Another move to get closer to the 1st pick in 2015.

    1. Jon

      Daz Cameron, Mike Cameron’s kid. Typing that made me feel really old.

  3. ssckelley

    Imagine what prospects McDonald will fetch if he returns to 2012 form. :D

  4. Funn Dave

    It makes a little bit more sense coupled with the news on Arrieta, but my primary reaction is still just a big WTF.

  5. BRIAN

    Does anybody ever come here and not jump off the deep end? He’s signed for next to nothing. Give it a chance, I am sure the FO is looking for a diamond in the rough, and if they miss they will cut him.

    I for one am excited, not so much about the signing but the fact that the boys of summer are back! GO CUBS!

    1. woody

      It’s getting rather crowded here in the deep end! McDonald fits really well with the strategy, which is to obtain the first round pick for 2015. By the way the deep end is filled with Kool-Aid.

      1. DarthHater


      2. ssckelley

        Filled with kool aid?

        /heads to the deep end

    2. brickhouse

      McDonald is just part of throw crap against a wall and see what sticks strategy that has been used for the past 3 seasons

    3. ssckelley

      Who is going off the deep end?

    4. DarthHater

      “He’s signed for next to nothing.”

      I’m not particularly worried about this one way or the other, but the issue is not how much he is signed for. It’s giving him a guaranteed spot on the 40-man roster that could require cutting another player.

  6. mak19

    I’ve still got the weird, blind faith thing going with this front office — so my initial reaction is pumped, because giving him a roster spot where it otherwise seemed like they didn’t need to means that they really believe he can get to 2012 form. He was pretty nasty before he got hurt.

    1. ChiMike702

      I like it a lot better than the Hammel signing, that’s for sure. At least McDonald used to be good.

      1. Edwin

        Hammel has been better his entire career than McDonald.

        1. ChiMike702

          Yeah, you’re right. I was just going off the eye test/memory and McDonald wasn’t as good as I remember. Hammel has been better.

    2. cubfanincardinalland

      Why would you not have anything but great confidence in this front office and their scouting staff? They have shown in a short period of time that they have a great eye for picking up guys on the cheap that have a lot of value to offer. Feldman, Villanueva, Sweeney, Camp, Travis Wood, Valbuena, Dejesus, Schierholtz, Dioner Navarro, Donnie Murphy, Bogesevic(who they turned into Ruggiano), Gregg, Rondon.
      The only moves they made that have not worked out, obviously Jackson so far, Baker, Hairston(though they flipped him for a kid with a real live arm), and Fujikawa(that’s just some bad luck he got hurt).
      The scouting on this team is at the top of baseball, on all levels. Just hope they can hang onto McCleod in the future.

      1. Kyle

        You missed Volstad, Stewart, Lillibridge, Mather, Borbon, Concepcion, Cardenas.

        They miss a lot more than people want to adimt.

        1. TWC

          Don’t forget: Julio Borbon was the first step in the Garza trade.

          1. DarthHater


        2. ssckelley

          KMA! Joe Mather was awesome! The best lead off hitter the Cubs had in 2012.

        3. cubfanincardinalland

          Kyle, you are talking about 25th men on the roster at minimum salary. Every team has a revolving door on players like that. Check out the Cardinals some of you guys are always drooling about, look up how many players came and went on their roster last season.
          Stewart was a mistake, but I forgot to mention Maholm, which was a fantastic move.

          1. Kyle

            No, those weren’t all 25th men on the roster.

            You can’t wax philosophical at how awesome they’ve been at finding backup catchers and 5th starters, and then claim those spots are unimportant when the counterpoints are listed.

            1. cubfanincardinalland

              Wood, Maholm, and Feldman were hardly 5th starters. Volstad was projected to be a starter, but they only paid him 2.6 mil. for a one year deal. No big loss. I mean come on, when Theo took this club over, they basically had 2 big league starters on the team, Garza and Dempster. Lillibridge, Mather, Borbon, Cardenas were all end of the bench signings. They come and they go kid.

              1. half_full_beer_mug

                There you go, move the goal post way back.

              2. Edwin

                They also paid Zambrano to pitch for the Marlins as part of the Volstad deal.

                1. Eternal Pessimist

                  …and got rid of a very small portion of his salary when they did it (MIRACLE!!!)

            2. MightyBear

              Wait, you mean if they had hit on all those they would have won 95 games last year instead of losing 95? And they would have breezed through the playoffs and beat the Red Sox and we would have had a big parade? Damn this FO!!!

              All those moves were unimportant.

              1. Brocktoon

                No way the Red Sox could’ve made the world series. They were terrible in ’12 with an old broken down roster. They’ll need to lose for at least 4 more years before they could make a world series.

                Instead they signed free agents for ’13 and all it’ll get them is worse draft position.

                1. Kyle

                  What’s funny is you can go to Sonsofsamhorn and find lots of threads from last 2012 where people argued exactly that: That free agency was a waste and the team had no chance to compete in 2013, that a total rebuild was needed.

                  1. Brocktoon

                    I wasn’t (just) being obnoxious. I saw that sentiment in multiple places.

                  2. aaronb

                    Yeah, but what does there minor league system look like? Who cares about World Series titles when you can compete for efficiency titles and prospect rankings.

                    What a waste of money winning with MLB players. I bet those fans don’t even know who the LFer in Boise is?

            3. Luke

              To be fair, some of their successful signing have been a little better than just a backup catcher or a fifth starter.

              The front office doesn’t have a pristine track record by any means, but they’ve done better than just find a backup catcher or two.

        4. MightyBear

          Enlighten me – what did they give up on those “misses”?

          1. brickhouse

            They gave up 2 years of competitive baseball

          2. half_full_beer_mug

            Not sure that has anything to do with the point being made. If we are going to look back with the assistance of 20/20 hindsight, at least be inclusive on both lists.

          3. Edwin

            It’s not about how much they gave up, it’s about their track record. They’ve hit on some moves, and they’ve missed on some moves. When you look at moves like McDonald, where they spend $1MM or less, I’m betting they “miss” far more often than they “hit”. Which is normal for every single team in baseball.

            1. Eternal Pessimist

              This is correct. If they can plant a dozen cheap seeds and have 2 of them bloom (into trade for prospects or, less likely, respectability in 2014) they have done a good job. $12 million in a lost season on cheap flyer types, while the focus should be on building something with a real long-term shot at a title, is ideal in my book.

          4. Kyle

            Major league playing time, mostly, which is extremely valuable.

        5. Tommy

          None of those players were brought in and expected to do much of anything, and last I checked, we didn’t give up much if anything for any of them. You can make a list of players like that for literally any front office.

          1. Kyle

            Exactly. You could make this list with any team.

            Most teams experiment with a few crappy player and maybe hit on one per season. The Cubs experiment with a dozen crappy players each year and hit on three or four.

            Am I supposed to be impressed with their ability to hit on these crappy players? Because I’m not. Their success rate at dumpster diving has been pretty ordinary, it just seems like they are good at it because they cycle through so many of them.

            1. Tommy

              No, I agree with you on that point. I think what you should be impressed with is the speed at which they’ve built up our farm system. That has been an impressive feat.

              1. Kyle

                $60m or so on IFAs
                A dozen MLB players traded for prospects
                Three straight top-10 picks
                Two veteran FAs allowed to leave for comp picks

                Yeah, I should hope they’ve improved the farm system quickly with that sort of resource commitment.

                I’m not *unimpressed* either, but it’s not like they showed off some amazing scouting and development program to get the farm system good this fast. They just blunt-forced it in a way that isn’t sustainable long-term.

                1. Tommy

                  Well, the possibility to spend $60M on IFA’s was there for every other team, as well, and none of them took it. Do you at least admit that was a smart move by our FA?

                  1. aaronb

                    45 of that money was spent on Soler and Conception. Jury is out on all that money thus far.

                    Cepedes, Puig, Ryi and Darvish would have been better allocation of IFA assets.

                  2. Kyle

                    ” Do you at least admit that was a smart move by our FA?”

                    That certainly remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

                2. aaronb

                  Sure it is sustainable…If we continue to not graduate players, tank at the MLB level, and collect top 10 picks. There is no reason we can’t have 12-15 top 100 prospects by 2017.

                  Imagine the Prospecterbation that will go on around here at that point. We have 15 awesome prospects and Ricketts gets his 30 million dollar payroll. Win/Win in the blogesphere

                  1. BT

                    And if they indeed do that, your constant complaints will finally be justified. The problem is you act as if it’s already 2017.

                    1. Kyle

                      ““I can understand why they are doing what they are doing, and I’m going to give them some time before I start freaking out”– Slobbering, excessive, positivity expressed with fannish bias.”

                      They’ve been in charge of the team for three offseasons now. Setting the bar so incredibly low is definitely excessive positivity.

                    2. BT

                      Wow. Moving the goalposts quite a bit there eh Kyle? Setting the bar low is the equivalent of “slobbering, excessive, positivity”?

                      You’ve made the terms essentially meaningless.

                      The problem is that the vast majority of the “pro-Theo” fanbase on this site is guilty of, at worst, “setting the bar low”. But to make them sound less intelligent, you have to cast them as slobbering fan boys instead. I guess you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. It certainly endears you to a large segment of the comments section.

                    3. Kyle

                      It’s not moving the goalposts at all.

                      When we’re about to field a terrible team, on the heels of a franchise futility mark for losses in two seasons, and the defense is “Well, really, they just need more time, it’s too early to judge, etc.” that’s excessive apologism, slobbering fan-ism, and whatever other appellations feel like applying to it.

                    4. Jason P

                      For a full-scale rebuild, 3 years isn’t all that long. We can debate whether that was the correct course of action all day long, but for the plan they picked, 3 years isn’t enough time to judge the front office’s execution.

                    5. aaronb

                      Does ownership have any culpability for the 2 years of terrible baseball before the last 3?

                      How many purposely awful seasons before we can start to be critical?

                    6. Jason P

                      Some blame can be placed on Ricketts for allowing Hendry to “go for it” one more year in 2011 when the team was clearly on the decline. That probably added at least a year to our current rebuild.

                      I’ve been plenty critical of the lack of activity this offseason, but I’m still on board with the long term plan 100%. For me to lose faith, it would probably take an incredibly bad year of development coupled with another offseason where we don’t spend.

                    7. aaronb

                      I am 100% on board with any improvements being made to the scouting and development side of things. I also appreciate that we have incorporated modern analytics into our front office evals.

                      My issue is with the complete and utter neglect of the MLB product. Especially when there is no believable reason why money can’t ALSO be allocated there.

                      My trust is at an all time low.

                  2. Tommy

                    I really don’t understand this kind of negativity before any of these top prospects have even had an opportunity to tank. Why would you choose to have this type of attitude as a fan? Is that fun for you?

                    1. Kyle

                      It’s not negativity. It only looks that way next to the slobbering, excessive positivity.

                      Trying to understand baseball organizations and move past fannish biases is fun for me.

                    2. Tommy

                      It sounds a lot like negativity to me.

                    3. aaronb

                      What have you seen from ownership to warrant unabashed optimism?

                    4. BT

                      “I can understand why they are doing what they are doing, and I’m going to give them some time before I start freaking out”– Slobbering, excessive, positivity expressed with fannish bias.

                  3. CubFan Paul


                    Lets keep it classy guys.

                  4. brainiac

                    i have no doubt the team will eventually be better. how could it get worse? my problem is that besides mcleod as a prospect development wiz, theo’s entire career has turned into a corporate business PR stunt. his game isn’t baseball, it’s seeing what he can come up with to placate gullible suburbanites into thinking callous business practices is somehow good for the team.

                    how about he turn his game turning back to baseball?

        6. ChiMike702

          I don’t care how bad Cardenas was, he broke up the no hitter!

  7. jp3

    Only for baseball reasons huh? I’m pretty sure Ian Stewart worked that loophole perfectly last spring…

  8. josh ruiter

    News just out of Seattle. Due to an gastrointestinal issue Franklin Gutierrez will sit 2014 season, and work to be able to come back next year. Another reason for the Mariners to attain a cost effective OF as well as those SP, and/or a reliever…Mixed with rumors of Walker’s shoulder “tightness” maybe the deal is lining up naturally. Slight concern over walker may have them sell quickly?

  9. Brocktoon

    Brett, I 100% disagree on your interpretation of the cut rule. Failure to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability could easily pass for not being one if the 12 best pitchers in camp. Todd walked didn’t have to start swinging the bat upside down and running the bases on his hands to be cut, he just wasn’t good enough to make the team. I expect McDonald to be cut unless arrieta hits the dl to start the year. Whether that leads to his outright release or he accepts an assignment is a different story

  10. Senor Cub

    A cool $1M to find out if the cat’s got any juice left. That’s the cost of doing business. Penny pinchers…

  11. Greenroom

    An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out? Rene Descartes

    1. brainiac

      this of course assumes that a room is filled with candles and shadows. what we really have in this situation is a broken fluorescent bulb. :)

      1. Edwin

        To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
        Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
        To the last syllable of recorded time;
        And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
        The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
        Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
        That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
        And then is heard no more. It is a tale
        Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
        Signifying nothing.

        1. Greenroom

          Thanks for making my point.

  12. Blackhawks1963

    It was reported that Arrieta is doubtful to be ready to the start the season. That sucks. Wonder if he goes under the knife?!?

    Also explains why McDonald was stealthy added to the mix.

    Rotation….Samardzija, Wood, Jackson, Hammel, McDonald
    Pen….Veres, Strop, Russell, Wright, Villenueva – and Rondon, Cabrera, Grimm, Parker competiting for 2 spots

    YUCK…it’s going to be a long and painful season folks. Pitching sucks…outfield sucks…offense is going to really suck.

    1. Greenroom

      Ok. The season has not even started yet. I’m not even going to watch Cubs games this year. Thanks for the heads up.

      Ps. See my post above yours. Good grief

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