In the last decade, the Chicago Cubs have been incredibly diligent when it comes to avoiding arbitration, only doing so once under Theo Epstein. His successor, Jed Hoyer, seems to be taking a similar approach.
On Friday, the Cubs avoided arbitration with Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras. The team inked the trio to one-year deals worth $19.5, $11.65 and $6.65 million, respectively. Of course, this marks the final trip through the salary arbitration process for both Baez and Bryant, both of whom will be free agents at the conclusion of the 2021 postseason.
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So what do these salaries mean? Let’s start with Baez and his $11.65 million. In short, it means no one is putting much stock in his struggles this year. The lack of in-dugout video access impacted a ton of guys around the league and the Cubs shortstop was certainly no exception as he struggled to a .203/.238/.360 line.
True to his nature, though, he was outstanding defensively and, for the first time in his career, brought home the Gold Glove honors in the National League.
MLB Trade Rumors had predicted Bryant would fail to attain any sort of raise in arbitration, but he’ll bring home an additional $900,000 on top of what he earned in his last trip through the process.
That’s not all that surprising. At least not in the sense that he wasn’t alone in his struggles last year and from 2015 to 2019, he was regularly one of the most valuable players in the league. Of course, the bigger question now is whether or not the Cubs will trade him before the season begins.
If they do, they’ll surely be selling low. But the same cannot be said for Contreras, who remains incredibly affordable – even with his raise. One of the best catchers in the game, the Venezuelan native has drawn wide-ranging interest in the trade market this winter and once the JT Realmuto sweepstakes draws to a close, I suspect several more teams might join the fray.
Last year, Contreras batted .243/.356/.407 – good for a 109 wRC+. Perhaps equally important, he drastically improved his glove work – namely his pitch framing – which won’t go unnoticed by interested clubs.
Chicago and outfielder Ian Happ failed to settle on a figure. That’s not overly surprising given he’s an MLBPA rep and is coming off a big performance in 2020. Him trying to get a little more through the process for other players certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially since it’ll set the starting point for his coming years of arbitration, as well.