Earlier this week, Kris Bryant confirmed that he is, in fact, open to some sort of extension with the Chicago Cubs (seeing what Nolan Arenado just got from the Rockies, why wouldn’t he be?), but that the Cubs had not actually approached him about a deal this winter.
Unfortunately, for every reason Arenado’s deal would likely push the door open for Bryant, it makes things tougher on the Cubs. After all, that’s one heckuva monster contract, especially in this market, and there are legitimate arguments to be made that Bryant is actually better than Arenado. You’d have to consider other things like current age, age at free agency, past earnings, etc., but Arenado’s deal certainly raised the bar, and the Cubs would have to acknowledge that.
Brett got into that specific conversation a little more right here, if you’re curious.
Of course, Bryant might be the best player on the Cubs, but he’s not the only one worth extending in this era of dicey free agency, and players seeking out more security.
The Cubs core is filled with theoretical extension candidates, such as …
A few notes upfront: I left Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo out of the picture, because they each have a more unique situation than any of the other players above. Bryant will command top-of-the-market dollars, if he’s really open to a deal at all, and Rizzo is someone the Cubs will probably *want* to keep for the rest of his career, but who’s also already signed a well-below market extension with the Cubs his first time around. How far will they be willing to go to keep him, now that he’s older? I mean, hopefully, forever, but you know. I also left out the relievers, because I just don’t see much happening on the extension front there.
Okay, so among the players that are still up there, I think you can pretty much go ahead and ignore Ian Happ and Albert Almora at the moment. Both guys *could* be intriguing extension candidates in the very near future (Happ, especially, in my opinion), but both earned big bucks as first round draft picks, are still very young, and have at least four more years of team control. As for performance, I’d say Happ has less to prove than Almora at this point, but until either guy shows they’re worth the budget space they’d take up with an extension, the Cubs don’t have to act.
Willson Contreras has long been considered among the most obvious extension candidates on the Cubs, because unlike everybody else on the list above, he hasn’t yet made big dollars in his career (meaning that he might be more open to a team-friendly deal that locks in life-changing money for him and his family). But here’s where I hate myself: Despite my absolute and total adoration for Willy, perhaps he doesn’t really need a true, lengthy/pricey extension. If the Cubs want to lock in some cost control and avoid arbitration all together by agreeing to salaries for the next four years, I think that’d be great. And, hey, if you can get one or two team options at higher rates for years 5 and 6 (1 and 2 in free agency), all the better. But if they want to *guarantee* big dollar salaries for Contreras beyond his current years of control, I’d be more hesitant. This year will be Contreras’ age-27 season. Thus, the Cubs have him under control for his ages 27, 28, 29, and 30 seasons.
How much are you willing to pay for Contreras’ age 31-season, five years out? Does last year make you more nervous? Does the Cubs top prospect, Miguel Amaya’s progress change your mind? How about the wear and tear on catchers? Contreras’s pitch framing? It’s all just a lot to consider. I think, ideally, Contreras would agree to an extension that gave him a nice pay bump this year, some solid, guaranteed dollars in lieu of arbitration and at least one team option instead of a free agent year at the end. Anything more than that would strike me as a little questionable, painful as that is to say as a fan of his.
As for Kyle Schwarber, well, he’s in such a weird spot. I think extending him would be a great idea, if not only for the fact that he’s already good, still quite young, and would otherwise hit free agency on the right side of 30. If you throw in the fact that the DH is almost definitely going to be in the NL by the time his career is over, you might feel even better. But the biggest reason for a Schwarber extension, in my opinion, is his “risk” of breaking out. I still believe in Schwarber’s bat so much that I’m worried the Cubs will wait too long to extend him and he’ll play himself out of a reasonable price range. Lock him down now, when it shouldn’t cost *as much* and hope for the best.
Javier Baez sorta has the opposite problem. He’s just as young as Schwarber and is headed towards free agency at the same time, but is coming off BY FAR his best season ever. With just one year of elite production in his cart, how much are you willing to guarantee him? Surely, he has value even as a lesser offensive player, but it’s still quite a conundrum – the difference between MVP candidate and really good baserunner and defender is tens of millions of dollars. Do you wait to see if his production levels out? What if he gets better and you *really* can’t afford him? I don’t envy the Cubs front office for this one, but it sure would be nice to get something done.
And then we get to the pitchers: Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana both have just two years of team control remaining and both are candidates for an extension. On the one hand, Hendricks has had more high-level success in recent years, while Quintana has had a rougher go of it on the North Side. On the other hand, Quintana has the sort of profile that’s a little easier to project as he ages (even if it’s more back-end-of-the-rotation, rather than front-end), while Hendricks’ razor thin margin for success given his very low velocity might make you nervous about extending him well into his 30s.
Ultimately, though, I think the Cubs are going to want to keep one, if not both of these guys for a very simple reason: who else is going to pitch? Jon Lester and Cole Hamels are both 35 years old and not locks to be productive this season, let alone in 2021. And by then, Yu Darvish will be in his age-34 season. So unless the Cubs promote multiple starting prospects very soon, they’ll simply need bodies for the rotation. Locking down a couple more years of Hendricks and Quintana, could give the 2021 rotation a nice foundation of Darvish-Hendricks-Quintana that can be supplemented from within the organization or via free agency/trade. Let both of them walk and buyout Lester’s contract and you might end up with four spots to fill. That’s not great.
To whatever extent it matters (or is actually true), the Chicago Sun-Times seems to believe Hendricks and Baez will be the next ones up for an extension from the Cubs, and both guys are reportedly open to the idea. “You have to look at what’s going on around the league, for sure,” Hendricks said weighing a team extension against the pits of free agency. “You have to educate yourself on things that have happened in the past and what the market looks like now, then make the best decision possible.”
Hendricks continued (and won over your heart): “I’ve said that to them; I would love to stay here. I’ve loved every second of my time in Chicago. I love the city, I love the fans, and just the opportunity they’ve given me, trading for me and having faith in me when I first got brought up. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
We’ve discussed the impact of the new-look free agent market many times over this Spring and the lessons aren’t lost on Hendricks. He might actually be better off financially by forgoing an opportunity to tour all 30 MLB teams in free agency. It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten to that place as a sport, but at least he likes where he is and hopes to stick around.
As for Baez, well, I suspect you won’t find one Cubs fan in Chicago upset to see him stick around. We’ll have to see if these conversations become anything more than that, but this is typically the time of year they go down. The Cubs have admitted to having some trouble extending their core players in the past – Rizzo’s 2013 extension was the last one of that type! – but maybe another icy free agent offseason has softened some hearts and changed some minds.