There is a “Chance” Kyle Schwarber Could Be Non-Tendered, Which Prompts a Lot of Thoughts

Almost every front office around baseball is feeling the squeeze of a budget being handed down that contemplates significant losses from 2020 and uncertain (but reduced) projections for 2021. In turn, that means almost every front office around baseball has had tomorrow bolded, highlighted, and circled on their calendars since, oh, probably April.

Tomorrow night (7pm CT) is the deadline by which teams must offer a contract for 2021 to players who are eligible for salary arbitration (the precise salary to be determined later in January and February). If no contract is offered by tomorrow night, the player is said to have been “non-tendered,” and he immediately becomes a free agent.

Because tendering a contract is optional, and because the price tag attached to the tender can be uncertain – but virtually always increases from the year before – it’s one of the few sure-fire ways teams can, at this moment, cut salary with no dead money attached. You’re forfeiting your team control of the player, but you’re not on the hook for a dime.

Most across the industry are expecting it to be very rough, though I’d note that some of the short-term contracts handed out thus far suggest to me that it won’t be an absolute bloodbath. I’m not even sure all traditionally close calls will go the way of a non-tender. We’ll see.

I wrote up the full run-down of the Cubs’ decisions here, and we’ve since seen it more or less confirmed by multiple sources that a tender is expected for Kris Bryant.

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

I am already anticipating non-tenders for Almora and Martinez, with all of Rea, Ryan, Tepera, and Winkler as maybes. You can count on tenders for Bryant, Báez, Caratini, Contreras, and Happ.

Which leaves us … with Kyle Schwarber. It’s not a surprise, but this is the first it’s actually been reported that he could be non-tendered:

My own sense of his would-be market tells me that his projected salary is not all that out-of-whack, but also doesn’t leave much in the way of surplus value (hence why you haven’t really heard any trade rumors – teams were always, absolutely, 100% going to wait to see if he was tendered). Schwarber was down in 2020 like so many players, and if there is any question at all about the DH in the NL in 2021, I can at least understand the projection-versus-value argument that his anticipated arbitration salary is simply too high in this market. I am not sure I agree – I think the trends we saw in 2019, his last full, real season, are enough to bet on what he could be in his age 28 season, and so I think he easily gets $8+ million in free agency if he were seeking a one-year deal.

Which, by the way, he might not. I mean, if he’s non-tendered, it’s just not hard for me to see some team (AL or NL) looking at his upside, his age (28 in March), and the DH arriving in both leagues in 2022 at the latest, and wanting to sign him to a 3+ year deal. He’s going to look like a total steal opportunity to some team.

(via FanGraphs)

That, of course, kinda makes me wish the Cubs could come to terms with Schwarber on a pre-tender extension. It would have to be pretty modest to justify the risks, but Schwarber hasn’t made huge money yet in his career, and he has to be aware of the risks to his own market if he were to have another flat year in 2021. I want the Cubs to be the team to take a chance on that ever-present offensive upside, even as I know I’m falling victim to the idea that the Cubs can just keep doing the same thing and suddenly have better results. I just really like Schwarber’s potential to become a much better overall hitter. Always have. Shame on me, maybe.

If Schwarber is actually non-tendered tomorrow night, it’ll tell us one – or all – of three things:

1.) The Cubs evaluation of Schwarber’s likelihood to break out offensively (or reverse last year, at least) is not good. They’d have to be fairly down on him to let him walk right now.

2.) The Cubs financial situation is so dire that they have to cut, cut, cut as much as possible, and they decided to keep Bryant at the exclusion of everything else they could cut.

3.) The Cubs think the market is actually going to be decimated in ways we haven’t foreseen yet, and they simply expect his arbitration price to be far too high.

Not to go out of order, but I think number two requires a little amplification here at the end of this post: we don’t actually know how arbitration salaries are going to be constructed this year. Yeah, MLBTR is traditionally very good at coming up with accurate projections, but even they had to do a range this year because no one knows how 2020 will be accounted for. So when we talk about valuations for a tender, we’re actually doing it with BOTH arms behind our back: not only do we not exactly know just how tight finances are for teams and how deeply they have to cut, we ALSO do not exactly know what the eventual arbitration salaries are going to be. Either one of those blindspots could derail our ability to properly project or evaluate these decisions. Both combined makes it nearly impossible.

Keep that in mind as we see non-tender news rolling out. There’s a lot we still don’t know about what went into those decisions. Heck, there’s a lot the teams still didn’t know when they had to make those decisions. The Cubs front office, like others around baseball, can work only with the budget they’re given.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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