What the Non-Tender Deadline will Reveal about the Cubs

Tonight’s 7pm (CST) deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players has taken on a significance not seen in previous seasons. With the 60-game, fan-less season MLB endured in 2020, the lack of revenue generated (combined with an uncertain 2021 outlook) will undoubtedly create a surplus of non-tendered players. Non-tenders were already historically on the rise to boot, making today one of fearful anticipation for players.

We’ve already seen the ramifications of such financial restrictions ahead of tonight’s deadline. Talented lefty reliever Brad Hand was infamously DFA’d by Cleveland to save $10 million, and somehow cleared waivers. Eddie Rosario was outrighted by Minnesota last night ahead of the tender deadline; Jose Ureña was DFA’d by Miami as a consequence of trading for Adam Cimber (which, notably, was a trade Celveland made for cash considerations.)

We might see more movement of this ilk today, teams attempting last minute trades rather than straight-up releasing players into free agency. We will also see an influx of ‘pre-tender deals’, in which a club grants a player a guaranteed contract for 2021 — at a value below their arbitration estimate. Such deals save clubs money while providing players with something they have little of this offseason: security.

The non-tender deadline will be especially telling for the Cubs. It’s hardly a secret they won’t be spending much money this offseason, but it is unknown the severity to which the Ricketts will suppress the budget. Today’s deadline will reveal just how little money Hoyer and Co. have to operate with, while also providing a glimpse into Hoyer’s leadership chops — and plans for the rest of the offseason.

Will a Big Name be Non-Tendered?

Earlier this week national columnists suggested Kris Bryant would indeed be tendered a contract. What should be the obvious has developed into a mystery, which is an indictment on the organization — particularly since Jed Hoyer declined to comment on KB’s status just last week.

While a Bryant non-tender would be destabilizing, it’s likely Cubs fans won’t have to unpack what would be a mind-blowing roster move. The same cannot be said of Kyle Schwarber, however:

While Almora will almost certainly be non-tendered (despite his rather low arbitration projection), the idea the Cubs might cut ties with Schwarbs to save $7+ million is gut wrenching. Personally, I’ve never been a Schwarber ‘guy’, but I’ve always recognized his contributions to the team and can’t help but be tempted by the potential of his bat. Yet despite a sturdy career wRC+ of 113, his inconsistencies have been maddening, and as I stated on the most recent episode of the Northside Show, Schwarber is in many ways the defining symbol of the nostalgia of 2016.

The aforementioned DFA of Eddie Rosario is particularly foreboding for Schwarber. Rosario put up a wRC+ of 110 (to Schwarber’s 90) last season, and is another left-handed power hitter with tolerable defense in left. If the Twins weren’t willing to pay him $8-$10 million, and couldn’t find a trade partner for him, it’s highly unlikely the Cubs find a trade partner today for Schwarber.

Just a few days ago I argued that today would be a quiet day for the Cubs — meaning that nothing surprising or damning would occur. The Schwarber rumors have upended my assumptions, and have turned what should be a routine day into a nail-biter.

If Schwarber is non-tendered today it’ll be a terrible precursor to the team’s offseason.

Non-Tender Eligible Players with Salary Projections

As a quick primer, here is the (rather lengthy) list of players the Cubs have to make a decision on today, with their low-end projected salaries from MLB Trade Rumors:

Of this list, I envision Almora, Martinez, Rea, and Winkler as the likeliest to be non-tendered. Because the Cubs 40-man currently sits at 37 players, and given the fluid nature of right-handed relievers, it doesn’t seem necessary to bring back the likes of Winkler or Rea — but as Brett Taylor points out, they could very well be pre-tender candidates as today unfolds.

Today’s Roster Decisions Will Reveal 2021’s Outlook

I hate to think that a previously routine deadline has taken on such importance, yet here we are. The drama building up over the Cubs will they or won’t they regarding Schwarber, the oddly cryptic nature in handling KB, and the general fear of a spending freeze makes this offseason compelling — in an impossibly negative fashion.

I’d like to believe the Cubs tender the obvious, cut ties with three to six fringe players, and immediately begin scouring the influx of newly minted free agents to add as ancillary pieces to 2021’s roster.

Instead, I’m left fearful of draconian non-tenders that represent a bitter winter awaits Wrigleyville and its faithful.


Featured Photo: Joe Camporeale, USA TODAY Sports
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs


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