Tender Moments: Cubs, Others Face Decisions as Deadline Looms

It’s not nearly as sexy as the pursuit of Jon Lester, but tonight’s midnight deadline for MLB teams tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players will have a significant impact on baseball’s landscape.

As of 11:59 EST, teams must decide whether or not to tender contracts to those players who are eligible for arbitration but have not yet reached free agency. Typically, players who are in the first or second year of arbitration eligibility still have a great deal of value relative to their cost. But as the years of eligibility roll on and the stakes go up, that value can start to get a little dicey.

The Cubs are in a relatively enviable position, in that they don’t have too many difficult decisions to make prior to Wednesday. However, there may be some strategic choices in the offing, particularly when it comes to the pitching staff.

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

  • John Baker, C (5.141): $1.1MM projected salary
  • Wesley Wright, RP (5.105): $2MM
  • Chris Coghlan, LF (4.148): $1.4MM
  • Luis Valbuena, 3B (4.148): $3.1MM
  • Justin Ruggiano, RF (4.019): $2.5MM
  • Travis Wood, SP (4.004): $5.5MM
  • Pedro Strop, RP (3.156): $2.4MM
  • Jake Arrieta, SP (3.145): $4.1MM
  • Felix Doubront, SP (3.120): $1.3MM
  • Welington Castillo, C (3.009): $2.1MM

Full article at MLBTradeRumors.com

When I had touched on this topic a couple weeks back, I had speculated that signing Lester might have made Travis Wood the odd man out of a rotation that already boasted Jake Arrieta, another arb candidate primed for a nice raise. Even without Lester, Wood is far from a token lefty; the Cubs picked up the $5MM option on lefty Tsuyoshi Wada and have the much less-expensive Felix Doubront as another option.

If the market’s biggest ace had already signed with Chicago, I’d feel pretty good about my prediction that Travis would be non-tendered. However, with little clarity emerging from the swirling reports as to Jon Lester’s future home, it’s becoming more likely that the Cubs will hold on to their hirsute hurler.

One quick look at the 10 Cubs players eligible for arbitration shows us that Wood is projected to be the highest-paid of the group, and by a fairly wide margin at that. Given his recent performance, that might seem like an unwise investment, but without the assurance of Lester’s presence at the top of the rotation it is a gamble the Cubs are probably going to have to take.

And given the rules surrounding arbitration, it’s possible for the team to cut a player prior to the start of the 2015, thereby avoiding a majority of his salary for that season. While such a move could incite the wrath of the MLPBA, it could also be a way for the Cubs to secure their staff in the event that Lester signs elsewhere.

So assuming they do end up giving Travis Wood a raise, what happens if the Cubs then break the bank for their new ace? I suppose they could always just swing by a Mesa-area Goodwill during Spring Training and drop off their expendable arm, writing off the nominal amount they’d have paid him as the cost of doing business.

If that sounds callous, just look at what happened with Rick Renteria when Joe Maddon became available. Like Wood, Renteria was a passable option but was old news as soon as a clearly-superior replacement was available.

Likewise, John Baker is a good candidate to be non-tendered. Baker was a great guy to have on the roster, but as the Cubs look to shore up the position — Yasmani Grandal’s name is the latest to pop up in rumors — he’s clearly the odd man out.

The other 8 names on the list appear to be pretty sure bets to receive contract offers, but that’s not the end of the conversation. The Cubs might be willing to spend a little more money for some top-end guys, but that doesn’t mean they’re beneath a little dumpster-diving. Or perhaps bargain-hunting is a better euphemism.

Where one team sees a guy who’s no longer worth his ever-increasing salary, another might envision the missing piece to a title. A player pushed out of his natural position by a younger, cheaper alternative might be just the super-sub a rebuilding team wants to add; think Emilio Bonifacio last year.

Regardless of how active the Cubs are in the wake of tonight’s deadline, the fallout of various teams’ decisions should be enough to keep the flames in the hot stove going for quite some time.

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