As part of their tender/non-tender announcement last night, the Chicago Cubs also announced that they’d agreed to terms on a 2023 contract with pitchers Adrian Sampson and Rowan Wick, thus avoiding arbitration. You sometimes see that kind of pre-tender signing around baseball when a team is on the fence about tendering an arbitration-eligible player, but is willing to sign a contract today at Price Level X. And sometimes the player just wants the security of knowing he’s got a deal in hand, even if he’s leaving some possibly arbitration-upside (or free agency) on table.
Per Jordan Bastian, Rowan Wick received a one-year, $1.55 million deal, while Adrian Sampson received a one-year, $1.9 million deal. Wick had been projected by MLBTR to receive $1.5 million (so the Cubs must have decided he could actually wind up doing a lot better), whereas Sampson was not projected at all.
Say what? Well, the thing is, Sampson’s listed service time – 2 years and 117 days – is below the reported cutoff for Super Two this year (2 years and 128 days). I’ve gotta be honest here: I don’t know why the Cubs are avoiding arbitration with Sampson if he wasn’t arbitration-eligible … which means, obviously he WAS arbitration-eligible, despite any earlier reporting. So either the reported Super Two cut-off was wrong (doubt it), his service time calculations at BR and FanGraphs are wrong (possibly?), or he gets some kind of special treatment because of his time pitching in Korea (possibly?).
Whatever the case, it’s looking like Sampson is being treated as a Super Two, which means he gets the pricier deal for 2023, and he’ll have three more years of arbitration after this if he sticks around.
Wick, 30, had an extremely up-and-down 2022 season (his roughly league-average numbers didn’t really reflect the extreme good and extreme bad) after previously being a really good (when healthy) reliever for the Cubs the last few years (26% better than league average ERA, 33% better than league average FIP). I am not shocked that the Cubs wanted to keep him – I had him as an on-the-bubble guy – and would likewise not be shocked if he wound up traded at some point this offseason in a minor swap. The Cubs do have a lot of relief depth, and they are also likely to add another reliever or two or three in free agency.
Sampson, 31, was truly impressive this season out of the Cubs’ rotation when he got a shot in the second half, managing to stay off the barrel (6.7% barrel rate), despite always pitching in the zone (6.3% BB rate). Can his pitchability style, keeping guys off balance, continue to succeed on into the future? Although his 3.11 ERA was outstanding, he was closer to league average by FIP. Of course, even if he’s just a league average pitcher, that’s a heckuva valuable swing guy to have for $1.9 million, which is why I’m sure the Cubs were happy to retain him.
In an ideal world, Sampson heads into Spring Training as the Cubs’ 6th or 7th starter, where he would be some outstanding depth. Critically, Sampson still has minor league options remaining, so, whether he is depth as a long man in the bullpen, or down in the Triple-A rotation, he’s got a lot of value.