When reviewing the list of arbitration-eligible players on the Cubs’ roster a little while back, we figured there might be as many as three players who would not be tendered contracts for 2024. Now that they’ve filled the 40-man by adding three young pitchers, however, the estimated number of non-tenders may have doubled. Nick Burdi was already outrighted off the roster, but we’re still probably looking at five or six cuts.
Patrick Wisdom is the most notable of that group because he’s made the biggest contribution and has the most recognizable value as a cheap power hitter. His projected salary of just $2.6 million next season should be more than palatable for a team that has repeatedly talked about needing more pop, but this is a situation in which the roster spot itself might be more valuable.
Codi Heuer is the other member of the arb-eligible group who appears likely to be removed from the roster. His tough-luck story began with elbow reconstruction and continued with a fractured elbow suffered during his rehab at Triple-A Iowa. The righty had looked like a legit reliever after coming over in a trade from the White Sox, he just falls into that tweener category and the Cubs need a little more security in an area that’s already rife for upheaval.
Despite his overall strong performance out of the bullpen, Mark Leiter Jr. is another candidate to be non-tendered. He served as the de facto lefty specialist for a team that was apparently allergic to southpaws, though he was left exposed by the disappearance of his splitter late in the season.
The Cubs also figure to clear a few spots by non-tendering several players who aren’t yet arb-eligible. That group could very well include some combination of Michael Rucker, Ethan Roberts, Brandon Hughes, and Caleb Kilian. Some believe Brennen Davis could even find himself cut loose after a precipitous fall from being ranked as the organization’s top prospect not all that long ago.
Back issues have sidelined Davis for most of the last two seasons, leading to sporadic play and struggles to find any sort of rhythm at the plate. He’s still barely 24 years old, so the good news is that there’s time to figure things out even if it’s not with the Cubs.
As for the group of pitchers noted above, the primary factor is again limited or poor performance due to injury. Roberts authored a tremendous Cinderella story by breaking camp with the big club in 2022, but he later went back to Iowa to figure some things out and ended up needing elbow reconstruction after just one-third of an inning. Even though his rehab seemed to be going well, the team just added those three arms and will be seeking more in free agency.
Kilian was supposed to have been the crown jewel of the Kris Bryant trade, and he looked the part during a dominant performance in the Arizona Fall League after the 2021 regular season. But he’ll turn 27 next June and the impeccable control he displayed in the Giants organization has all but disappeared since coming over to the Cubs. His velocity has ticked up and there seem to be some chicken-and-egg complications between his mechanics and harnessing his stuff, some of which may have been exacerbated by a knee issue.
Speaking of which, Hughes couldn’t stay on the mound last season due to a recurring left knee problem that eventually required a debridement procedure. Originally drafted as an outfielder out of Michigan State, the lefty rose quickly through the system following his conversion to the mound. You’d think a team so desperate for lefties would want to hang onto them, so I don’t think they’ll part with Hughes just yet.
Rucker has put in a ton of mileage on the Iowa shuttle over the last three years and he’s heading into his age-30 season with a career 4.96 ERA over 123.1 innings. He’s posted pedestrian strikeout and walk numbers at the big league level and may have simply run out of time as sort of an understudy.
It’s possible the Cubs could find a way to work something out with some of all of the players they non-tender, but we’re talking about minor league deals without any guarantee. The hard truth of the matter is that those roster spots are incredibly valuable as the real action of the offseason approaches. We’ll know by Friday afternoon which direction the Cubs choose to take.