Cubs agree with Báez, KB, 2 more (source)

Outfielder Happ headed for arbitration

January 16th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The Cubs gained some financial clarity over a handful of their stars on Friday, avoiding arbitration with four players, sources told

Third baseman and shortstop -- on track for free agency next offseason -- headlined Friday's signings, which included catcher and starter . Per a source, outfielder is headed to an arbitration hearing with the Cubs.

Friday was the deadline to exchange salary figures with any unsigned arbitration-eligible players. The agreed-upon deals sidestep an arbitration hearing, and help bring Chicago's '21 payroll picture more into focus amidst an offseason defined by change.

"You have a window of time with players," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said last month. "We have not been able to extend a lot of these players to extend that window. That's a fact. So with that, we know that we're coming to the end of this group of players.

"[It's been] a wildly successful, franchise-changing run with this group of players. We're coming to the end of that run. So, as we come to the end of that, it's really important to think about the future."

Here is a breakdown (all salary figures via sources) of the five players impacted by Friday's deadline:

Javier Báez
2021 salary: $11.65 million
Non-prorated 2020 salary: $10 million
Eligible for free agency: After 2021

Báez is in the final year of control and coming off a subpar showing in 2020's abbreviated format. The shortstop did win his first career Gold Glove Award, but was vocal about how the lack of in-game video hindered his hitting. Báez hit .203/.238/.360, posting the lowest on-base percentage among qualified MLB hitters.

Báez was an All-Star in both 2018 and '19, hitting a combined .286/.321/.544 with 63 homers, 78 doubles, 190 runs and 196 RBIs in those seasons. He was the National League's MVP runner-up in '18. This season, the shortstop will be aiming to get back on that track, as he potentially hits a crowded free-agent market next winter.

Kris Bryant
2021 salary: $19.5 million
Non-prorated 2020 salary: $18.6 million
Eligible for free agency: After 2021

Last offseason, Bryant's contract was the eighth-highest ever for a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. In his final year of contractual control, the star third baseman gets a slight raise, though it comes after he labored through an injury-marred showing last season.

Bryant turned in a .206/.293/.351 slash line with four homers and 11 RBIs in 34 games in 2020. Six of those RBIs came in his final two games, which were in the wake of a right oblique issue. Bryant also dealt with left finger, wrist and elbow troubles at various points in the season.

Willson Contreras
2021 salary: $6.65 million
Non-prorated 2020 salary: $4.5 million
Eligible for free agency: After 2022

Driven by the fact that he has two seasons of club control remaining, Contreras has had his name come up in trade rumors this offseason. The catcher is a two-time All-Star that is coming off another solid campaign, which included dramatic improvement in his pitch framing numbers.

In 2020, Contreras hit .243/.356/.407 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 57 games. It was a drop-off from '19 (.888 OPS), but the catcher made noticeable defensive strides. After posting minus-18.9 Framing Runs in '18 and minus-8.9 Framing Runs in '19, Contreras had 1.7 in '20 and was a Gold Glove finalist behind the plate.

Zach Davies
2021 salary: $8.63 million
Non-prorated 2020 salary: $5.25 million
Eligible for arbitration: After 2021

The priority for the Cubs in the trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Padres last month was landing four young prospects to enhance the farm system. Chicago also used the deal to get Davies, who posted a 2.73 ERA in 69 1/3 innings in 2020 and can step right into the MLB rotation to help replace Darvish's innings. Davies, who will turn 28 in February, had a 3.30 ERA with 165 strikeouts against 70 walks in 229 innings over the '19-20 seasons.

Ian Happ
2021 salary: TBD
Non-prorated 2020 salary: $603,500
Eligible for free agency: After 2023

In his first year of arbitration eligibility, Happ's camp is seeking $4.1 million, while the Cubs countered with an offer of $3.25 million. The midpoint between the proposed figures is $3.675 million. The next step will be for an impartial three-person panel to hear from both sides at a hearing (date to be determined) before choosing one of the two salary offers for the 2021 season.

Happ was a critical piece to the Cubs' offense in 2020, helping salvage what was an otherwise trying year for the collective lineup. He claimed the job in center and the leadoff spot, finishing with a team-leading 1.9 WAR (per Fangraphs). Happ hit .258/.361/.505 overall with 12 homers, 11 doubles and 28 RBIs in 57 games. It was a carryover showing for Happ, who had an .879 OPS and 130 OPS+ across '19-20 combined.

What does this mean for the payroll?
The decision-making to date this offseason has been driven by, in part, helping the Cubs' bottom line. Between the Darvish trade, declining Jon Lester's option and non-tendering Kyle Schwarber, plus a few smaller moves, the Cubs trimmed nearly $50 million in costs that would have previously impacted the 2021 payroll.

That reduction in projected costs is right around what Báez, Bryant, Contreras and Davies will earn all together ($46.43 million). Including other contracts in place for '21, plus contract buyouts (Lester and Daniel Descalso), the Cubs' payroll sits just north of $130 million for '21 (before pre-arbitration salaries, bonuses, other costs and any additions).

Does this impact any trade talks?
Among this group, Bryant and Contreras have had their names floated most in trade rumors and reports throughout this offseason. The Darvish trade signaled that Chicago is unafraid to make bold changes with the long view in mind, so expect to keep hearing buzz surrounding the Cubs' core.

What Friday's news does is provide more clarity over what Bryant and Contreras will be earning, giving potential suitors one more data point to ponder. In Bryant's case, teams will have to weigh his monetary cost against the prospect cost. For Contreras, teams can now better project what he might also earn through arbitration next offseason.