Gentlemen... Start Your Agents!
With the Phillies having polished-off the upstart Rays last night to claim the 2008 MLB World Series Championship, today marks the official beginning of the MLB off-season, and more specifically, the start of the Free-Agency Filing Period for players eligible to be free-agents under Article XX of the CBA.
The Cubs have eight players on their 40-man roster who are eligible to file:
C Henry Blanco ($3M 2009 club option or $300K buy-out)
RHSP Ryan Dempster
CF Jim Edmonds
RHRP Chad Fox
RHRP Bob Howry
RHSP Jon Lieber
1B-OF Daryle Ward
RHRP Kerry Wood
In addition, because he signed a multi-year contract while the previous CBA was in effect and because he had at least five years of MLB Service Time accrued when he was traded, Rich Harden is eligible to demand a trade during the Free-Agency Filing Period.
If Harden were to do that, he could designate up to six clubs to which he would not accept a trade, and then the Cubs would have until next March 15th to trade him.
If Harden does demand a trade and the Cubs do not trade him by 3-15-09, the right-hander could opt for free-agency and the Cubs would not receive any compensation for the loss.
At present, Harden is signed for 2008 and is scheduled to receive a salary of $7M. He is eligible to be a free-agent after the 2009 season. But if he demands a trade during the Free-Agency Filing Period and he does get traded prior to 3/15, his right to be an Article XX free-agent would automatically be deferred until after the 2011 season, although he would be eligible for salary-arbitration post-2009 and post-2010.
Of their eight potential Article XX free-agents, the Cubs will probably try and re-sign Dempster and Wood, and they will likely decline Blanco's $3M 2009 club option (and pay the $300K buy-out) before trying to re-sign him for a much smaller base salary (probably somewhere around $1.2M) with performance bonuses tied to playing time (in case Geovany Soto gets hurt and Blanco ends up catching more often than expected), but the other five are not likely to return.
As things stand right now (and very much subject to change), Edmonds will probably be replaced on the 25-man roster in 2009 by Felix Pie (who is out of minor league options), Howry will probably be replaced in the bullpen by either Michael Wuertz, Kevin Hart, or Angel Guzman, and Ward will likely be replaced on the bench by Micah Hoffpauir. (Fox and Lieber don't need to be replaced because they have no place on the team).
The Cubs will retain exclusive negotiating rights with their own free-agents until,the end of the 15-day Free-Agency Filing Period (November 13th will be the last day). although the other 29 clubs can contact the free-agents and discuss just about everything except money (they can talk about length of contract, a "no trade" clause, how the player will be used, the benefits of playing in a particular market, et al).
If the 15-day Free-Agency Filing Period passes without the player re-signing with the Cubs, the Cubs have until December 1st to decide whether to offer salary arbitration to the player.
If the Cubs do offer salary arbitration and the player signs with another club, the Cubs could receive one or two compensation draft picks in next June's Rule 4 (1st Year Player) Draft, depending on whether the player is ranked statistically as a Type "A" player (Cubs would get two draft picks) or a Type "B" player (Cubs would get one draft pick) or is not rated (Cubs would get no compensation). The statistical rankings are determined by the Elias Sports Bureau statistical service, and will be released sometime next month. .
If a Cubs free-agent is offered arbitration by the Cubs on 12/1, the player has until December 7th to decide whether to accept the offer. If the player does accept the offer of salary arbitration, the player is automatically placed back onto the Cubs 40-man roster and is considered a "signed player."
If the FA rejects the offer of salary arbitration, or if the Cubs decline to offer arbitration to the player, the player remains a free-agent and is free to sign with any club (including the Cubs).
Players who file for free-agency under Article XX are automatcically removed from their club's 40-man roster when they file, but are added back to their old club's Reserve List if they re-sign with their old club, or if they accept salary arbitration.
Also, a free-agent who signs a major league contract after the end of the Free-Agency Filing Period gets an automatic "no trade" right through June 15th of the following season (and that includes players who re-sign with their former club after the end of the Free-Agency Filing Period). The player can waive the "no trade" right, but even if he does, the player cannot be traded for cash or a player contract worth more than $50,000. .
With Carmen Pignatiello and Billy Petrick having been outrighted to the minors, and with Casey McGehee having been claimed off waivers by the Brewers, the Cubs Reserve List (40-man roster) presently stands at 37, but will be dropped down to 31 if and when the eight Cubs players eligible to be Article XX free-agents file (Fox and Lieber won;t clear spots on the 40 because they are still on the 60-day DL).
If the Cubs do in fact re-sign Dempster, Wood, and Blanco, that will still leave six slots open on the 40-man roster for minor league prospects the Cubs might wish to protect from the Rule 5 Draft (probably RHP Mitch Atkins, LHP Donald Veal, and 2B Nate Spears for sure, possibly RHP Justin Berg, and maybe LHP J. R. Mathes, too), and any free-agent(s) they might sign during the off-season.
If additional slots are needed during the off-season, the Cubs could outright a player or players off the 40-man roster to make room (although placing a player on Outright Waivers could result in the player being claimed by another club, as happened yesterday with Casey McGehee), or they could simply non-tender a player or players on 12/12 and then re-sign the non-tendered players(s) to a 2009 minor league contract (as long as the player is amenable to the arrangement), probably for the MLB minor league split contract minimum ($65,000) plus an NRI to Spring Training (the very same benefits the players would have received if he had remained on the 40-man roster).