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As we plod through the yup-it’s-still-completely-frozen-this-is-not-a-joke-it’s-just-cruel offseason, there’s an important deadline coming this Friday: the exchange of salary figures for arbitration-eligible players. The players request a salary for 2018, and the teams offer a salary for 2018. The sides can negotiate a deal (in fact, they can come to a deal before Friday … *taps foot*), or they can take their case to arbitration in February, at which an arbitrator will select one of those two figures.
The Cubs’ arbitration-eligible players, together with their service time and projected 2018 arbitration salaries (per MLBTR) are:
- Justin Wilson (5.035) – $4.3MM (third of three arbitration years)
- Justin Grimm (4.162) – $2.4MM (third of four arbitration years)
- Kyle Hendricks (3.081) – $4.9MM (first of three arbitration years)
- Tommy La Stella (3.072) – $1.0MM (first of three arbitration years)
- Kris Bryant (2.171) – $8.9MM (first of four arbitration years)
- Addison Russell (2.167) – $2.3MM (first of four arbitration years)
The Cubs generally do not take players to arbitration, so the figures exchanged on Friday will instead set up the negotiations that will follow. For most of the players, those negotiations will simply focus on getting the right salary for 2018, but it could also include longer deals – whether they buy out free agent years or not – so that the player can have the comfort of more guaranteed, life-changing money locked down, and the team can have cost certainty (and spread out the AAV for luxury tax planning purposes).
Among the arbitration-eligible players this time around, Wilson is in his final go around, so there won’t be an extension negotiated (unless it goes into free agent years). Grimm was a close non-tender call, so I doubt he sees an extension either. Tommy La Stella still has an unsettled role with the Cubs, and doesn’t project to make big money in arbitration as it is, so he’s an unlikely extension candidate, too.
The remaining three are guys you might target for an extension, though we’ve already received strong signals that Kris Bryant is not into it. Whether he’d be open to an “extension” that solely covers arbitration years (i.e., he doesn’t give up any free agent years), and thus provides cost certainty to the Cubs and a guarantee to him, that remains to be seen. Going year-to-year isn’t the worst thing in the world for the two sides.
Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell could each have reasons for wanting to lock down a longer-term guarantee, though Hendricks is going to get his first big payday in 2018 either way, and Russell was a former first-round draft pick (now represented by Scott Boras). Hendricks might want to cement his status as a true top ten starting pitcher this year, and Russell might want a chance to bounce back from a forgettable 2017 campaign.
From the Cubs’ perspective, both players dealt with health issues last year, and that might give them pause. Hendricks is under control for three arbitration years as he approaches age 30, so the Cubs might be content to just keep that the way it is. And Russell hasn’t yet shown what he can be, and the Cubs might decide there’s too much risk in offering him the kind of extension that Russell and Boras would accept.
I tentatively don’t expect to see the Cubs finalize any extensions for these guys before the exchange of arbitration figures on Friday, but they might continue those negotiations after Friday. And hopefully, either way, the sides can agree on salaries for 2018, either before Friday, or shortly thereafter.
Also: I don’t think anyone truly knows how the backed-up trade and free agent markets will impact these arbitration negotiations. I could see it cutting so many different ways at this point that I don’t even want to speculate, because I’ll probably just lead you astray.