The World Series is over, so the MLB off-season has begun.
Cubs Article XX-B MLB free-agents RHP Jesse Chavez, LHP Jorge de la Rosa, LHP Jaime Garcia, INF Daniel Murphy, C Bobby Wilson, and LHP Justin Wilson were automatically removed from the Cubs MLB Reserve List at 9 AM (Eastern) today, so the 40-man roster now stands at 34 (six slots are open).
There are five other players on the 40 with various types of 2019 contract options who could become Article XX-B free-agents in the coming days (no later than Friday, although many contract option deadlines are prior to Friday), including LHP Cole Hamels (club option), OF Jason Heyward (player opt-out option), RHP Brandon Kintzler (club option, or a player option if club option is declined), LHP Jose Quintana (club option), and RHP Pedro Strop (club option), although only Hamels is likely to actually become a FA.
The Cubs will retain exclusive negotiating rights to their MLB free-agents until 5 PM (Eastern) on Friday, at which point the players will be free to sign a 2019 major league or minor league contract with any MLB club (including potentially re-signing with the Cubs). 5 PM Eastern on Friday is also the deadline for MLB clubs to extend a Qualifying Offer ($17.9M one-year guaranteed contract) to an Article XX-B FA who spent the entire previous season in the organization, but none of the four Cubs who are eligible to receive a QO post-2018 (Heyward, Quintana, Strop, and J. Wilson) are likely to receive one (and it's unlikely that Heyward, Quintana, and Strop will even make it to free-agency, Heyward because no way he opts-out of his contract, and Quintana and Strop because the Cubs will almost certainly exercise their club options to retain both).
Also, I would expect at least two or maybe three players who aren't free-agents to be outrighted off the 40 (if not claimed off waivers by another club) by Friday, most likely INF Mike Freeman and C-1B Taylor Davis and possibly RHP Allen Webster. I think the Cubs will probably non-tender OF Terrance Gore and RHP Justin Hancock on 11/30 and then wait two weeks and try and sign both of them to 2019 minor league contracts (for "40-man roster money" and an NRI to Spring Training) after the Rule 5 Draft so that they can be removed from the 40 without having to pass through waivers and without being subject to selection in the Rule 5 Draft. Of course in order for that to happen, the player has to agree to the arrangement in advance (and the player could simply decline).
Friday at 5 PM (Eastern) is the deadline to activate players from the MLB 60-day DL (in the case of the Cubs, that would be RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Justin Hancock, RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Drew Smyly, and OF Mark Zagunis), and it is also the deadline to either add a player who is eligible to be a Rule 55 minor league FA to the 40-man roster or sign the player to a 2019 minor league successor contract (otherwise the player will be declared a free-agent). Among Cubs minor leaguers who are eligible to be a minor league free-agent, the one most-likely to get added to the 40 by the Friday deadline is LHP Kyle Ryan.
Then Tuesday November 20th is the deadline to add minor league players to the MLB 40-man roster in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft (which takes place this year on December 13th), and Friday November 30th (moved-up from December 2nd because 12/2 falls on a Sunday) is the date MLB contracts are tendered to unsigned players on the 40-man roster. (An unsigned player not tendered a 2019 contract on 11/30 becomes an unrestricted free-agent, free to sign a major league or minor league contract with any club including the player's former club). As I mentioned previously, non-tendering a player on 11/30 and then re-signing him to a minor league contract would allow the Cubs to remove the player from the 40-man roster without having to risk losing the player off waivers. Also, non-tendering a player and then re-signing him to a major league contract is a way to cut a player's salary more than the maximum-allowable 20%.
In addition, signing a salary arbitration-eligible player prior to the tender deadline (or non-tendering the player if the club and the player cannot agree on a contract) is a way for a club to avoid the possibility of having to go to salary arbitration with the player.
An unsigned player under club control who has accrued at least three but less than six years of MLB Service Time is automatically eligible for salary arbitration.
Also, any unsigned player with at least two years but less than three years of MLB Service Time who accrued at least 86 days of MLB Service Time during the previous season can qualify for salary arbitration as a so-called "Super Two" if the player is among the top 22% in MLB Service Time of players in that group.
NOTE: The "Super Two" cut-off for 2019 (post-2018) is 2+134 MLB Service Time.
CUBS SALARY ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE PLAYERS POST-2018: (last updated 10-25-2018)
Javier Baez, INF
Kris Bryant, INF
Carl Edwards Jr, RHP ("Super Two")
Kyle Hendricks, RHP
Tommy LaStella, INF
Mike Montgomery, LHP
Addison Russell, INF
Kyle Schwarber, OF
If a club and a player eligible for salary arbitration cannot agree on a contract, the player can request the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to file for salary arbitration. The MLBPA is responsible for delivering all requests for salary arbitration to the MLB Labor Relations Department (MLB LRD) on the Tuesday immediately prior to the Friday that falls during the week January 10-16. Once salary arbitration has been requested, the player submits his desired salary to the MLBPA, the club submits its salary offer to the MLB LRD, and the MLBPA and MLB LRD exchange the two figures on the Friday that falls during the week January 10-16. The MLBPA and MLB LRD then schedule a hearing with a three-person arbitration panel. Hearings are held on various dates during the first three weeks of February.
The club's offer must be at least the MLB minimum salary, and, in most cases, must be at least 80% of the player's previous year's salary and at least 70% of the player's salary from two seasons back. However, if the player received a raise in excess of 50% by a salary arbitration panel the previous season, a 20% maximum salary reduction from the previous season and a 30% maximum salary reduction from two seasons back does not apply, and the club only has to offer at least the MLB minimum salary.
After arbitration has been requested, the player and the club can continue to negotiate back & forth, and the player can withdraw from the process any time up until the hearing. And in fact this frequently happens, as the player and the club will often agree to just "split the difference" (something the panel cannot do). If the matter does go to a hearing, the arbitration panel must choose either the club's offer or the player's figure.
Win or lose, the player is awarded a standard one-year MLB contract with no "minor league split" salary or incentive/performance bonuses. Also, the contract is not guaranteed, so if the player is released during Spring Training, the club would only owe the player 30 days or 45 days salary as termination pay, depending on when the player is released. (A player on an MLB 40-man roster receives 100% of what remains of his salary if he is released during the regular season).
NOTE: The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is very sensitive about salary arbitration, so if a player is awarded a contract by an arbitration panel and then is subsequently released by his club prior to or during Spring Training, the MLBPA will almost always file a grievance on behalf of the player, claiming the player was released for economic reasons only (which is not permitted), and asking that the released player receive 100% of his salary as termination pay. In that situation, a club would have to show (by submitting official Spring Training game stats) that the released player was out-performed in Spring Training games.