Chicago Cubs: Taking care of the guys on the field
Since Epstein took over the front office, the Cubs have only gone to arbitration once. That was last year with Justin Grimm. And that was only over a difference of $275,000. The arbiter picked the Cubs $2.2 million over Grimm’s $2.475 million.
Recent years have added another complication to the arbitration process. It used to be that teams would continue to negotiate with players on possible contract extensions right up until the actual arbitration hearing. Now all 30 Major League teams have adopted a “file and trial” approach. That means that if an agreement on a contract extension hasn’t been reached by the time salary figures are exchanged then they stop negotiating and just wait to go to arbitration.
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Sometimes pressure from these arbitration deadlines cause players and teams to not just negotiate one-year deals to avoid arbitration, but multi-year deals instead. Last year to avoid arbitration Pedro Strop signed a one-year deal with a club option for 2019. That’s as mini a contract extension as technically possible, but that option year (which the Cubs picked up earlier this offseason) is the reason we aren’t currently sweating out Strop’s free agency.
This year the Cubs reached agreements on one-year contracts with all of their arbitration-eligible players. Now it is possible that players and teams could turn right around and tear up the one-year deals that they just signed to work out much longer multi-year deals. Or they could even reach a deal in the middle of the season. Starlin Castro signed a seven-year contract extension with the Cubs in August 2012. Anthony Rizzo signed his contract extension with the Cubs in May 2013. However, the arbitration deadline is when most contract extensions with players under team control historically get worked out.
These contract extensions usually end up being very team-friendly. These are young players signing away the prime years of their careers before they have reached the peak of their abilities. Teams are taking a bit of a gamble that the players won’t suddenly lose it. And the teams are expecting the players to continue to improve over the course of the term of the contract. But overall these are low-risk, high-reward contracts for teams.
Anthony Rizzo’s current contract is arguably the most team-friendly contract in all of baseball. It is a seven-year contract with team options for an eighth and ninth year. So it will likely end up being a nine-year, $73 million dollar deal once all of the options are picked up and all of the escalators in the contract are reached.
Jose Quintana is the only other Cub who is currently on a similar contract extension. The front office’s inability to sign any more of their young players to contract extensions is the biggest threat to this current competitive window of Cubs baseball closing. At least some of the young players signing contract extensions were supposed to be part of the plan.
But if you were a young baseball player, would you look at Rizzo or Quintana’s contracts and think to yourself that you wanted to sign up for something similar? The reason to do so is to lock in tens of millions of dollars in life-changing money when you were making only hundreds of thousands of dollars.