- The Cubs’ payroll situation has been a major focus of the offseason, but president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer is “confident” the team would be able to add salary for midseason additions “if we play well and there’s clear things we need to do to add to the team.” As Hoyer told The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney and other reporters, however, much will depend on such uncertain revenue streams as the number of fans the team will be permitted to allow into Wrigley Field. The Cubs opened the winter in clear cost-cutting mode, culminating in the trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Padres, and Hoyer admitted that “we were probably on the more pessimistic side of things” in terms of payroll in the wake of the 2020 season. More recently, a modest spending spree for players on one- or two-year contracts does indicate some willingness on the team’s part to stretch the payroll, or as Hoyer put it, they became “more optimistic or less pessimistic” about their spending capacity.
Like fellow Cubs teammates Javier Baez and Kris Bryant have stated in recent days, Contreras would welcome any extension talks with the team, saying “obviously, I’m willing to listen to whatever they have.” Baez and Bryant are entering their final season before free agency while Contreras is under team control through 2022, so Chicago may not quite have as much urgency to explore a longer-term deal with the catcher just yet, though it would be surprising if the Cubs didn’t at least broach the subject with Contreras and his representatives this spring. Contreras said that he is “just not thinking about” contract talks for now, as “my main focus is on this year.”
The Cubs are designating right-hander Robert Stock for assignment, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com (Twitter link). The move clears 40-man roster space for left-hander Kyle Ryan, who was activated from the COVID-19 list, per Russell Dorsey of the Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago claimed Stock off waivers from the Red Sox last December.
A former Cardinals’ second-round pick as a catching prospect, Stock washed out as a position player but clicked after a conversion to the mound. The hard-throwing reliever earned a big league job with the 2018 Padres and showed some promise, pitching to a 2.50 ERA/3.61 SIERA over 39.2 innings.
Stock wasn’t able to carry that success over in the following seasons, though, thanks largely to difficulty throwing strikes. He has a 7.13 ERA across 24 innings over the past two seasons with San Diego and Boston. Stock’s 24.6% strikeout rate in that time is adequate, but he’s issued walks at an untenable 15.3% clip.
Despite his control issues, it’s easy to see why Stock has continued to attract interest from teams with space available at the back of the 40-man roster. Stock’s four-seam fastball sits in the mid-high 90’s. He has gotten swings and misses at a near league-average rate and has induced ground balls on a strong 50.8% of balls in play over his big league career. Perhaps there’s still some hope the late-blooming Stock could develop adequate control and stick in a team’s middle relief mix.
The Cubs have a week to trade Stock or place him on waivers. He hasn’t yet reached arbitration and still has a minor-league option year remaining, so he’d represent a rather flexible depth piece for potential acquiring clubs.
The Red Sox have acquired right-hander Zach Bryant from the Cubs to finish the Josh Osich trade, per Julian McWilliams of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). The Red Sox sent Osich to the Cubs at the August 31st trade deadline last year for a player to be named later.
Bryant now heads to Boston to complete that deal. The Cubs didn’t ultimately get much out of this transaction. They designated Osich for assignment at the end of September when he struggled to a 10.13 ERA in four appearances. The southpaw signed a minor league deal with the Reds in December. For his career, he owns a 5.02 ERA, 4.37 xFIP, and 125 FIP- across 234 appearances totaling 206 1/3 innings with the Giants, White Sox, Red Sox, and Cubs. Osich is better as a lefty specialist, holding a 3.75 xFIP against lefties and a 4.99 xFIP against right-handed hitters.
The 22-year-old Bryant made his professional debut in 2019. The Cubs signed him for $125K as a 15th round draft choice out of Jacksonville University. He made it to Low-A posting a 1.27 ERA across 12 appearances at two levels, striking out 24 versus to eight walks over 21 1/3 innings.
- Shortstop Javier Baez once again made it clear Friday that he wants to remain with the Cubs, not depart in free agency next offseason, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic tweets. “Obviously, I want to stay here. I don’t want to play for another team,” Baez said, though the Cubs may lose the opportunity to extend the two-time All-Star if they don’t do so by the time the season begins. Baez stated he’ll “probably” put a deadline on talks in spring training. Barring a new deal, Baez could be one of several free-agent standouts at his position next winter, though he’s in need of a rebound after hitting a dismal .203/.238/.360 with 75 strikeouts against just seven walks in 235 plate appearances last year.
- One of Baez’s new teammates, outfielder Joc Pederson, told Russell Dorsey of the Chicago Sun-Times and other reporters that he turned down longer offers to join the Cubs. The former Dodger inked a one-year, $7MM guarantee with the Cubs because of the allure of playing every day. Pederson was a platoon player in Los Angeles, where the left-handed swinger batted .238/.349/.501 over 2,132 trips to the plate versus righties. On the other hand, he managed an ugly .191/.266/.310 line in 385 PA against southpaws.
10:15am: Tepera can earn an additional $800K via performance incentives and $150K via active roster bonuses, MLBTR has learned. The deal can max out at $1.75MM.
9:45am: Tepera is guaranteed $800K on the deal, tweets NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer. The deal is still pending a physical.
9:25am: The Cubs have reached an agreement to re-sign free agent right-hander Ryan Tepera, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter). It’s a Major League deal, per the report. Chicago non-tendered Tepera earlier in the winter rather than pay him a raise via arbitration, but he’ll now return for a second season on a new deal. Tepera is represented by All Bases Covered Sports Management.
Tepera, 33, was a regular in the Blue Jays’ bullpen from 2015-19 before being non-tendered and latching on with the Cubs last offseason. Many have had fun with the fact that Tepera received a lone tenth-place MVP vote, and while that was surely unexpected, the righty did give Chicago a fairly strong season. Through 20 2/3 innings of relief, Tepera turned in a 3.92 ERA (3.51 SIERA, 3.34 FIP) with a career-high 34.8 percent strikeout rate and a 13.5 percent walk rate that he’ll want to curb in 2021.
This makes three Major League additions to for the Cubs’ bullpen this month, as the club has also signed righty Brandon Workman and lefty Andrew Chafin to help fortify the relief corps. It’s still a shaky looking group that lacks proven depth, but Tepera unequivocally gives them another solid option. He’s tallied 236 innings as a Major Leaguer and logged a combined 3.66 ERA with a 24 percent strikeout rate and a 9.1 percent walk rate. That alone makes him a nice add for the Cubs, but if he can maintain last year’s huge boost in strikeouts while returning closer to that career walk rate, he’d be a substantial upgrade.
Tepera has five-plus years of Major League service time, so unlike last year when the Cubs signed him, they won’t have the option to keep him through arbitration this coming offseason. He’ll be a free agent at season’s end and return to the open market. That’s also true of Workman, Chafin, Dan Winkler and Craig Kimbrel — Chafin and Kimbrel have options that aren’t likely to come into play — so the Cubs will once again have some work to do to fill out their bullpen next winter.
Despite myriad trade rumors that have centered on him over the past several months, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told reporters (including Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune) that he’s still open to a contract extension with the team. “I’ve always said I’ve been open and willing to hear what (the Cubs) say and take it with open arms and consider everything that’s thrown my way,” Bryant said. “I think I’ve communicated that to them.” Bryant is scheduled to become a free agent next winter, but in the meantime, he’ll make $19.5MM this season. It doesn’t seem any team has jumped at the chance of taking on that type of money for Bryant – even though he’s a former MVP who has typically held his own, he had a difficult 2020 campaign. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer suggested earlier this month that he expects Bryant to open 2021 with the club.
Ervin joins his fourth organization in less than six months, after being designated for assignment by the Reds in August and then picked up on successive waiver claims by the Mariners and Cubs. Ervin had previously spent his entire career with Cincinnati after the Reds selected him with the 27th overall pick of the 2013 draft.
The 28-year-old hit .262/.326/.438 over 571 plate appearances from 2017-19, with most of the damage coming against left-handed pitching. Ervin’s production badly fell off last season, as hit hit only .149/.292/.189 over 89 PA with the Reds and Mariners. This led Seattle to expose him to the DFA wire to create roster space for Keynan Middleton, and after Chicago made a claim, the Cubs DFA’ed Ervin themselves when Jake Marisnick was signed.
Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna will play every day in the Atlanta outfield, with Acuna’s ability to play either center or right field opening the door for a number of possibilities for the third slot. Highly-touted youngster Cristian Pache might have the first crack at the center field job, while Ervin joins Ender Inciarte as a backup option who can play all three outfield positions. Abraham Almonte and utilityman Johan Camargo are also in the mix for outfield at-bats. Ervin is out of minor league options, so he may be facing another trip to DFA waivers if he doesn’t land a job on the Braves’ active roster.
January 15 was the deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to officially submit salary figures for the 2021, and by the time the day was done, only 13 players didn’t reach agreement on a contract. The majority of teams now adhere to the “file or trial” strategy, meaning that no further negotiations on a one-year deal will take place between the arbitration deadline and a hearing with an arbiter, which theoretically puts pressure on players to get a deal done if they are wary about taking their case to a third party.
“File and trial” tactics didn’t stop the Astros and Carlos Correa from agreeing to a one-year deal for just the 2021 season, which is also Correa’s last year before gaining free agent eligibility. We also saw three multi-year deals reached, all from the greater Los Angeles area — the Dodgers reached two-year deals with Walker Buehler and Austin Barnes, while the Angels inked a two-year pact with Shohei Ohtani.
This left nine unresolved cases that went all the way to a hearing (held over Zoom) between an arbiter, the player, his representative(s), and front office personnel arguing the team’s side. The teams won five of the nine hearings, continuing the very narrow edge teams have held over players in arb cases in recent years — over the last 99 arbitration hearings, teams hold a 51-48 record over players.
For the full list of every salary for every arbitration-eligible player this offseason, check out the MLB Trade Rumors Arb Tracker. Sticking to the 13 players with unresolved cases from January 15, here’s the rundown…
Avoided Arbitration, One-Year Contract
- Carlos Correa, Astros: One year, $11.7MM (Correa filed for a $12.5MM salary, Astros filed for $9.75MM)
Avoided Arbitration, Multi-Year Contract
- Shohei Ohtani, Angels: Two years, $8.5MM (Ohtani filed for $3.3MM, Angels filed for $2.5MM)
- Walker Buehler, Dodgers: Two years, $8MM (Buehler filed for $4.15MM, Dodgers filed for $3.3MM)
- Austin Barnes, Dodgers: Two years, $4.3MM (Barnes filed for $2MM, Dodgers filed for $1.5MM)
Arbitration Hearings, Won By Player
- Ian Happ, Cubs: $4.1MM (Cubs filed for $3.25MM).
- Jack Flaherty, Cardinals: $3.9MM (Cardinals filed for $3MM)
- Mike Soroka, Braves: $2.8MM (Braves filed for $2.1MM)
- Ji-Man Choi, Rays: $2.45MM (Rays filed for $1.85MM)
Arbitration Hearings, Won By Team
This is the third DFA in less than six months for Ervin, who was first designated by the Reds at the end of August and then claimed by the Mariners. The Cubs then claimed Ervin off Seattle’s waiver wire in December. Since Ervin is out of minor league options, it’s possible he could be a frequent visitor to DFA limbo over the course of the 2021 season.
Selected 27th overall in the 2013 draft, Ervin didn’t blossom into an everyday regular in Cincinnati but he did contribute a solid .262/.326/.438 slash line over 571 plate appearances from 2017-19. He badly struggled last season, however, hitting just .149/.292/.189 over 89 PA with the Reds and Mariners. This included a brutal coda to Ervin’s tenure in Cincinnati, as he collected only three hits in his last 42 PA in a Reds uniform.
Ervin has hit well against left-handed pitching in his career and he can play all three outfield positions, though the Cubs seem to have tabbed Marisnick (who signed a Major League contract) as their top choice for the fourth outfielder role. With Cameron Maybin also back on a minor league deal, Ervin looks like the odd man out of the right-handed hitting outfielder mix.