With a managerial search underway for the Cubs, it feels like the “offseason” isn’t really going to kick into our psyches until that’s resolved. And then the actual offseason won’t begin until after the World Series concludes later this month.
And now there’s another biggy: MLB Trade Rumors released its annual arbitration projections, and we get a look at what their system is seeing ahead for the Cubs’ budgetary considerations (as well as all other teams).
To be sure, the MLBTR projections are only that – projections – and they aren’t perfect. But as a reference point for payroll discussions during the offseason? They’ve kinda become the bellwether for the figures the industry uses as placeholders.
Quick arbitration primer:
For players who have at least three years of big league service time (plus the top 22% of players (in terms of service time) with fewer than three years, but more than two years (“Super Two” players who get four arbitration years instead of three)), but who haven’t yet accumulated the six years necessary for free agency, it’s time to get some arbitration money. You are under team control, but your salary isn’t set yet, and you also aren’t subject to the unilateral salary selection of your team in the first few years of your service time. So, if the team decides to keep you for the year ahead (“tendering” a contract), that’s where the arbitration process comes in.
These players have the right to submit a request for a salary, to be countered by the team for a salary, and then duke it out in an arbitration hearing over which number is better. Typically, though, arbitration-eligible players and their teams agree on a contract before all that fighting happens in late January and February. Indeed, most if not all clubs are now “file and trial”: either you come together to agree on a contract for the season ahead, or file your numbers and head to arbitration. That has had the effect of greatly diminishing the number of arbitration hearings.
Here are the arbitration-eligible Cubs for this offseason, what they’re projected by MLBTR to earn in 2020 if they’re ultimately tendered a contract by the Cubs, the arb years, and what they made last year:
- Kris Bryant – $18.5M (3rd of 4 arbitration years) ($12.9M in 2019)
- Javier Baez – $9.3M (2nd of 3 arbitration years) ($5.2M in 2019)
- Kyle Schwarber – $8.0M (2nd of 3 arbitration years) ($3.39M in 2019)
- Addison Russell – $5.1M (3rd of 4 arbitration years) ($3.7M in 2019)
- Willson Contreras – $4.5M (1st of 3 arbitration years) (pre-arb in 2019)
- Albert Almora – $1.8M (1st of 3 arbitration years) (pre-arb in 2019)
- Kyle Ryan – $1.1M (1st of 4 arbitration years) (pre-arb in 2019)
Very significant bumps are projected for the first three guys up there, though I can’t call them outlandish. Bryant’s figure would top Nolan Arenado’s $17.75M mark from his third go through arbitration after being a Super Two, so you could understand why MLBTR has a very similarly-situated player in Bryant just moving the needle up a bit.
Kris Bryant may wind up on the trade market this offseason – not “shopped,” but “listened on” – so his arbitration figure is going to be bandied about a whole lot as other teams (and prognosticating fans) discuss how much value there is in having Bryant at $18+ million for 2020, and something in the mid-$20-millions or more in 2021. Me? I say the answer is “loads of value,” but we’ll get there when we get there.
Javy Baez was projected for over $7 million last year thanks to his breakout, MVP-runner-up campaign, but actually wound up much lower. With another quality year in the books (though not of the same caliber) while starting at shortstop, you can see why Baez lands where he does. If he’d been healthier, the number would have been much higher. In any case, you can expect the Cubs to take a serious run at extending Javy Baez long-term, and using the arbitration negotiations as a starting point.
The jump for Schwarber is the one that raises a mild eyebrow, though he’s definitely coming off his best offensive season with the Cubs. The glowing defensive ratings in 2018 seem to have been a fluke, and instead he’s more of a meh-to-slightly-below-meh left fielder. But with 38 homers and 92 RBI on the stat sheet, he’s got a lot of ammo to which to point when talking to an arbitrator.
As for Addison Russell, he was a non-tender candidate regardless of his number, and if he does look to get $5+ million for 2020, it’s hard to justify tendering him that contract. The Cubs may try to trade him before the tender deadline on December 2, but with his domestic violence suspension, terrible performance at the plate, and brief demotion for focus problems? I tend to think it’s solely going to be a tender or non-tender decision.
Albert Almora, even at a much lower figure and definitely without the non-baseball concerns, is also a theoretical non-tender candidate. That said, it’s such a small amount and there remains so much potential in Almora that I have a hard time seeing the Cubs actually letting him go just yet for nothing. It’s more likely he’s traded than non-tendered.
As for Willson Contreras and Kyle Ryan, I have no useful comments. Looks about right, and they’ll obviously be tendered.