The recent free agent contract projections for Joc Pederson really caught my eye, and not necessarily because I have any particular interest in seeing the Cubs go after him.
Instead, seeing what the 28-year-old lefty corner outfielder (coming off a down season) is projected to get in free agency has me thinking about the Cubs’ tender decision on 27-year-old lefty corner outfielder (coming off a down season) Kyle Schwarber. If Pederson is expected to find a really rough market out there, then it stands to reason that the Cubs’ internal calculations on tendering Schwarber a contract would probably be impacted.
Pederson might offer less upside with the bat, and is nearly unplayable against lefties, but he’s a better and more versatile defender, and he’s had a touch more offensive success. The comparison is probably not that far off in terms of what you might expect to get out of the player in 2021, and their career numbers sure do look strikingly similar (note that Pederson arrived a year earlier and didn’t lose a season to a knee injury like Schwarber):
The slash lines are nearly identical. That’s wild.
The point there is less about precisely comparing one guy to the other, and instead is more about noting the similarity, and now moving on to what Pederson might get in free agency. FanGraphs – both the Craig Edwards version and the crowdsourced version – were the highest on Pederson (as they were on many free agents), projecting two years and $20 million. MLBTR was just shy of that level, at two years and $18 million. ESPN was much, much lower, projecting just one year and $5.5 million. Keith Law did not project contracts, but ranked Pederson at a level where you’d roughly expect him to be in that two-year, $7 to $8 million per year range.
So let’s imagine that the market for Pederson projects to be something like one or two years, and anywhere from $6 million to $10 million per year. There’s so much guesswork right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land a one-year, $10 million deal all things considered.
Which brings us to Schwarber, who is under control via arbitration for one more season. If Pederson is the free agent comp – i.e., if you didn’t have Schwarber, you could just go sign a similar value player in Pederson in free agency – is Schwarber likely to be non-tendered? The initial MLBTR arbitration projections for Schwarber, who made $7 million last year, range from $7.9 million to $9.3 million. Right there on that cusp, eh?
In some ways, it isn’t a huge surprise that Schwarber’s arb projection and Pederson’s free agent projection wind up so dang similar, given the state of the market and their similarities as players. But it does make for an all the more challenging decision for the Cubs. The trade market for Schwarber, given Pederson’s availability at a similar price tag, could be non-existent. Then again, you non-tender a 27-year-old Schwarber, and it’s far from inconceivable that he winds up going somewhere on a modest three-year deal and exploding. Would you really non-tender Schwarber at this moment because he might be, like, 5 to 10% overpriced in arbitration?
I tend to think the Pederson comp, and the expected salaries, actually state the case for tendering Schwarber. Heck, I’d argue they state the case for trying to sign him to that modest three-year deal right now – though maybe I’ve long just been too homer-y on wanting the Cubs to be the team that sees Schwarber break out. Eh, he probably doesn’t want a modest three-year deal right now anyway, and would instead prefer just one year and a shot at free agency next year. Perhaps he’ll be all the more motivated.
To me, this looks like a tender situation, or, ideally, a situation where you could get a deal done with Schwarber before the December 2 non-tender deadline. Maybe things still look frosty by then for a guy like Pederson, and Schwarber just wants to lock down his 2021 deal.