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'Real change' coming for Cubs this offseason

@MLBastian
October 3, 2019

CHICAGO -- When Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein called this a year of reckoning for his team, he meant that it was time to take a hard look at the organization from top to bottom. Now, following a disappointing season that ended without a postseason berth, Epstein said

CHICAGO -- When Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein called this a year of reckoning for his team, he meant that it was time to take a hard look at the organization from top to bottom. Now, following a disappointing season that ended without a postseason berth, Epstein said the time has come for actions to back up all the talk.

"You are likely to see change in this organization," Epstein said on Monday. "When you fall short of your goals and fail to perform at the biggest moments as dramatically as we did, it provides a real opportunity if you're willing to be honest with yourself and you're willing to take a hard look inside.

Five questions facing Cubs this offseason

"So, there will be an opportunity for change. We're not blowing anything up, per se. That's not the goal, but we're likely to see real change, real adjustments at various levels, most levels, of our baseball operation in some form or another."

With that in mind, here is a FAQ-style look at the Cubs' roster as the offseason begins:

Who are the Cubs' upcoming free agents?

Cole Hamels, Nicholas Castellanos, Ben Zobrist, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler, Jonathan Lucroy and Xavier Cedeño will all be eligible for free agency this winter.

Will any free agents get a qualifying offer?

Due to the midseason trade to the Cubs, Castellanos is not eligible for a qualifying offer. Chicago felt picking up Hamels' one-year, $20 million team option for 2019 was good value, so there is a chance he gets the one-year qualifying offer, which could be worth north of $18 million for 2020. No one else on the list fits the bill.

Which players have contract options for 2020?

Anthony Rizzo has a $14.5 million team option (or $2 million buyout). José Quintana has a $10.5 million team option (or $1 million buyout). Brandon Morrow has a $12 million option (or $3 million buyout). Derek Holland has a $7 million team option (or $500,000 buyout). Others with team options include David Phelps ($5 million), Tony Barnette ($3 million) and Kendall Graveman ($3 million).

Which options will be picked up by the Cubs?

Rizzo and Quintana are virtual locks to have their options exercised. The others seem likely to join the free-agent pool. That said, with so many relievers exiting via free agency, there's a chance the Cubs look at keeping Phelps. Graveman made his way back to a Minor League mound by the end of the year after Tommy John surgery, so his is an interesting case. He could be an intriguing depth piece.

When must teams decide on qualifying offers and options?

For both decisions, teams have until five days after the conclusion of the World Series. Players who receive a qualifying offer then have 10 days to accept or reject the one-year deal.

Where does the Cubs' 2020 player payroll currently stand?

There 2020 roster has eight contracts locked into place: Yu Darvish ($22 million), Jason Heyward ($21 million), Jon Lester ($20 million), Craig Kimbrel ($16 million), Tyler Chatwood ($13 million), Kyle Hendricks ($12 million), Daniel Descalso ($2.5 million) and David Bote ($950,000). That's $107.45 million in payroll, and that will likely climb to $132.45 million after picking up the options for Rizzo and Quintana. Other aspects could take the budget north of $140 million before arbitration costs are factored in.

Who will be eligible for arbitration?

The Cubs' arbitration class this winter will feature Kris Bryant (third time, $12.9 million in 2019), Javier Báez (second time, $5.2 million in '19), Addison Russell (third time, $4.3 million in '19), Kyle Schwarber (second time, $3.39 million in '19), Willson Contreras (first time) and Albert Almora Jr. (first time).

Are there any non-tender candidates? When is that decision made?

Russell looks like a prime candidate to be non-tendered. Off-field issues aside, Russell posted an 81 wRC+ (indicating he was 19 percent below league average as a hitter) and he took a step backwards defensively at both second and shortstop. It has the feel of a change-of-scenery situation. Almora is the only other borderline non-tender candidate from the arb-eligible players. Given that the contract value will not be exorbitant, though, it's probably more likely that he is a trade candidate.

Teams must decide on Dec. 2 whether to tender a contract to any unsigned players on the 40-man roster. Arbitration-eligible players still in the fold will then exchange proposed salary figures with their team by Jan. 10. If necessary, arbitration hearings typically take place in late January or early February.

When are the GM Meetings and Winter Meetings this year?

The GM Meetings will take place from Nov. 11-14 in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Winter Meetings will be held from Dec. 9-12 in San Diego.

When is the Rule 5 Draft, and are there any prospects of note in need of protection?

The Rule 5 Draft is held on the final day of the Winter Meetings, so it will be on Dec. 12 this year. Catching prospect Miguel Amaya (No. 2 on the Cubs' Top 30 list via MLB Pipeline) is the most notable prospect who will need to be added to the 40-man roster to be removed from the crop of Rule 5 eligibles. Some others include Tyson Miller, Zack Short, Dakota Mekkes, Trent Giambrone and P.J. Higgins. Teams must turn in 40-man rosters by Nov. 20 in preparation of the Rule 5 process.

What will the Cubs' priorities be this offseason in terms of acquisitions?

Adding a Major League starter and more rotation depth will be on the Cubs' list. Chicago will also be on the hunt for an experienced late-inning arm or two to have ahead of Kimbrel. Offensively, the Cubs have some positional flexibility that could allow them to cast a wider net, but second base and center field sit atop the list of areas to strengthen.

Epstein open to trade talk

How will Chicago go about addressing their needs?

Epstein stressed at the end of the season that the front office has to be "extremely open minded" about how to improve the roster for 2020 and beyond. The Cubs are likely to approach some of their core players about extensions, but if no deals can be struck, the team will likely explore what kind of trade offers exist for some of their stars. Depending on how the trade market plays out, the Cubs could then be aggressive in free agency. Gerrit Cole would sure look nice atop the rotation, and re-signing Castellanos will surely be something the Cubs explore.

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.