The Cubs reached agreements with all six arbitration-eligible players on Friday, the deadline for players and teams to exchange initial figures. While it wouldn’t be notable under normal circumstances due to the front office’s track record of avoiding arbitration, there was at least a little concern for a file-and-trial strategy in light of the Cubs’ austerity. Any worry was all for naught, as agreements were reached on $42.66 million in guaranteed deals.
That includes $18.6 million for Kris Bryant, $10 million for Javy Báez, $7.01 million for Kyle Schwarber, $4.5 million for Willson Contreras, $1.575 million for Albert Almora Jr., and $975,000 for Kyle Ryan. The first two of those exceeded projections by a combined $800,000, but the others fell under estimates by $1.4 million or so. Pitcher Jharel Cotton had previously agreed to a $645,000 deal, so the Cubs ended up roughly $1.3 million below the projections even if you include that figure.
I’d love to toot my horn by saying that my own estimates were only off by $490K, but I missed big-time on Bryant and Javy. Oh well, the moral of the story is that the team did take some baby steps toward saving some of those precious dollars. Because, you know, that’s the important thing.
Thinking about it in retrospect, it’s really not surprising at all that the Cubs avoided arbitration with such ease across the board. Only Schwarber and Almora were in positions of weakness when it came to the ability to successfully argue the merits of a disparity in their respective asks, with only Schwarber’s total carrying any real significance. Even as poorly as Almora performed last season, the Cubs feel he’s worth the nominal cost to carry as a depth outfielder.
That’s a big key to the arbitration process and it’s why the Cubs were probably more than happy to allow Justin Grimm to test the waters in 2018. Salaries awarded via arbitration are not fully guaranteed until Opening Day, so a player who takes a team to the table can be released during spring training for either a 30- or 45-day proration of his annual deal (depending on when he’s released). It’s unlikely the Cubs would look to do that with Almora, whether it’s because of an emotional attachment or the more pragmatic notion that saving $1.2 million isn’t really going to help the organization.
As to where they go from here, well, we really didn’t learn anything Friday. Other than offering the slightest bit of clarity to the potential trade values of Bryant, Contreras, and Schwarber, this was little more than a procedural exercise. A couple hundred thousand one way or the other isn’t changing anyone’s mind on these guys and Bryant’s service-time grievance is still undecided.
To that end, his salary agreement being the first one announced bears a little extra significance to anyone trying to read tea leaves. On one hand, it’s in the best interest of both sides because it’s one less thing to have hanging out there unknown. Some might even say it signifies Bryant’s lack of acrimony toward the Cubs, though anyone who thought there was any in the first place (there wasn’t) probably isn’t convinced.
Were it not for how unbelievably long the grievance has taken, it would be no different from the arbitration process. Well, except for its potential to shake the baseball establishment to its core. No one really believes Bryant will “win,” largely because the Cubs followed the letter of the rule and can cite injuries to Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella as catalysts for calling Bryant up when they did.
As an aside, I was having beers with that pair of former Cubs while watching Bryant patrol center as a rookie in the middle of a snow flurry in Pittsburgh. But I digress.
Agreeing quickly doesn’t mean that Bryant is any more or less likely to be traded than he was at any other point, only that his 2020 salary is set. Likewise, other players agreeing says nothing about their respective fates or the Cubs’ ultimate plans for the coming season. It does, however, mean that the financial picture has gotten clearer, though only to the extent that we’re no longer citing estimates for the six players in question.
So, uh, hooray for some actual news I guess. Now we can get back to our regularly scheduled rumor-mongering.