Yesterday the Cubs and Koyie Hill agreed to a one year contract, thus avoiding arbitration. According to Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com, the deal is for $850,000, a bump from the $700,000 Hill earned last season. The selection of Max Ramirez off waivers the other day has stirred a lot of fan discussion as to who should handle the backup catcher duties, but this deal figures to make the job Hill’s to lose in Spring Training.
This leaves the remaining arbitration eligible Cubs being Geo Soto, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, new comer Matt Garza, and Tom Gorzelanny. Of the five, I would expect Gorzelanny’s negotiations to drag out the longest as he is one of the candidates to be traded away after the acquisition of Garza. Gorzelanny figures to get a minor bump from his $800,000 salary in 2010, and depending on how trade negotiations go around the league, the Cubs may figure to leave the arbitration headache for the left handed pitcher’s new team.
As for the rest?
Believe or not, Soto actually made less than Hill in 2010. The starting catcher for the Cubs had a nice bounce back season after a sophomore slump in 2009. Soto’s offensive numbers could easily earn him four times the $575,000 he made in 2010 as a starting point in contract negotiations. Hill’s newly minted one year deal figures to add more ammunition for Soto’s cause. The other angle GM Jim Hendry will have to keep in mind is a possible multi-year extension for Soto, potentially buying out the remaining arbitration years Soto is entitled to. Another plus to this option would be the possibility of setting up a back loaded deal where the salary for year one of the deal can be deferred and tacked onto the second and third years of the contract while maintaining an average annual salary that would be Soto’s liking. This would follow in the footsteps of the other two budget conscious 2011 agreements made so far with Carlos Pena and Kerry Wood.
The same multi-year approach could be used for Garza, although his salary of $3.35 million in 2010 was thanks to his first year of arbitration eligibility. He is set to receive yet another bump in pay this offseason, but considering the prospects Hendry sent packing in exchange for Garza, in addition to the GM’s public comments about how Garza is also part of the long term plan, a multi-year deal for the proven veteran pitcher would be in line with this thinking. With the contracts for Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster on the books until 2012 (not counting Zambrano’s option year in 2013), the Cubs could hammer out a compromise for below arbitration “market value” salaries for 2011 and 2012 in exchange for a nice number between the $14 million and $18 Dempster and Big Z are currently earning respectively. For perspective, keep in mind that Zack Greinke’s current annual salary is $13.5 million. Considering the trade package sent to Tampa Bay was put together with the one the Brewers made for Greinke in mind, it can be guaranteed that any contract negotiations with Garza will use Greinke’s current salary as a starting point for discussions. And just in case the Brewers are willing to over pay to sign Greinke to an extension past 2012, it would be in the best interest for the Cubs to wrap up a new contract deal with Garza before the Brewers and their new pitcher do.
That leaves the bullpen duo of Marmol and Marshall. Marshall could easily argue that he has earned a deal similar to the one signed by John Grabow before the 2010 season based on his consistent quality numbers the last couple years. The tricky negotiation to read will be the one for Marmol. His amazing stuff and save totals definitely put him in line to demand top tier closer salary compensation. But his tendency to walk the tight rope due to control issues is sure to make Hendry think twice before agreeing to a long term deal, not to mention the injury risk potential Jordan provided insight on earlier at the start of this offseason.
By now it is well documented on Hendry and the organization’s success at avoiding arbitration hearings, as those meetings can end up getting nasty. It will be interesting to see how the negotiations for the remaining eligible players will pan out.