The Chicago Cubs currently have eight players eligible for arbitration, and the deadline to tender them a contract for 2020 is this coming Monday, December 2.
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, 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)
- Jharel Cotton – $800K (1st of 4 arbitration years) (pre-arb in 2019)
Most of the Cubs’ decisions come Monday will be obvious, with all of Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, Contreras, and Ryan done deals to be tendered.
There are already credible reports out that the Cubs are not interested in non-tendered Almora just yet to save a couple million, so you should expect him to be tendered on Monday, assuming he doesn’t earlier sign a contract for 2020 (sometimes you see that with borderline cases, and the player takes a little less than the projection rather than face the uncertainty of a free agency that might yield only minor league offers). I tend to think it’s just going to be a straight up tender for Almora.
As for the newly-acquired Cotton, it’s likely he’ll be tendered, too, but I’m reminded of Ronald Torreyes last year – the Cubs acquired him before the tender deadline, he would not agree to a contract, so they non-tendered him. It’s possible the Cubs are trying to work out a favorable deal with Cotton right now, and if it doesn’t happen, it’s possible he’ll be non-tendered. Again, though, the best bet is just a straight up tender.
And then there’s Addison Russell, for whom it is very difficult to make a case to tender a contract when you consider the tight budget, the addition of shortstop Zack Short to the 40-man roster, the previous domestic violence suspension, and, most of all, his regressing performance over the past four years. Yes, he’ll be only 26 next year, and yes, he is probably still a very good defensive shortstop, but as a bench guy on the Cubs, you’re paying over $5 million to have a shortstop backup. He offers 15 to 20% worse than league average performance at the plate, his intangibles got him sent to Iowa this year for a lack of focus, and it is virtually impossible to see him reaching whatever upside is left while he’s still on the Cubs.
Could the Cubs tender Russell, like they did last year, and try to trade him? Sure. They could. But what team out there is going to take on Russell for $5+ million at this point? It’s very hard for me to see, even when you consider that arbitration-level contracts are not fully guaranteed until the season starts.
So, then, you’re left with two options: (1) tender Russell and hold him as emergency depth through Spring Training, and then decide if you just want to cut him for $1 million or so in termination pay, or (2) non-tender him on Monday.
Gut says the Cubs will be feverishly working the phones this weekend on the off chance there’s a shortstop-needy team out there that would give up a PTBNL for Russell, but if that doesn’t happen, a non-tender seems the most likely, and most reasonable, decision at this point.