New Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer was aggressive in his effort not to tip his hand about anything financial at this past week’s press conference. He even went so far as to drop a veritable “no comment” when asked about the possibility of dumping a star player at next week’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. Not a crafty, nuanced discussion about short-term value and risk analysis and budgeting and bounce-backs and what-have-you. Just a flat-out, nope, not gonna discuss it.
Does that mean a swath of non-tenders is more or less likely for the Cubs? Eh, I wouldn’t start trying to parse a no-comment in that situation, particularly because you have to remember: the Cubs are almost certainly trying VERY HARD AT THIS VERY MOMENT to trade one or many of these arbitration-eligible players. There is nothing to be gained in those talks if you tell the world you are or are not going to non-tender a player soon. You want possible trade partners not to know whether they are about to risk seeing a guy hit the free agent market and able to sign with any team, or whether you’re confidently planning to tender the guy a contract anyway, knowing you can drag out trade discussions to much deeper in the offseason if necessary.
Of course, the problem is a two-way street, as possible trade partners are not going to be super eager to commit to a trade before they know what the landscape of non-tenders across baseball is going to look like. My guess is that there has been a lot of tension in the Cubs front office this week, because *if the Cubs are considering* non-tendering a big name, then obviously they would be desperate to trade that guy before the December 2 non-tender deadline.
So that’s my general “stay tuned” notice.
In the meantime, whether there’s a trade or not, the Cubs do have to make tender decisions by December 2, which is this coming Wednesday. That’s the moment when the Cubs have to decide whether they want to commit a 2021 contract to their arbitration-eligible players, or whether they want to say thanks and adieu, letting the player head off into free agency.
Here are the Cubs arbitration-eligible players, their level of arbitration, and their range of salary projections (via MLBTR) if they are tendered a contract:
Albert Almora Jr. (Arb 2 of 3, was $1.58 million in 2020) – $1.58M to $1.58M
Javy Báez (Arb 3 of 3, was $10 million in 2020) – $10.0M to $11.9M
Kris Bryant (Arb 4 of 4, was $18.6 million in 2020) – $18.6M to $18.6M
Victor Caratini (Arb 1 of 3, was $592K in 2020) – $1.2M to $1.6M
Willson Contreras (Arb 2 of 3, was $4.5 million in 2020) – $5.0M to $7.4M
Ian Happ (Arb 1 of 3, was $624K in 2020) – $2.5M to $4.6M
Colin Rea (Arb 1 of 3, was $565K in 2020) – $1.0M to $1.6M
Kyle Ryan (Arb 2 of 4, was $975K in 2020) – $1.2M to $1.5M
Kyle Schwarber (Arb 3 of 3, was $7 million in 2020) – $7.9M to $9.3M
Ryan Tepera (Arb 3 of 3, was $900K in 2020) – $1.1M to$1.5M
Dan Winkler (Arb 3 of 3, was $750K in 2020) – $900K to $1.2M
Jose Martinez (Arb 2 of 3, was $2.43 million in 2020) – $2.1M to $2.3M
We expect the Cubs to be cutting salary this offseason, both by way of free agents organically rolling off the books (guys like Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, etc.), and by moving out existing salary commitments, if possible. But the other way the Cubs can cut salary is simply by non-tendering players above – the Cubs aren’t locked into these guys, so in a sense, it’s a freebie to cut salary. But in another, more normal sense, you try not to view non-tendering an otherwise valuable or upside player as simply a way to cut salary. When times are right, you non-tender guys only when you (1) don’t want them at all for your next season’s roster), and/or (2) you’ve evaluated their market rate, and it’s clear that their projected arbitration salary is way out of whack.
On number two, we think things are probably going to be weird this year because of pandemic financial tightness around baseball, and that’s why you could see a whole lot more non-tenders than usual. Relatedly, then, you might see more non-tendered players re-signing with their previous team on a lesser deal. These are odd times.
For the Cubs, I think you can see some crystal clear non-tender candidates in Almora and Martinez, with all of Rea, Ryan, Tepera, and Winkler as maybes.
On the other side of the coin, even in these times, you can count on Báez, Caratini, Contreras, and Happ to be tendered on Wednesday.
The two questions/discussions have always been Bryant and Schwarber.
As we’ve discussed (Bryant, Schwarber), it seems like a tender is the most likely outcome, but the fact that it’s even on the fence tells you so much. And it also tells you, again, that the Cubs are probably frantically trying to trade these guys BEFORE Wednesday so that they can get some value, and can also offload that decision on another team. Since the Cubs are looking to cut payroll and also “heavy restart” the roster anyway, it makes sense that they’d want to trade these two as soon as possible. Sorry if that perturbs, and you are free to debate the merits of that approach. I’m just saying it’s my external evaluation of the situation.