Weekend Update … Tender Deadline and Pitching Questions Remain for the Cubs

It should be a busy seven days for the Chicago Cubs leading up to the Winter Meetings that officially begins a week from Monday. The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players is Friday (November 30) and the Cubs have five players that are arbitration eligible this off-season: Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell, Luis Valbuena and Ian Stewart. The Cubs are expected to tender contracts to Garza, Samardzija and Russell and both Samardzija and Russell should receive nice pay increases from last season. The Cubs are also expected to tender Valbuena a contract but Stewart’s future with the Cubs is unclear.

On the surface it appears the Cubs will tender Ian Stewart a contract for next season but the signals (and reports) have been mixed. The Cubs are concerned about his health and Stewart has said (via his Twitter account) that he is not sure if he will be back with the Cubs next season.

The Cubs are looking to add at least one more starter this winter but the pitchers they are rumored to be interested in are also on other teams’ radars … and those clubs are closer to competing than the Cubs are next season. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer might have to over spend in terms of dollars and length of contract in order to fill out a Major League rotation next season.

To Tender or Not to Tender
The Cubs decision to tender contracts to three of the five arbitration eligible players is a no-brainer. Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and James Russell will be tendered contracts. Garza, despite spending the last two-plus months on the disabled list, will receive a bump in pay from the $9.5 million he made last year. Garza should receive a contract in the $10 million range once the two sides exchange figures and agree on the final number.

Jeff Samardzija had a $3.3 million club option for 2013 on the original contract he agreed to in January of 2007. The Cubs did the right thing a year ago and declined the $3 million club option for 2012. Samardzija more than earned the $2.64 million the Cubs paid him last season and should receive a nice raise ($5 million range for 2013), if the Cubs do not sign him to team-friendly long-term extension before agreeing to an amount for next year’s contract. Samardzija is under the Cubs control through the 2015 season and is viewed as one of the building team’s building blocks moving forward.

James Russell stepped into the role previously held by Sean Marshall and put together a solid season (7-1 in 77 games with two saves, a 3.25 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP). Russell seemed to run out of gas in the second half (5-1 with three blown saves in 34 games with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP) but finished the season on a positive note (1-0 in last 12 appearances with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP). Russell made slightly more than the league minimum for automatic renewal players (0-3 years of service time) last year (Russell was paid $512,000 last season) and should receive a contract around $1 million for next season.

Multiple reports and comments from the Cubs’ brass have indicated they view Luis Valbuena as more of a utility player than a starter. Valbuena can play shortstop, second base and obviously third base with better than average defense. Dale Sveum appears to trust Valbuena from a defensive standpoint but his offense leaves quite a bit to be desired. There have not been any indications that Valbuena will not be tendered a contract for next season and he should receive a bump in pay from the $480,000 he made last year to around $900,000.

Ian Stewart was a disappointment for the Cubs after they acquired him and Casey Weathers from the Rockies for Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu at the end of the Winter Meetings a year ago. Stewart was not healthy and struggled with his wrist from the beginning of Spring Training until he finally had the wrist operated on in June. Stewart was paid $2.3755 million last year and if the Cubs tender him a contract he should not receive much of a pay increase (around $2.5 million). The Cubs have been unclear on his future with the team and Stewart has stated (via Twitter) that he is not sure if he will be back in a Cubs’ uniform. The Cubs could non-tender Stewart, let him test the market, then re-sign him to a contract less than what he would have made through arbitration.

The Cubs are reportedly looking for a short-term solution at third base while players such as Josh Vitters, Junior Lake and Christian Villanueva gain experience in the minors. During their conference call with season tickets holders, the Cubs’ front office (Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod) talked on multiple occasions how much they like the depth at third base in the system and pointed to such as Vitters, Lake, Villanueva, Jeimer Candelario and Javier Baez as possibilities to fill the position long term.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
The Cubs have been connected to free agent starting pitchers such as Shaun Marcum, Dan Haren, Brandon McCarthy, Francisco Liriano and Ryan Dempster this off-season. The Cubs already signed Scott Baker to a one-year contract but with the health questions surrounding Baker and Matt Garza, the Cubs have only two healthy starters going into the Spring Training (Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood). Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin are on the Cubs’ depth chart but both southpaws could use more time at the Triple-A level.

The Cubs pulled out of the deal that would have sent Carlos Marmol to the Angels for Dan Haren. The Cubs have been linked to Haren since but there are still questions concerning his back. The Padres are interested in signing Haren as well as Shaun Marcum according to a report from Bill Center of the San Diego-Union Tribune via Hardball Talk.

While the ship appears to have sailed on the Cubs’ interest to Dan Haren, Shaun Marcum would fit into the Cubs’ rotation. Marcum has a relationship with Dale Sveum and Chris Bosio plus he’s had success against teams in the central (2012 splits, 2011 splits). But the Padres are closer to competing than the Cubs not to mention the big ballparks out west that help pitchers, like Marcum, get their career back on track.

Brandon McCarthy has been medically cleared to pitch and according to a report from Jeff Passan via Hardball Talk. McCarthy will begin throwing off a mound in December. According to the report, teams are more concerned about McCarthy’s history of arm and shoulder injuries than his recovery from season-ending brain surgery.

The last connection to Francisco Liriano was the report from Jim Bowden a few weeks back that the Cubs had an offer on the table for Liriano. As for other options, Ryan Dempster is still available but he is reportedly looking for a multi-year deal and it is unlikely that Dempster would put himself in a similar position with the Cubs that he was in last year, especially with not having ten-and-five rights to veto a trade. The Cubs will not include no-trade clauses in contracts moving forward under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

The Cubs could still be looking to move Carlos Marmol for a starting pitcher. Rumors have suggested that Marmol remains available, in the right deal. The Cubs do not plan to give Marmol away and would like value in return for a late inning reliever they feel could help a contending team.

Recent Headlines
In case you missed any news from the long holiday weekend. Here are links to headlines from the CCO:

Tom took a look at the Cubs infield depth throughout the system on Friday: A Look at the Infield in the Cubs System

Four minor league contracts were announced: Cubs Ink Four Players to Minor League Deals … and Other News and Notes

Bryan LaHair agreed to terms on a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the SoftBank Hawks and the Cubs received $950,000 for his rights: From the Wire … LaHair Agrees to Two-Year Deal to Play in Japan

The Cubs added four players to their 40-man roster, a big arm to the minor league system and assigned a recently claimed pitcher to Triple-A Iowa: Cubs Make Changes to 40-man Roster … and Other News, Notes and Rumors

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