Cubs offseason FAQ: What follows sell-off?

November 5th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' front office made an aggressive decision this past season, moving on from the core group with a series of franchise-altering trades as the losses piled up.

The result was a pared-down Major League roster and an enhanced farm system (especially at the lower levels). But president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has tried not to apply the "rebuild" label to Chicago's situation.

With the offseason underway, the Cubs will begin working on strengthening the MLB roster while continuing to keep the long-term vision in mind. Hoyer wants to field a "competitive" club in 2022 and has flexibility for the coming months.

"As we build this," Hoyer said at the end of the season, "I think it's really important to make one good decision after another. I do think that's how I think about the offseason. We're trying to build a roster that can compete.

"But we're also ... not looking to win the offseason, which I think can be a real negative both in terms of the season next year, but also in terms of the future."

With that in mind, here are some offseason FAQs for the Cubs:

Who are the Cubs' Major League free agents?
Chicago's free agents include right-hander , infielder and catchers , and . None within that group is a candidate for the one-year qualifying offer worth $18.4 million for 2022. The deadline for that step is the fifth day after the World Series ends.

Which players are already under contract for 2022?
Outfielder ($22 million), righty ($14 million) and infielder ($2.51 million) are all signed through next season. Heyward's deal runs through 2023, Hendricks is also signed through '23 (with an option for '24) and Bote's pact runs through '24 (with options for '25 and '26).

Which Cubs are eligible for arbitration?
From the 40-man roster, the Cubs' arb-eligible class this offseason is led by two-time All-Star catcher and outfielder . Lefties and and righty will also be eligible for arbitration.

Do the Cubs have any non-tender candidates?
Last offseason, when the Cubs were facing tighter payroll restraints, the team made the surprising move to non-tender Kyle Schwarber. Happ ($4.1 million in 2021) looked to be on a similar path after posting a .619 OPS in the season's first four months. Then, Happ finished exceptionally strong (.944 OPS over the final two months). Tendering him a contract now, especially with a lower payroll situation, seems like a no-brainer.

Contreras will be tendered a contract. The bigger question is whether the Cubs can find common ground with his side in extension talks. Contreras can hit the open market as a free agent after '22.

The three pitchers on Chicago's list will all be non-tender candidates. Holder missed most of the '21 season with a right shoulder issue. Brothers and Morgan each had mixed results in Chicago's bullpen.

Are there any 60-day injured list players left to reinstate?
The Cubs still have eight players on the 60-day IL who will need to be removed from the list by the fifth day after the World Series ends. The list includes Holder and Lobaton, as well as outfielder , catcher , infielder , first baseman , righty and lefty .

The departing free agents will free up some room on the 40-man roster for some within that group. From there, Chicago will need to make corresponding moves to tidy up the roster.

When do players need to be added to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft? When is that Draft this year?
The deadline to add players to the 40-man roster to keep them from Rule 5 eligibility is Nov. 19. The Rule 5 Draft is scheduled for Dec. 8, which would fall during the Winter Meetings.

Who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft? And what does the process involve?
Players first signed at age 18 or younger must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons.

Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the MLB roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.

For this year, that means an international or high school Draft pick signed in 2017 -- assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 5 of that year -- had to be protected. A college player taken in the 2018 Draft was in the same position.

Are there any notable players the Cubs need to protect from the Rule 5 Draft?
Looking at the Cubs' Top 30 prospects list, right-hander Riley Thompson (No. 28) and outfielder Nelson Velazquez (No. 29) are both exposed to Rule 5 selection right now. Some other names to watch include righties , Ethan Roberts and Cam Sanders, and lefty .

What are the Cubs' main needs this offseason?
Rotation help is atop Chicago's to-do list, and the club made an immediate move by claiming left-hander off waivers from the Reds. With Hendricks at the top and occupying another spot, younger arms like , and will also be candidates for jobs.

Looking at the position-player side, the Cubs will be in the market for a shortstop. That could mean someone to take over as the full-timer, or a versatile middle infielder who can help split duties with at short and Madrigal at second.

From there, the Cubs will have a need for outfield depth (especially some versus-lefties options), a backup catcher capable of easing Contreras' workload and bullpen help (likely some cost-effective veterans to lengthen out the long list of internal options).

Will the Cubs be active in free agency?
Hoyer has emphasized that the team plans to be active on the open market. What is less clear is whether the North Siders, even with payroll flexibility, will emerge as players at the top of the free-agent class.

Since the end of the season, Hoyer has reiterated that the Cubs' roster is not in a similar spot as it was going into the '15-17 seasons, when the team was aggressive in free agency. At the moment, there are holes to fill, but the team is not one big piece away from contention.

Cubs ownership has indicated that resources are available. Hoyer has noted that he plans to take an "intelligent" approach to spending this offseason.

What is the Cubs' current payroll situation?
The Cubs have $38.51 million in guaranteed salary on the books for 2022 between the contracts for Heyward, Hendricks and Bote. Depending on how Chicago handles its arbitration class, the payroll could project to between $60 million and $80 million before any external additions. That gives the Cubs ample room to head into free agency to fill some of their needs.

Whom might the Cubs be willing to trade?
If the past year is any indication, perhaps Cubs fans should brace themselves for anything. Last December, Hoyer dropped jaws with the Yu Darvish trade with San Diego. At this season's Deadline, Hoyer said, "There was no reason to go halfway," in the wake of dealing away Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Craig Kimbrel.

If the Cubs reach a point where an extension with Contreras does not seem realistic, the team could explore the market for him this offseason. Heyward's contract, if moved, could provide even more payroll and roster flexibility. Bote's role looks increasingly unclear, so he would be a candidate to be moved, too.

Hoyer has emphasized that he does not want to take on a lengthy rebuild process, but acquiring prospects and creating payroll room has been a clear priority. In the process, the Cubs' front office has stripped things down to a point where the team can move forward in a number of different ways.

What are some other important dates on MLB's offseason calendar?
The GM Meetings are slated to take place from Nov. 8-11 in Carlsbad, Calif. That will be the first chance for Chicago's retooled front office -- now with new GM Carter Hawkins installed and a new assistant GM added in Ehsan Bokhari -- to get to work with others around the industry.

After the Rule 5 Draft protection date on Nov. 19, the tender deadline (the date on which teams offer a 2022 contract to arbitration-eligible players) will fall on Dec. 2.

That tender deadline is expected to stay as planned, even with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire on Dec. 1. The results of the CBA negotiations will lay the groundwork for the rest of the offseason, leading up to the 2022 campaign.