Morning Cubs Roundup: 2021 Contract Outlook


The Cubs have reached a critical junction this offseason. Much has been written regarding four core players entering their final season before becoming eligible for free agency. The same goes for three fifths of the Cubs 2020 entering free agency this offseason. With eight players in total set to enter free agency, lets take a look at what a 26-man roster will look for 2021 using only internal candidates. Pre-arb (italics) and arbitration (bold and italic) salaries are only estimates, and the Cubs will obviously not enter next season without making additions and subtractions from this roster, but it does give us a baseline to examine:


A look at the big picture helps clarify how little payroll the Cubs have committed long term. Only four veterans (Darvish, Heyward, Hendricks and Bote) are signed to guaranteed deals into the 2022 and beyond. Add in a handful of players who will be in their arbitration windows (Contreras, Happ, Caratini, Mills) and another handful still in their pre-arb years (Alzolay, Hoerner) who figure to stick around moving forward and the Cubs are only looking at about half of 26-man roster they have under their control for 2022.

Turning attention back to 2021 though, the first thing which jumps out at me is the potential non-tender candidates. The most obvious is Albert Almora Jr. His arbitration number is likely to come in north of 2M, which is far too much for a player who has finished each of the last two years in the Minors. You can subtract him from above and add him to the list of free agents. A possible outcome here is the Cubs simply give the money projected for Almora to Cameron Maybin instead. He's coming off a 1.5M salary this season. If he would be willing to return on a similar deal the Cubs should strongly consider it.

Other potential non-tender candidates could include relievers Kyle Ryan, Ryan Tepera, and Dan Winkler. All three will likely see their salaries jump above 1M in arbitration. That figure is not egregious for any of them, but thinking in terms of roster flexibility none of those guys are late inning options at this point, and none of them can be optioned to the Minors next season. Does committing approximately 4-5M and three roster spots on middle relievers prudent? I'm on the fence, but I lean toward letting one of the two righties walk, and perhaps Ryan as well if the Cubs decide to re-sign Andrew Chafin or pursue an upgrade on the open market.

The final non-tender candidate would be Jose Martinez. As with the relievers, his estimated 3M salary is not bad if he recaptures his lefty mashing ways. He's a limited player though, as a short side platoon DH and PH. I think it is a longshot they would walk away given they dealt two prospects for him at the deadline, but if they find teams offering potential upgrades when discussing trades early this offseason, a non-tender could be under consideration in those circumstances.

For now, I don't want to dig too deep into potential trade and contract extension scenarios for the core players. There is going to be movement on that front one way or the other this offseason. At least one will be traded and at least one will sign. Potentially, I could even see two traded and two sign. Which ones or twos? I have my preferences, but without being privy to contract demands and how many teams are in the trade market for each player, I think spending too much time speculating is premature. We should have a clearer picture next month.

What I am more interested in at this point is if we hear about the team approaching Willson Contreras and Ian Happ with contract extensions. Now would be a logical time for the team to try to lock in both. Contreras matured as a defender this season and Happ matured at the plate. Given his athleticism Contreras is a good bet to hold up well behind the plate, even into his early-30s. Happ seems to be embracing a leadership role. With Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo potentially leaving soon, they should look at securing the captain-in-waiting long term. While neither figures to be "the guy" moving forward, they can be important pieces as the team reshapes the roster for the future.

Filed under: Morning Cubs Roundup


Leave a comment
  • fb_avatar

    Is there any guess of what the payroll looks like for next season? Let's assume Lester is bought out at $10M and we don't sign the others? Thanks.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    From the chart Michael provided, the players currently under contract (including estimated arbitration raises) for 2021 comes in around $180M. There's a high likelihood one or two of the core is dealt, which would further reduce commitments down to the $150M-$160M range, not including any salary brought back in those deals.

    The minimum threshold to incur penalties in regards to luxury taxes in 2021 is $210M. With that in mind, we will have somewhere between $30M-$50M to fill holes for next season and still remain under the threshold. That money goes quickly with modern salaries, but we honestly don't have many holes to fill to remain competitive. A #2/3 starter, possibly a pen arm in the $4M-$5M range, veteran depth in the rotation, and replacing whatever offensive pieces that may be dealt. I don't see money as a problem.

    This is a very complex topic given our unique transitional situation and the overall financial uncertainty in general. Much will depend on which direction we choose go. I'm working on some stuff and hope to publish in the next few days.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Michael, also factored in the buyouts into next seasons payroll. Cubs owe Lester & Descalso $11 million in actual dollars, but zero of it counts against next years cap.

    Lester signed a 6 year $155 million contract- $10 million of the $155 was the guaranteed buyout. It was already factored into the average annual contract value- for the competitive balance tax.

  • Michael, from what I heard Javy had the lowest OPS of all qualified players in MLB. How does he qualify for a 50% increase in your estimated 2021 salaries? Same question forBryant who played only 30+ games and was almost as bad as Javy.

  • In reply to stix:

    Arbitration considers a player's career accomplishments and player comparisons, not just previous season. My estimated above are compromises between what I expect the player's agents will ask for and what the lower number the club will submit. Teams usually try to avoid arbitration, not just because the arbiter needs to pick one number or the other (and teams don't want to risk the higher number) but they also don't like going to hearing because they essentially have to argue against one of their player's value. It can lead to hard feelings. With revenues down, teams may take harder lines and agents may need to accept them, so some of the salaries could come in lower. But as I said this is just an estimate of mine. I'm no expert on the arb process. There are usually pretty accurate arb estimates that come out after the season done by and other sources.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:


  • Michael, I’d be very curious to hear what your trade vs. extend preferences are, as it relates to the foursome heading into walk years?

    As dynamic as Javy is and has been, I have a hard time committing the $$ required to extend him, given the wild offensive inconsistency. Personally, as bad as KB looked this season, he still seems like best bet to return to 130-140 WRC+ status in next few seasons. A big part of calculus here is how they feel about Hoerner. If they feel like he’s reasonable replacement for Javy at SS, that makes choice a bit easier.

    Rizzo over Schwarber is a no-brainer, though I suspect Schwarber would yield very little in any trade. I’d think a reasonable 3-4 yr deal could be struck with Rizzo.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I'll be writing in depth looks at the scenarios for all of the core guys over the next couple of weeks.

  • Wow. Those anticipated salary numbers are startling. As it turns out, Darvish has a no trade clause. I feel like the only two players with any real trade value are Hendricks and to a lesser extent Contreras. I guess Happ, but he isn’t going to be traded. I hope I am wrong. If they spend no money and do no trades and “wait for the deadline” again, I will be disappointed.

  • In reply to cubs09:

    They won't wait this year. They can't expect to move multiple guys at the deadline, especially since just like this year, if they keep the core intact they will remain in playoff contention. At least one of the core will be dealt this offseason.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I think Schwarber and Rizzo will be pretty reasonably priced. I would look at Contreras and Baez next though a little more expensive. Bryant by far will have the most trade value. So I say move him.

    Get creative with Lester maybe 2-3 (or year by year) years with incentives. They will have to bring back Jeffress and Tepera or equivalents and at a 2-3 starter.

    On the offense I would try and sign Brantley (assuming the dh stays in the NL) and lemeihue put them at the top of the order (OB guys at a reasonable price?)

    With a lineup of Brantley, Lemeihue, rizzo, contreras, schwarber, baez, happ, bote or hoerner or kipnis, heyward I think they can be a little more consistant in run scoring.

  • A big consideration on which of the core will be traded in the off season will be who will agree to a home town extension. In other words, which of the core wants to play here, if any. Second big consideration, what Is the return? Bryant seems to be the most likely to go.

  • Good morning Denizens! It's been kind of nice not having to cheer for the 2020 Cubs to get a hit or two in the post season. I took a break on the first round, but started watching again after. What else could I do during a pandemic?

    I know the Astros cheated their way to a World Series two years ago and were unrepentant and mostly unpentalized, but I guess I'm moving on, because I can't help pulling for old 'war horse' Dusty Baker finally leading his team to a World Championship. He has come close more than once and we all remember 2003. This would be the perfect year for the Dust (he is 71) to get his due. He has earned it for all he has contributed overall to baseball.

Leave a comment