(670 The Score) With 12 arbitration-eligible players this offseason, new Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has a few decisions to make ahead of the non-tender deadline that looms Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT.
It’s by then that teams must decide whether to extend a contract for 2021 to players with less than six years of service time. If a club non-tenders a player, he becomes a free agent. The Cubs’ arbitration-eligible players are third baseman Kris Bryant, shortstop Javier Baez, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, catcher Willson Contreras, catcher Victor Caratini, outfielder Ian Happ, outfielder Albert Almora Jr., designated hitter/outfielder Jose Martinez, right-hander Colin Rea, reliever Kyle Ryan, reliever Ryan Tepera and reliever Dan Winkler.
Bryant is the headlining name, as he’s projected to make close to $19 million in his last year of arbitration, a process in which teams and players negotiate a salary figure for the upcoming season and then exchange numbers if they can’t agree on a salary by mid-January. An independent panel then chooses one of the two figures as the player’s salary for the upcoming season if the sides go to a hearing.
Because of the revenue strife that has afflicted the MLB landscape without fans in the stands amid the pandemic in 2020, the expectation is more players than usual will be non-tendered – and perhaps even some stars. In the Cubs’ case, could that include Bryant in a cost-cutting measure? The answer is probably not, despite some buzz and uncertainty about his future.
Bryant’s name came up often in trade discussions last offseason, and it will again this winter. There will certainly be teams with an interest in Bryant, who turns 29 in January. He’s coming off an injury-plagued season in which he hit .206 with four homers, 11 RBIs and a .644 OPS in 34 games, but he remains one of the best third basemen in the game when healthy. As the Cubs look to transition into a new phase, trading Bryant remains an option to add more youth to the roster and to address some needs down the line.
Perhaps the biggest name who’s likely to be non-tendered is Almora, the Cubs’ first-round pick in the 2012 amateur draft. Happ has established himself as the Cubs’ everyday center fielder, leaving the light-hitting Almora to be a defensive replacement and pinch-runner. Almora hit .236 with a .651 OPS in 2019 and then hit .167 with a .465 OPS in 28 games in limited action in 2020, when he was demoted to the club’s alternate training site in South Bend. Almora is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $1.57 million in arbitration. It’s not a big figure, but unless the Cubs trade Almora by Wednesday evening, there’s a solid chance he won’t be offered a contract.
Ryan is also on the bubble after posting a 5.17 ERA in 18 appearances in 2020. He’s projected to make $1.2 million in arbitration. Martinez also could be non-tendered as he projects to make $2.1 million in arbitration. The Cubs acquired Martinez just ahead of the trade deadline this past season, but he provided no help at all. He went 0-for-21 with a walk in 22 plate appearances for Chicago.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.