Resetting the Cubs Off-Season in the New Year

While Jeff Samardzija and Masahiro Tanaka garnered most of the attention throughout the holidays, the Cubs have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 13.

The team has eight arbitration eligible players without a contract for next season.  Teams were showing interest in trading for Darwin Barney and Nate Schierholtz last month, are the Cubs still listening to offers for those two players? Could the Cubs still bring in a starter or two to add to their rotation? Plus, the television and radio contracts must still be hammered out, along with an agreement with the rooftop club owners so the team can finally begin restoring Wrigley Field.

During an interview prior to the holidays, Jed Hoyer indicated the front office was working on ways to improve the big league roster. While he did not mention any specific deals, Hoyer did say it could be an active January for the Chicago Cubs. And the way things are shaping up, it could indeed be a busy month for the Cubs.

Masahiro Tanaka

The Tanaka Sweepstakes figures to heat up next week when Masahiro Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, returns from vacation. Teams that have committed to the $20 million release fee will begin negotiating with MasahiroTanaka and his agent. The Yankees, and several other teams, reportedly contacted Close about his client after Rakuten finally posted Tanaka.

The Cubs are expected to be in the middle of the process. Reports have suggested the Cubs will not be outbid for Tanaka and many think the Cubs and Yankees will be the most aggressive in the pursuit of Tanaka.

The Mariners, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Angels are expected to go all out for Masahiro Tanaka while the Dodgers and Rangers, early frontrunners for Tanaka, are believed to have cooled on Tanaka in recent weeks. The Red Sox figure to have their hands in the bidding before he signs a contract with a MLB team. Other teams thought to be interested include the Giants, Twins and Astros.

For those hoping for a quick resolution, that is simply not going to happen. Casey Close has until Jan. 24 at 4:00pm CST to find the best fit, and contract, for Masahiro Tanaka. And Tanaka acknowledged as much to the Japanese media on New Year’s Eve. Tanaka said where he will be pitching next season will probably take a while and not “determined so quickly.”

Salary Arbitration

The deadline for players to file for salary arbitration is Jan. 14 and salary arbitration figures must be exchanged by Jan. 17, the first day of the Cubs Convention. The Cubs had ten players that were arbitration eligible for the 2014 season before Donnie Murphy (one-year, $825,000 plus incentives) and George Kottaras (one-year, $1.075 million plus incentives) agreed to terms on one-year deals in December and avoided arbitration.

Of the remaining eight players, each figures to receive a nice bump in pay from what they made during the 2013 season.

If the Cubs are unable to sign Jeff Samardzija to an extension, Samardzija is in line for a $5-6 million salary for 2014 after being paid $2.64 million, plus the $125,000 he earned for pitching over 200 innings last year.

There were reports early in the off-season the Cubs could approach Travis Wood about a long term contract extension. Those rumors and rumblings went away as the team appeared to focus on Samardzija and Tanaka. The possibility of signing Wood long term remains. Wood is arbitration eligible for the first time and will receive a significant pay increase from the $527,000 he more than earned last year to somewhere in the $3.2-4 million range for 2014.

Darwin Barney should more than triple his 2013 salary of $562,000 in his first year of salary arbitration to between $1.8 and $2.2 million in 2014. Luis Valbuena ($930,000 in 2013 to $1.4-1.6 million in 2014), James Russell ($1.075 million in 2013 to $1.6-1.95 million in 2014), Justin Ruggiano ($494,500 in 2013, first year arbitration eligible in 2014 to $825,000-$950,000) and Pedro Strop ($503,000 in 2013 to $1-1.2 million in 2014) are all inline for salary increases. Nate Schierholtz is arbitration eligible for the last time. The Cubs paid Schierholtz $2.75 million ($2.25 million base, $500,000 bonus) last year and he is looking at just under a $5 million salary for 2014.

The Cubs are not expected to go to arbitration with any of the eight remaining players, but if they cannot avoid the process, the hearings take place between Feb. 1 and Feb. 21 this year.

Darwin Barney

The last rumor that surfaced concerning Darwin Barney was on Dec. 14 when Bruce Levine reported the Yankees were interested in acquiring Barney as a late inning defensive replacement. The Cubs and Yankees could revisit those discussions, but it is unclear at this point if the Cubs value what Barney brings to the table more than they could receive for him in a trade.

Nate Schierholtz

The Cubs were thought to be listening to offers for Nate Schierholtz during the Winter Meetings. Those rumors quieted after the meetings but a team like the Diamondbacks could still have interest in trading for Schierholtz.

Nate Schierholtz is coming off a career year and if he is not moved this winter, he will certainly be traded before the deadline in July. Schierholtz does not figure to be in the Cubs’ long term plans and the front office will look to turn a short-term asset into long-term assets.

Pitching, Pitching, More Pitching and Jesse Crain

The Cubs are exploring ways to add pitching to the organization outside of Masahiro Tanaka. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are on record stating they would like to add at least one more starter to the mix before Spring Training begins.

Scott Baker remains a possibility for the Cubs and so does free agent Jason Hammel. The Cubs have scouted RHP Joel Pineiro and are reportedly interested in LHP Clayton Richard as a reliever.

The Cubs showed interest in RHP Jesse Crain and were reportedly checking his medicals. Crain is no longer available. The Astros announced on Tuesday they signed Crain to a one-year contract. When he is able to pitch, Crain is expected to help Houston close out games in 2014.

Wrigley Field

Tom Ricketts received the green light from the City to proceed with the project to Restore Wrigley Field. The City Council approved the changes to the Wrigley plan on Dec. 11 as expected. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Tom Tunney demanded nearly three weeks ago the Cubs begin the project.

Ricketts has not received the assurances he needs from the Wrigleyville Rooftop Association they will not pursue legal action to protect their views. Mayor Emanuel has reportedly put pressure on the rooftop club owners to settle their dispute with the Cubs so the project can begin.

The team will announce plans for the season-long celebration of Wrigley Field turning 100 years old during the Cubs Convention. Will the Cubs be able to announce they have come to an agreement with the rooftops at the same time?

The Cubs have already lost one off-season and have pushed back the Wrigley renovation plans for another winter. The restoration needs to begin so the business side can start providing baseball operations with the payroll flexibility it needs to improve the product on Wrigley’s field.

TV and Radio Contracts

The Cubs’ television and radio contracts beyond the 2014 season are up in the air right now. The team exercised an option in their contract with WGN TV on Nov. 6. If the Cubs did not exercise the option when they did nearly two months ago, the team would have been locked into their contract with WGN TV through the 2022 season. The Cubs’ contract with Comcast SportsNet expires after the 2019 season and the thought at the time was that the team would work out a contract with WGN TV so both contracts would have the same expiration date.

When news surfaced the Cubs exercised the option, WGN TV had 30 days to agree to a new contract with the team or the Cubs would be able to negotiate with other outlets. Nearly two months has passed and a new deal with WGN TV has yet to be announced.

As for the team’s contract with 720 WGN, the radio station exercised an option to re-open their contract with the team on Oct. 17. 720 WGN pointed to lost revenue (bad ratings) due to the poor product as the reason for exercising the option. The status of the talks with 720 WGN has not been leaked or made public to this point. The team and their long-time broadcast partner did agree to who would replace Keith Moreland in the booth alongside Pat Hughes with the hiring of Ron Coomer last month.

The new television and radio contracts will be a huge source of income for the Chicago Cubs. How the team maximizes those revenue streams, along with the Restoration of Wrigley Field, will have a big impact on the organization moving forward.

And while the broadcast rights (television and radio) and the Restoration of Wrigley Field may be viewed as side stories as the 2014 season approaches, those deals are just as important to the future of the Cubs as any player they could sign, or trade for, right now.

News, Notes and Rumors

A report out of Baltimore last week indicated the Orioles were still interested in acquiring Jeff Samardzija, but the question at the time was could Dan Duquette offer the Cubs enough young pitching in return for Samardzija. A report from the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 30 indicated the Orioles might not be willing to trade any of their pitching prospects unless they “are overwhelmed by a deal.” Any trade involving Jeff Samardzija would have to include at least two top pitching prospects, and if the Orioles are not willing to part with those pitchers then a conversation with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer over Samardzija probably ended before it really got started.

Greg Maddux could be the first player ever unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame. Maddux has been on 100 percent of the ballots so far and if the voting holds up Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio will join Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre at Cooperstown in late July. The 2014 Hall of Fame Class will be announced on Jan. 8.

Buster Olney reported on the top 10 storylines to watch in 2014.

And for those wondering about the cost of pitching, according to a report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ubaldo Jimenez was asking for a four-year contract worth $17-20 million per season … at least the last time Paul Hoynes heard what Jimenez was looking to sign for this winter.

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Quote of the Day

"You can’t sit on a lead and kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game." - Earl Weaver