To Tender or Not to Tender... That is the Question
The Cubs have signed RHSP Colin Rea, LHRP Kyle Ryan, and RHRP Dan Winkler to 2021 MLB contracts (terms TBD) and tendered 2021 MLB contracts to all other unsigned players on their MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) except OF Albert Almora, OF-1B Jose Martinez, OF Kyle Schwarber, and RHRP Ryan Tepera.
So Almora, J. Martinez, Schwarber, and Tepera are now unrestricted free-agents, free to sign an MLB or minor league contract with any club (including the Cubs) without any salary restrictions.
The Cubs MLB Reserve List now stands at 34 (six slots are open).
Now that the Cubs have filed their minor league reserve lists with MLB, the next order of business is deciding whether or not to tender 2021 contracts to the 31 unsigned players on the MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) on December 2nd.
Six players are signed:
David Bote, INF (signed through 2024 with club options for 2025 & 2026)
Yu Darvish, RHSP (signed through 2023)
Kyle Hendricks, RHSP (signed through 2023 with vesting option for 2024)
Jason Heyward, OF (signed through 2023)
Craig Kimbrel, RHRP (signed through 2021 with auto-vesting or else club option for 2022)
Anthony Rizzo, 1B (signed through 2021)
The Cubs' decision to tender or not to tender a 2021 MLB contract to the 31 unsigned players will depend on several factors:
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE WITH ARTICLE XIX-A STATUS (cannot be optioned or sent outright to the minors without player's consent):
Javier Baez, INF
Kris Bryant, 3B-1B-OF
Kyle Schwarber, OF
Ryan Tepera, RHRP
Dan Winkler, RHRP
COMMENT: Tendering a contract to a player in this group will depend on what salary the Cubs project the player will get if the player files for salary arbitration and the matter goes to a hearing, and (because while a contract awarded by an arbitration panel is not guaranteed, a club cannot release as player in Spring Training for purely financial reasons) whether or not and to what extent the Cubs project the player to be on the MLB Active List roster coming out of Spring Training. (Players in this group cannot be optioned to the minors without their consent).
Among the players in this group, Tepera and Winkler and possibly Schwarber are the most-likely candidates to be non-tendered (especially Tepera).
If the Cubs are willing to sign a player in this group to a 2021 MLB contract but only if the contract includes a modest base salary plus incentive bonus, it is important for the Cubs to sign the player prior to the contract tender date, because performance bonuses cannot be part of a contract awarded by an arbitration panel.
I suspect the Cubs will tender Baez and Bryant no matter what and go to arbitration with them if necessary (all the while trying to trade Bryant), but to remain with the Cubs, Tepera, Winkler, and Schwarber would probably have to sign a contract prior to the tender date which includes a modest base salary plus performance bonuses based on plate appearances (Schwarber) or games or IP (Tepera and Winkler).
A player's base salary cannot be cut more than 20% from his previous season's salary, and I suspect the Cubs will offer Schwarber something like a $5M base with another $5M in performance bonuses (Schwarber made $7M in 2020, so a $5M base salary in 2021 would be more than a 20% cut). Whether Schwarber would sign such a deal is unknown, which is why he could just get non-tendered.
Winkler could get a $750K base salary offer (same as last season) plus another $250K in performance bonuses (he made $1M in 2020 -- a $750K base salary plus he earned another $250K in performance bonuses based on appearances), but he might not want to sign another deal like that again, and if he doesn't sign one he could be non-tendered, too.
Tepera might be offered just a minor league contract only, since he does not project to be on the Cubs MLB Opening Day Active List roster.
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE WITH ARTICLE XX-D STATUS (can elect free-agency if sent outright to the minors)
Albert Almora, OF
Victor Caratini, C-1B
Willson Contreras, C
Ian Happ, OF
Jose Martinez, OF-1B
Colin Rea, RHSP
Kyle Ryan, LHRP
COMMENT: As is the case with the players in GROUP ONE (see above), a player in GROUP TWO who is tendered a contract on 12/2 and then files for salary arbitration in January would not receive a minor league split salary or performance bonus if the contract is awarded by an arbitration panel.
Caratini, Contreras, and Happ are part of the Cubs MLB core and will certainly be tendered, but for players projected as potential "Des Moiners - Chicago shuttle" type guys (Almora, J. Martinez, Rea, and K. Ryan), the Cubs would need to sign the player to an MLB contract but with a minor league split salary (and possibly performance bonuses based on PA for position players or games or GS for pitchers) in advance of the 12/2 deadline.
If the projected "shuttle" player (Almora or J. Martinez) or pitcher (Rea or K. Ryan) declines to sign such a contract (one with a minor league split salary) in advance of the deadline on 12/2, then he would probably be non-tendered.
Of the four projected "shuttle" players, I would say Rea would be the one most likely to sign an MLB contract with a minor league split salary and pass on the chance to be a free-agent.
So I expect Almora, J. Martinez, and Ryan to be non-tendered and become free-agents,
PRE-ARBITRATION BUT HAS ARTICLE XX-D STATUS (has been outrighted previously in his career):
Rowan Wick, RHRP
COMMENT: Similar to the players in GROUP TWO (see above) except these players are not arbitration-eligible so there is no reason to non-tender the player unless the club expects the player's slot on the 40 will be needed for another player during the off-season (definitely not the case with Wick).
PRE-ARBITRATION BUT OUT OF MINOR LEAGUE OPTIONS (cannot be optioned to the minois in 2021) :
Adbert Alzolay, RHSP (see NOTE beloow)
Dillon Maples, RHRP
Alec Mills, RHSP
Duane Underwood Jr, RHRP
Ildemaro Vargas, INF
NOTE: It is not yet clear whether 2020 will be considerd a "qualified season" toward the five qualified seasons required before a player is no longer eligible to receive a 4th minor league option, but if 2020 was not a "qualified season" then Alzolay gets a 4th minor league option in 2021. Otherwise, he will be out of options in 2021 (still TBD).
COMMENT: Players on the 40 who are out of minor league options are tricky, because if the player is tendered a 2021 MLB contract and has a good Spring Training but there isn't room for him on the Opening Day Active List roster, he will likely get claimed off waivers if the Cubs try and send him to the minors.
Alzolay (if he does not qualify for a 4th minor league option) and Mills are virtual locks to make the Opening Day roster anyway, but not so much Maples, Underwood, and Vargas.
So if the player agrees, it would be preferable for the Cubs to non-tender Maples, Underwood, and Vargas on 12/2 and then re-sign them to minor league contracts after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft (so they aren't exposed to waivers when they are removed from the 40 and so they can't get selected in the Rule 5 Draft and so they can be sent to AAA Iowa out of Spring Training without having to be placed onto waivers if they don't make the MLB Opening Day Active List roster).
To get the player to agree to this arrangement normally requires offering the player more money than what he would have received if he had remained on the 40 plus a bit more.
But if the player does not agree to the offer (a non-tender and then sign a minor league contract after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft), the Cubs would probably just keep the player on the 40 and take their chances next Spring Training (as they did with Duane Underwood Jr and Alec Mills in 2020).
PRE-ARBITRATION DRAFT-EXCLUDED PLAYER (cannot be outrighted to trhe minors until 20 days prior to MLB OPening Day)
Cory Abbott, RHSP
Brailyn Marquez, LHSP
Christopher Morel INF
Keegan Thompson, RHSP
COMMENT: Every now & then a player is added to the 40 after the Draft-Excluded Status deadline (nornally 8/15, but it was 8/31 in 2020), and then the club decides it doesn't want to keep the player on the 40 during the entire off-season because the club believes it will need the player's slot on the 40 at some point in the interim.
So because these players cannot be outrighhted to the minors until twenty days prior to MLB Opening Day, a club might find it necessary to non-tender the player on 12/2 and then (hopefully) re-sign him to a minor league contract after the conclusion of the MLB Rule 5 Draft.
However, none of the Cubs Draft-Excluded players in this group would appear to be likely non-tender candidates, expecially since the Cubs have three slots open on the 40 right now with more slots likely to be cleared on 12/2
PRE-ARBITRATION MLB RULE 55 PLAYER (would have been declared a minor league 6YFA after World Series if player had not been on MLB 40-man roster at that time):
Jason Adam, RHRP
Adebert Alzolay, RHSP
Dillon Maples, RHRP (also out of minor league ooptions - see GROUP FOUR above)
Alec Mills, RHJSP_ (also out of minor league options - see GROUP FOUR above)
Justin Steele, LHSP
Duane Underwood Jr, RHRP (also out of minor league options - see GROUP FOUR above)
Ildenaro Vargas, INF (also out of minor league options - see GROUP FOUR above)
COMMENT: Once tendered an MLB contract, these players cannot be outrighted to the minors until they sign. Because the players (or at least cerrtainly their agents) know this, players in this group normally do not sign until they physically report to Spring Training. That way the player can't be outrighted during the off-season. (A club cannot unilaterally renew the contract of a pre-arbitration player until March 1st).
So if a club expects it might need the player's slot on the MLB 40-man roster prior to the start of Spring Training, the club could choose to non-tender the player on 12/2 and then (hopefully) re-sign the player to a minor league contract (for more money than he would have received if he had remained on the 40) after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft (although again, the player does not have to accept the offer).
However, it is unlikely that the Cubs are expecting that they will need any additional roster slots beyond the ones they have open now plus the additional slots that will likely open up on 12/2.
If any players in this group are non-tendered on 12/2, it would most-likely he Maples, Underwood, and/or Vargas, because they are out of minor league options (see GROUP FOUR above).
Miguel Amaya, C
Nico Hoerner, INF
Tyson Miller, RHSP
James Norwood, RHRP (ended the season on MLB 60-day IL - current injury/rehab status unknown)
Manuel Rodriguez, RHRP (ended the season on MLB 60-day IL but pitched in AZIL games at AZ Instructs)
Max Schrock, INF
Brad Wieck, LHRP (ended the season on MLB 60-day IL but was throwing "live" BP at AZ Instructs)
COMMENT: There are no off-season restrictions on outrighting the players in this group, unless the player is injured, in which case the only way he could be removed from the 40 and retained by the Cubs would be via non-tender because an injured player cannot be placed on Outright Assignment Waivers.
The Cubs could choose to non-tender one or more of them if the player is injured and/or if the Cubs believe they will need the player's 40-man roster slot in the next few months and don't want to risk losing he player off waivers.
So if any one of this group is non-tendered on 12/2, it would probably only be because there is an arrangemernt in place for him to sign a minor league deal (for more money than he would make if he remains on the 40) after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft.