Always an interesting read, which will hereafter be referenced constantly throughout the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors has come out with their arbitration projections for 2016. Players with at least three years of service time (or more than two and qualify for Super Two status), but not more than six years of service time, are eligible for salary arbitration – it’s a process by which they get paid more than they were making in their first few years, but still less than they’d be making in free agency (because they are still under team control).
After the season, teams will decide whether they want to “tender” contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, and, if not, those players immediately become free agents. Players who are tendered, however, will then exchange a salary request with the team, which also comes up with a salary figure. If the two sides cannot agree on a deal before late January, an arbitrator will decide the player’s salary for 2016 – and there is no compromise at that point. The arbitrator must pick one salary or the other. It’s a bit of a contentious process, best avoided by agreeing to a contract in advance, if possible.
For the Cubs, MLBTR has projected the following salaries for 2016 (and I’d strongly encourage you to check out the full list for all teams at MLBTR, because it gives you a good foundation for what certain players – possible non-tender candidates, or even trade candidates – could be making next year). Also included, for reference, are the total number of service years and days each player has accumulated through this season. The Cubs’ nine arbitration-eligible players:
Clayton Richard (5.154) – $1.1MM
Chris Coghlan (5.148) – $3.9MM
Jonathan Herrera (5.101) – $1.3MM
Travis Wood (5.004) – $6.4MM
Pedro Strop (4.156) – $4.7MM
Jake Arrieta (4.145) – $10.9MM
Jacob Turner (3.033) – $1.0MM
Hector Rondon (3.000) – $3.6MM
Justin Grimm (2.170) – $1.0MM
First thing’s first: who actually gets tendered a contract? Most decisions are relatively obvious, with all of Coghlan, Strop, Arrieta, Rondon, and Grimm as obvious tenders. Jonathan Herrera, bless his role on the Cubs this year, but he’s probably a clear non-tender.
Tougher are the decisions on Richard, Wood, and Turner. Out after an arm surgery ended a season in which he never appeared in the big leagues, Turner would seem a non-tender candidate, but the Cubs would be able to retain him – he’s just 24 – for so little money that the real question is whether he’s healthy enough to merit a 40-man roster spot. If he is, then there’s no reason to non-tender him, since the cost is barely more than a Major League minimum guy. I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Turner’s present health, so I really can’t speculate here.
On Richard, it probably also comes down to the 40-man roster spot. Given how well he’s performed in a swing – and then full-on relief – role, he’d be a bargain at just a little over $1.1 million (though I suspect his figure would actually be a bit higher). The Cubs may have to determine whether they think Richard could get a big league deal elsewhere. If so, then it might be wise to tender him and hang onto him heading into 2016 as depth and/or a bullpen possibility. If Richard doesn’t project to net a big league contract elsewhere, perhaps they could convince him to stay on a minor league deal. On the balance, it’s a really tough call, but I’d lean toward tendering him as things stand right now.
And on Wood, the Cubs have their toughest decision of all. On the one hand, Wood has been brilliant out of the pen, and can still start if needed. On the other hand, $6.4 million (or more, as I once again think it would be a touch higher) is a lot to pay for a bullpen arm/swing guy in his final year of control. I suspect the Cubs tender Wood, knowing that if they wind up overloaded in the rotation and the pen heading into February they might be able to move him, and further knowing that if he sticks around, he’s a potentially fantastic swing arm. But a non-tender would not shock me, given the robust pitching market.
As for the arbitration projections, I tend to think they look a little light on the whole, but we’ll see. They can be quite difficult to predict, as they’re based on a large number of things – performance, service time, comparable player salaries, previous salaries, etc. – and I tend not to get too lost in the weeds on the projections until we get much closer to an actual arbitration hearing deadline. Then you can really sink in on some comps, and work out what’s what.