Wednesday, December 2 marks this year’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players. There is growing expectation that this year will witness a larger-than-normal list of non-tendered players, most notably as a result of the pandemic shortened season and subsequent revenue losses. As teams look for ways to slash their payrolls — the 2021 season is, after all, a great unknown — ancillary and role players will become more and more expandable. This reality is only exacerbated by the fact that non-tendered players are historically on the rise; Covid-19 has simply dumped gasoline on that wildfire.
The Cubs, of course, are in a notoriously delicate position. With Theo Epstein’s departure, the transition to Jed Hoyer has begun in earnest. How much money will the Ricketts Family allocate for the team’s salary in 2021, particularly after slashing jobs across the organization? Will the front office finally pull the trigger on trading away from ‘the core’? Can Hoyer and Co. find savvy deals on the free agent market that better this team in 2021 on the cheap?
The preponderance of Google-findable rumors suggests that Kris Bryant will not be a Cub in 2021. Ditto for Kyle Schwarber. And murmurings persist that Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Willson Contreras are also available via trade — to say nothing of the fact that Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks have been floated as possibilities, too.
Trades are one thing, of course, and if the Cubs are to reboot financially and punt on the 2021 campaign for an immediate turnaround in 2022 (and beyond), so be it. But the notion the Cubs are in such dire straits financially that KB and Schwarbs are non-tender candidates is impossibly damning.
We might very well see a significant restructuring of the roster this offseason, but I’m quite confident this upcoming Wednesday will be a quiet day for the Cubs.
Here are a few reasons why.
Surprise Non-Tenders Would be Embarrassing
The most notable non-tender candidates that have been bandied about are indeed Bryant and Schwarber. While each will command a hefty chunk of salary in 2021 after disappointing performances this year, the idea that cutting one’s losses and saving money at this point is simply laughable.
The Ricketts have already endured public outcry from laying off over 100 employees, proclaiming “biblical” losses in revenue, and generally crying poor. That they are set to receive $100+ million in tax credits with Wrigley Field gaining Landmark Status only adds to the ire of fans.
It’s somewhat understandable for the Cubs to limit spending this offseason, however. Certainly, the draconian Luxury Tax will prevent a salary that approaches the $210 million threshold, as they won’t exceed that tax a third consecutive season given the progressive penalties. There’s also the very real impact of a 60-game season without fans — and all of the lost revenue garnered by the surrounding businesses they own/have a stake in.
All of that to say: It is reasonable for the Ricketts to limit payroll (to a degree) in 2021. But they’ll want to avoid the backlash of a rabid fanbase while also putting together a product that will increase ratings on their fledgling Marquee Sports Network.
A non-tender of Bryant or Schwarber isn’t unlikely. It’s out of the question.
The Winter Meetings Will Provide Hoyer Clarity
The Winter Meetings will be held virtually this year, and as usual they occur shortly after the non-tender deadline (December 6-10). Historically, these meetings provide enough rumors and activity to satiate the hungriest of Hot Stove fans. Trades and major free agent signings happen in a flurry, and even though there are many question marks about this offseason, one should expect activity to remain in earnest.
The Winter Meetings will unveil how realistic trades and free agency signings are for a front office facing a difficult offseason.
Despite a down year, value still exists in Bryant. Lingering injuries, an $18-$20 million salary, and just one year away from free agency certainly limit that value, but the talent remains very real — and no doubt intrigues a number of contenders with a hole at third base. It’s precisely why there are no shortage of rumors about how, when, or where KB might be traded.
Essentially, it feels like a foregone conclusion Bryant is moved this offseason. A sad reality if it comes to fruition, to be sure, but it suggests his market is robust enough to extract decent value — without having to eat any of the money owed in his final year of arbitration. The Cubs will likely play the market and see how aggressive teams become. An attempt to net a few well-regarded prospects, or even going for — as Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation calls them — “post-hype” players, isn’t an impossibility.
Schwarber, on the other hand, offers even less in trade value entering his contract year. That said, the DH remains an unknown in the Senior Circuit for 2021, and until that clarity is gained, the Cubs are better positioned to hold onto him until his value (on their roster or in trade equity) becomes clearer.
At any rate we will know much more about the values of either player soon. Cutting them only to save money would be a gross miscalculation.
Expected Non-Tenders Create Roster and Financial Flexibility
The Cubs will certainly non-tender a slew of players, but these are expected transactions. Here’s the list of Arbitration Eligible players for the Cubs in descending order, with projected salaries affixed:
- Kris Bryant – $18.6M
- Javier Baez – $10.0M
- Kyle Schwarber – $7.01M
- Willson Contreras – $5.0M
- Ian Happ – $2.5M
- Jose Martinez – $2.1M
- Albert Almora Jr – $1.575M
- Victor Caratini – $1.2M
- Kyle Ryan – $1.2M
- Ryan Tepera – $1.2M
- Colin Rea – $1.0M
- Dan Winkler – $1.0M
In my initial offseason plan last month I assumed the Cubs would non-tender Winkler, Rea, Almora, and Martinez. This would drop the 40-Man Roster to 33 players, opening up $5.675 million in the process. While that is a rather small number, all things considered, every dollar will be important to the Cubs this offseason.
That increased flexibility would allow the Cubs a buffer should Bryant be traded for two or three players that need to be rostered, or if the Cubs pull the trigger on a player or two in the Rule 5 Draft on December 10.
Regardless of how things shake out post-Winter Meetings, the Cubs have enough roster flexibility to suit whatever path they decide upon this offseason.
The only certainty? That path won’t include surprise non-tenders next week.
Featured Photo: Jon Durr, USA Today Sports
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