Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have roster decisions to make over the next 24 hours prior to Monday’s tender deadline. With the addition of George Kottaras, the Cubs now have a full 40-man roster and 11 players that are arbitration eligible for next season. With the recent report of the Cubs not willing to give up on Daniel Bard and Darwin Barney acknowledging that he and the team know what his arbitration number is and it will not take a third party to determine his salary for 2014, there are only a couple of players that the front office may decide to not tender a contract for next year.
Monday is the deadline to tender contracts to players for the 2014 season. The Cubs have 11 players on the roster that are arbitration eligible for next year and 21 players with 0-3 years (automatic renewals) of service time to make a decision on whether or not they will offer contracts to for next year.
Jeff Samardzija, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Wood, James Russell, Pedro Strop, Mat Gamel, George Kottaras, Luis Valbuena, Donnie Murphy, Darwin Barney and Daniel Bard are the 11 arbitration eligible players.
Depending on the reports the front office received on Mat Gamel from the time he spent at the Cubs’ facility in Mesa after he was claimed off waivers from the Brewers, the Cubs could offer Gamel a contract or non-tender him … and in effect clear a spot on the roster and make him a free agent. Gamel should not cost the Cubs more than just over league minimum ($500,000 – $600,000) if the Cubs tender him a contract due to his injury plagued 2012 and 2013 seasons. Donnie Murphy could also be non-tendered after he put up career numbers in a short amount of time with the big league club at the end of last year.
Donnie Murphy hit .255/.319/.530/.849 in 46 games with the Cubs while setting a career high in home runs (11) and tying a career-high in doubles (8). Murphy signed a minor league contract with the Cubs in April after being released by the Brewers. Murphy hit .265/.338/.457/.795 in 89 games in the hitter friendly PCL with 18 doubles, two triples and 12 home runs. Murphy turns 31 in March and could re-sign with the Cubs on a minor league deal without taking up a roster spot if the Cubs decide to non-tender him. Murphy could be looking at $1 million salary for next year if he is tendered a contract and makes the team out of Spring Training.
Jeff Samardzija is in his second year of arbitration eligibility and figures to receive a nice bump in pay from the $2.64 million, plus the $125,000 bonus he received for pitching 200 innings, last season. Samardzija should receive between $5-$6 million for next season, that is if the Cubs do not sign him to a contract extension.
Nate Schierholtz is in the final year of team control after being paid $2.25 million last year. Schierholtz’s deal for the 2013 season included a $500,000 incentives package, but the details of the package were not made public. Rumors have suggested Schierholtz could be traded this winter after coming off a career year. Schierholtz was a full time player for the first time and set career highs in games played (137), plate appearances (503), hits (116), doubles (32), home runs (21), RBI (68), walks (29) and strikeouts (94) while hitting .251/.301/.470/.770. Schierholtz should make just under $5 million next year.
Travis Wood is arbitration eligible for the first time and will receive a big bump in pay from the $527,000 he made last year. Wood seemed to turn the corner on his career and posted a 9-12 record in 32 starts with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Wood set career highs in starts (32), ERA (3.11), WHIP (1.15), innings pitched (200), strikeouts (144) and walks allowed (66). Wood is looking at a 2014 salary of between $3.2 and $4 million.
James Russell is under team control for two more seasons after making $1.075 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility last season. Russell is looking at a $500,000-$900,000 raise and should receive between $1.6 and $1.95 million next season. James Russell is coming off a down year after being misused once again. Russell was 1-6 in 74 games with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.
Pedro Strop has Super Two status and is arbitration eligible for the first time. Strop is set to compete for the closer’s job in Spring Training after getting his career back on track with the Cubs last year. In 37 appearances with the Cubs, Strop was 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP with only 22 hits and 11 walks allowed in 35 innings while striking out 42 batters. Strop made $503,000 in 2013 and should at least double his salary from a year ago ($1-$1.2 million).
The Royals paid George Kottaras $1 million last year and he should receive a minimal bump in pay to begin camp as the backup to Welington Castillo. In 46 games with the Royals, Kottaras managed a .180/.349/.370 slash line with four doubles, five home runs and more walks (42) than hits (18). Kottaras is looking at a $1.4 to $1.75 million contract for the 2014 season, if he makes the team out of Spring Training.
The Cubs do not have many options to begin the year as a backup infielder on the roster. Luis Valbuena can play second, third and shortstop and would provide Rick Renteria with a little left-handed pop on his bench. Valbuena was a favorite of former manager Dale Sveum and would be able to man third base on Opening Day if Mike Olt is not able to win the job in the spring. Valbuena is arbitration eligible for the second time and should see his pay increase from $930,000 last year to around $1.5 million for 2014. Valbuena played in 108 games last year (94 at 3B, 6 at 2B, 1 in LF) and hit .218/.331/.378/.708 with 15 doubles, one triple and a career-high 12 home runs.
Darwin Barney told Jody McDonald and Mike Stanton during an interview on MLB Network Radio that he and the team are on the same page with his arbitration figure and he does not think a third party will be involved in the process. Some thought Barney was a non-tender candidate after the worst offensive season of his career (.208/.266/.303/.569), but he will make between $1.8 and $2.2 million in his first year of salary arbitration.
The Cubs’ front office knows very well what kind of pitcher Daniel Bard is capable of being. Bard thrived under the Theo Epstein-led Red Sox but has struggled since Epstein left for Chicago. As a reliever, Bard is 6-13 in 201 appearances with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. Bard should be paid just under $2 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility. The only question is, will the front office take the gamble and leave him on the roster for the remainder of the winter?
Two other names to keep an eye on, as far as creating roster spaces, are Alberto Cabrera and Brooks Raley. Cabrera is out of options and would have to make the team out of camp in order for them not to lose him anyway. Cabrera was lights out last season at the Double-A level before slipping back to his bad habit of not throwing strikes at Triple-A Iowa and in Chicago. Raley could be a lefty specialist in the bullpen and also double as the team’s longman. Raley might garner attention from another organization if he is on the market, but could also re-sign on a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp.
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