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Cubs' arb class linked to lack of extensions

@MLBastian
January 13, 2021

CHICAGO -- One of the underlying forces driving the current direction of the Cubs has been the lack of extensions for their core group. It is a situation that has necessitated a year-by-year approach that is now closing in on a finish line of sorts. Friday marks the deadline for

CHICAGO -- One of the underlying forces driving the current direction of the Cubs has been the lack of extensions for their core group. It is a situation that has necessitated a year-by-year approach that is now closing in on a finish line of sorts.

Friday marks the deadline for teams to exchange proposed salary figures with any remaining arbitration-eligible players. For the Cubs, that group is headlined by Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras, who continue a march toward free agency.

"There are certainly players that we have that we'd love to keep long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said last month. "There's no question about that. We just haven't -- with this group -- been able to get to that place where it made sense. I'm really proud of the offers we've made."

The current cast of still-unsigned arbitration-eligible players includes Báez, Bryant, and Contreras, along with Zach Davies and Ian Happ. If the sides do not strike a deal on a new contract before a scheduled arbitration hearing, then a three-person panel will hear arguments and decide on one of two salary options.

Báez and Bryant are on target to hit free agency next offseason, while Contreras could follow suit after the '22 campaign. Given Chicago's clear desire to cut payroll this winter, and Hoyer's clear message that he is keeping an eye toward the future, trade rumors and reports have circled Bryant and Contreras, specifically, this winter.

Most recently, Bryant's name has been linked to the Blue Jays, Mets and Dodgers to varying degrees, following earlier offseason chatter about the Nationals and Braves. Contreras has been the subject of rumors involving the Marlins and Angels, and might be Chicago's most valuable chip given his extra year of control.

In the wake of the blockbuster trade that sent ace Yu Darvish to the Padres (for Davies and four young prospects), Hoyer downplayed a report claiming that the Cubs were "extensively shopping" Contreras. Hoyer called it a "fictional" account. That said, Hoyer continued to note that his front office's collective ears are open.

"People have called about pretty much every player on our roster at some point this winter," Hoyer said. "Listen, we have really good players and I'm not in the business of talking about untouchables. I think that's a mistake."

When this offseason began, the Cubs' arbitration class featured a dozen players. Four (Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Ryan Tepera and José Martínez) were non-tendered, and another (Victor Caratini) was traded to the Padres with Darvish. One more, Colin Rea, signed a one-year pact, but was later released after opting to sign with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan.

The Cubs settled with relievers Kyle Ryan ($800,000 split contract for '21) and Dan Winkler ($900,000 deal for '21), and tendered contracts to Báez, Bryant, Contreras and Happ. Including Davies, the remaining unsigned players could command in the neighborhood of $45 million as a group.

The Darvish trade allowed the Cubs to free up $59 million of the remaining $62 million on his contract through 2023. Chicago will pay $3 million of the $23 million he is owed in '21. The Cubs also paid a $10 million buyout rather than picking up Jon Lester's $25 million option for '21. Together, that's $35 million off the books this year.

When the original arbitration projection costs are factored in, the Cubs have removed roughly $50 million from the original '21 payroll picture. And peering ahead to '22, there are only three guaranteed contracts (David Bote, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Heyward ) currently locked in.

Bote and Hendricks are two of the players the Cubs have been able to sign to long-term extensions in recent years. Bote agreed to a five-year, $15 million contract that extends through '24 and includes two more options after that. Hendricks signed a four-year, $55.5 million extension that runs through '23 with an option for '24.

Among the core group, Anthony Rizzo also signed an extension, but the sides struck that deal back in 2013. The coming campaign is the final option year included in that pact, making Rizzo another potential free agent next offseason.

An extension for either Rizzo or Báez might be the most realistic scenario at the moment. In Báez's case, he may also want to monitor how the Mets approach talks with newly-acquired Francisco Lindor -- another superstar shortstop poised to hit the open market next offseason.

Hoyer has said that his challenge is to not only try to remain competitive now, but to also build a bridge to a future Cubs core and keep the long-term picture in mind. Reaching this point was inevitable given the year-to-year approach the team and its core has taken.

"I think we've been incredibly aggressive with some of these guys," Hoyer said. "And they've made the decision that it wasn't enough and that they wanted to either wait for a better offer or to test free agency, and that's 100 percent their right. I begrudge those guys zero percent for making that decision.

"We all make life and career decisions based on personal information, so it's not in my place to begrudge them for not taking those offers. But, I also am proud of the ones we've made and I think we certainly didn't try to sign these guys at the bottom of the market or anything.

"We'll continue to try. But, the only deals we're going to do are deals we feel make sense for the long-term of the Cubs."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.