An annual offseason task for teams is to find a way to avoid an arbitration hearing with any players eligible for that process. The Cubs have established a strong reputation for accomplishing that goal each winter, and Friday was no exception as the deadline to exchange proposed salary figures came
An annual offseason task for teams is to find a way to avoid an arbitration hearing with any players eligible for that process. The Cubs have established a strong reputation for accomplishing that goal each winter, and Friday was no exception as the deadline to exchange proposed salary figures came and went.
The new one-year deals given to National League MVP runner-up Javier Baez ($5.2 million) and slugger Kristopher Bryant ($12.9 million) were the headline grabbers. The contract given to shortstop Addison Russell will be the one that gets placed under the public microscope. All together, Chicago sidestepped any arbitration hearings by getting all seven of its eligible players to sign on the dotted line.
Starter Kyle Hendricks netted a $7.405 million deal for 2019, while pitchers Mike Montgomery ($2.44 million) and C.J. Edwards ($1.5 million) also agreed to one-year pacts. Left fielder Kyle Schwarber picked up a $3.39 million salary for the upcoming campaign. Baez, Edwards, Montgomery and Schwarber were going through the arbitration process for the first time.
Under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who joined Chicago's front office prior to the 2012 season, the Cubs have gone to an arbitration hearing only once, when the team prevailed last winter in Justin Grimm's case. The Cubs typically take a file-and-trial approach, meaning no deal by Friday's deadline would result in an arbitration panel settling any unresolved cases.
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Russell's contract had the most layers, considering that the shortstop will open the season on the restricted list while finishing a 40-game suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Russell earned $3.2 million last season and will have a base salary of $3.4 million in '19, but he will not be eligible for pay over the season's first month.
In reality, Russell's pro-rated contract -- one that is non-guaranteed until the start of the regular season -- is worth roughly $2.8 million. According to multiple reports, however, the shortstop can earn up to $600,000 in bonuses based on time on the active MLB roster. There will be four potential payments of $100,000 each for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days and 120 days, and a final bonus of $200,000 if Russell reaches 150 active days.
Russell will not be eligible to play for the Cubs until May 3, so Baez will handle shortstop to start the season. Chicago has a few options (Benjamin Zobrist, Daniel Descalso and David Bote) for second base during that time period. When Russell returns in May as planned, Baez would then slide back to second.
Off-the-field issues aside, Russell hit .250/.317/.340 with five homers, 38 RBIs and 13 Defensive Runs Saved at short (1,003 2/3 innings) last year for the Cubs. He dealt with some minor injuries and hit at a .201 clip with a .508 OPS from July 1 through the end of the season. Russell was put on administrative leave and began serving his suspension on Sept. 21.
The 26-year-old Baez hit .290 with 34 homers, 40 doubles, nine triples and an NL-high 111 RBIs last season, when he placed second in MVP voting to Milwaukee's Christian Yelich. Baez also stole 21 bases, scored 101 runs, posted an .881 OPS and picked up a Silver Slugger Award for his work.
Last offseason, Bryant set a first-year arbitration record with a $10.85 million deal with the Cubs, but the former NL Rookie of the Year and MVP struggled with left shoulder issues throughout '18. Over 102 games, Bryant hit .272 with 13 home runs, 52 RBIs and an .834 OPS around a pair of stints on the disabled list. The Cubs are expecting a healthy Bryant for the upcoming campaign, and every report on the third baseman this offseason has been positive.
Hendricks' reported salary -- in his second year of arbitration -- is a raise from the $4.175 million he earned last season. In five seasons with the Cubs, the 29-year-old is 52-33 with a 3.07 ERA in 133 games, finishing third for the NL Cy Young Award in 2016. The right-hander went 14-11 with a 3.44 ERA in a team-leading 199 innings during 2018.
Schwarber hit .238 with 26 home runs, 61 RBIs and an .823 OPS in 137 games last season. The 115 wRC+ posted by the left fielder last season indicates that he was 15 percent above MLB average as an offensive performer. Over the past two years, the 25-year-old has belted 56 homers across 266 games.
Montgomery posted a 3.99 ERA in 38 games, including 19 starts, last season. The lefty appears ticketed for the bullpen, given that the Cubs have five starters locked into place (assuming Yu Darvish is healthy and ready in time for Opening Day in his return from right elbow surgery in September).
Edwards turned in a 2.60 ERA in 58 games in 2018 and has a 2.81 ERA with 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 131 games across the past two seasons. The righty projects to be a part of the Cubs' bullpen, which remains an area of focus for the club as it searches for roster reinforcements this offseason.
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, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.