Congratulations To Boston and Their Fans
First of all, a tip of the baseball cap to the 2018 Boston Red Sox on their World Series Championship. This was a juggernaut club with a valid argument to be considered among the greatest in baseball history. Few clubs achieve a 108-win season, and even among those that do, they don't always go on to win it all.
They've raised the bar. Now it is up to the Cubs to scale over it.
Key Offseason Dates
MLB Trade Rumors has a full list of the important dates you can check out here, but I will highlight a few that are most relevant to the Cubs this season:
Oct. 29-Nov. 2nd: Exclusive negotiating window with pending unrestricted free agents.
Nov. 3rd: Free agent signing period begins.
Nov. 6-8th: General Managers’ meetings.
Nov. 20th: Deadline to set 40-man rosters in advance of the Rule 5 Draft.
Nov. 30th: Deadline to tender contracts.
Dec. 9-13th: Winter Meetings.
Dec. 13th: Rule 5 Draft.
Jan. 11th: Arbitration filing deadline.
Current 40-Man Roster
The Cubs six unrestricted free agents are officially off the 40-man roster as of today, temporarily putting the Cubs roster number at 34, Addison Russell and Oscar de la Cruz do not count toward the total as both are on the restricted list until after the 2019 season opens so the Cubs will not need to factor them during the entire offseason but will need to free up space as soon as their suspensions end. The team also has until 5 PM EST on Friday to re-instate the five players who finished the year on the 60-Day Disabled List (Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Drew Smyly, Justin Hancock, Mark Zagunis) which essentially sets the Cubs roster at 39.
AZ Phil brought up the possibility of both Terrance Gore and Justin Hancock being activated, but then not tendered a 2019 contract by the Friday deadline in order to free up a 40-man slot until after the Rule 5 Draft passes, and then re-signing them to a Minor League deals (for MLB money) in December. This seems like a plausible scenario to me. Hancock has a Major League arm, but the Cubs have tons of competition in Iowa with similar upside right handed relievers and it seems unlikely Hancock would be near the top of the list for any potential openings in Chicago. The club can only afford to keep a certain number of RHRPs on the 40-man without causing roster shortages elsewhere. The front office obviously values players with Gore's skillset, but have shown no willingness to carry them on the 40-man roster until the 2nd half of the season. If Gore is willing, my guess is the Cubs have him chill in Des Moines for a few months and then bring him up for the stretch drive once again.
Taylor Davis and Mike Freeman were good soldiers for the Cubs for the second straight September, but they will most certainly be outrighted this week in order to free up two additional roster spots. Assuming Gore and Hancock are both removed as well, this would set the roster at 35.
As for additions to the roster from the Minor Leagues, two young arms are near locks as both Justin Steele and Trevor Clifton rank among the Cubs Top 20 prospects and both must be protected from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason. With the lefthanded relief roles in the Chicago pen in flux, I believe the Cubs will also add veteran Kyle Ryan, who is coming off a great rebound season in Iowa. The former Tigers reliever is still just 26, and is very likely to be chosen in the draft if he is not added to the roster.
The Cubs have a trio of young catchers eligible for the Rule 5 draft. They sent two (P.J. Higgins and Jhonny Pereda) to the Arizona Fall League this season, while Ian Rice spent his 2018 fall there as well. Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini are the only two catchers currently on the 40-man roster, so the club may chose to add one of the three in order to protect their upper level depth at the position. Pereda possesses the highest upside among them, but is also the furthest away from contributing. Higgins is the most polished receiver, while Rice has rounded into a nice offensive option. The club's decision may ultimately come down to whether they plan to pursue a veteran receiver to replace Caratini on the big league roster.
Other players on the fringe that the Cubs could try to sneak through waivers at some point include Jen-Ho Tseng, Allen Webster and Mark Zagunis. Brian Duensing is under contract for one more season, but after his 2018 struggles it is possible the Cubs choose to simply release him and eat his $3.5M salary for 2019 should the need for the roster spot develop.
Projected Arbitration Figures and Potential Non-Tenders
The Cubs have a number of key players eligible for arbitration this season, including Kris Bryant (~$12.5M), Kyle Hendricks (~$7.5M), Javier Baez (~$7M), Mike Montgomery (~$3.0M), Kyle Schwarber (~$3.0M), Tommy La Stella (~$1.2M), and Addison Russell (~$4.3M). C.J. Edwards (~$1.4M) has also been added to that list as he qualified for Super-2 status. All of these players are in their first or second season of arbitration so none of the salary figures are expected to outpace the player's usefulness, and none are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2019 season.
The only potential non-tender candidate I see is Addison Russell, but that would of course be due to non-baseball related issues. This is actually my preferred course of action regarding Russell. However, I freely admit I am not able to remove my own personal feelings from the equation. I want him gone. I don't care about any potential trade return. And my only feeling regarding the timing is the sooner the better.
I understand this is not a popular opinion, nor the Cubs likely course of action. I for one would like my team to be out in front of the curve instead of being dragged along by it. Set a precedent for conduct and move on.
Player/Team Options and Opt-Outs
Jose Quintana ($10.5M) and Pedro Strop ($6.25M) have affordable team options that the Cubs will surely pick up. The team undoubtedly wants Cole Hamels ($20M) back in the fold as well, but with his option a bit pricey and Texas on the hook to pay his $6M buyout, it is possible the team will actually decline his 2019 option, then look to work out a less expensive deal, perhaps even a multi-year pact (or at least one with option years beyond 2019).
The $10M team option on Brandon Kintzler is going to be an easy "NO" for the Cubs, but the righty also has a $5M player option built into his deal. Taking his second half struggles into consideration, it appears the 33-year old would be wise to exercise the option, but it could prove an interesting conversation with his agent if they believe they can wrangle a multi-year pact out of the free agent market.
At this point it would seem there is little chance of Jason Heyward opting out of the final four years (and $90M+) of his contract. His deadline to do so is Oct. 31, but that does not ensure his return in 2019. His full no-trade clause scales back to a partial no-trade, opening up a window of opportunity this offseason (and next) for the Cubs to make a move before Heyward's 10-and-5 rights kick in, if they wish to do so. Heyward will also have another opt-out next offseason if he reaches 550 PAs.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Six players are set to become unrestricted free agents on November 3rd, including four key members of the playoff bullpen (Jesse Chavez, Jorge de la Rosa, Jaime Garcia, Justin Wilson). The two position players scheduled to hit the market are Daniel Murphy and catcher Bobby Wilson. Chavez has expressed a burning desire to return to the club and with the way he pitched after his acquisition from Texas it seems likely the two sides will be able to come to an agreement, perhaps even before free agency kicks off on Saturday. Clubs have exclusive negotiating rights with their pending UFAs until 5 PM on the 3rd.
The other five players are long shots to return in my eye, although I could see a scenario where de la Rosa, Garcia or Bobby Wilson could sign a Minor League deal with a non-roster invite to spring training depending on how the market develops over the winter. Justin Wilson and Daniel Murphy should have no issue finding Major League deals this offseason and I cannot see the Cubs ending up the highest bidder for either, and they may simply decide to move on from both without making an offer at all. For it to work out both players would likely need to take less than market value in order to return.
As for who the Cubs may pursue? Check out the full list of available players here. I bet you can name a couple off the top of your head though.
Minor League Free Agents and Rule 5 Draft
I was going to go through this more in depth, but I already touched on the Rule 5 draft a bit, and this article is already getting a little long. I am sure you all know already AZ Phil always has a pretty good handle on this already. His breakdown aligns close enough to my own that I feel comfortable just providing a link.
If you have any questions on particular players or decisions just let me know in the comments and I'll be sure to follow up with you.