After the Cubs’ announcement that Addison Russell would be tendered a contract for 2019, I was all ready to write today about how his status would affect the 25-man roster beginning on Opening Day.
And then the Cubs non-tendered Ronald Torreyes, who was going to factor into what I was going to write.
First, here’s something important about Russell being tendered a contract that hasn’t been much mentioned yet:
Want to explain the mechanics of a word from Theo’s statement: non-guaranteed. What will happen here is similar to Justin Grimm. Arbitration will be requested for Addison, and even if they agree to a $ amount before the hearing, the arb request makes the deal non-guaranteed.— Cubs Prospects (@cubprospects) November 30, 2018
And the only way the contract is non-guaranteed is to NOT agree to a contract before January 8. Grimm is, I believe, the only player in the Jedstein era to request arbitration, and that happened solely to ensure the contract be non-guaranteed. I expect same to happen with Addy.— Cubs Prospects (@cubprospects) November 30, 2018
This is correct, and it does give the Cubs an out during spring training if something happens with Russell maintaining the program that was laid out in the statements made by him and Theo Epstein on Friday. Grimm, as you know, was let go during spring training 2018 and as a result, the Cubs were on the hook for only a small fraction of his contract. I’m not saying this will happen with Russell, only that it could happen, and the word “non-guaranteed,” as noted above, does not mean Russell will be with the Cubs when they break camp. I presume they might continue to effort a trade involving him. Jon Greenberg at The Athletic thinks this should be the end result:
For all the promise Russell has shown — 21 homers in 2016, his two homers in the NLCS and one in the World Series that year — the actual results are middling to disappointing. Of the young Cubs who haven’t matured on the field like the team would have liked, he’s the biggest offensive letdown. His defense is good enough to hit eighth or ninth. But what does that say about his value?
While I’m not too concerned about Russell’s future, I think a departure would be good for him too. A fresh start might be beneficial to his development, personally and professionally. He wouldn’t be the first player who ended up suspended by the league’s domestic violence policy to get moved immediately afterward. Chapman is one. Roberto Osuna is another.
This very well could happen, perhaps another reason the contract was announced as “non-guaranteed,”
Now, about Torreyes. He’s in an unusual situation in that he’s arbitration-eligible and also has an option year remaining. MLB Trade Rumors estimated that Torreyes was in line to get about $900,000 for 2019 through the arb process (note, with the non-tender, Torreyes’ name might disappear from that article soon).
But why would you trade for a player and then non-tender him two days later? It appears the Cubs didn’t want to pay him $900,000. But...
Cubs maintain interest in trying to re-sign Torreyes, who they acquired earlier in the week. He was arb eligible.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) December 1, 2018
Non-tendering Torreyes surprising, but last couple days gave them time to gather info on him, discuss a contract and work through Addison Russell situation, while monitoring other non-tender decisions around MLB. Can try to re-sign him. If not, it was a no-risk process.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) December 1, 2018
Here’s why I think they did this. With the trade of Tommy La Stella, that almost assures David Bote a spot on the 25-man roster. With Russell under suspension for the first 29 games of the 2019 season, it would make sense for the Cubs to play Javier Baez at shortstop and (for example) platoon Bote and Ben Zobrist at second base. Torreyes, in that case, would have been a useful player to have around to back up both Baez at short and the second-base platoon.
When Russell returns from suspension, he’d move back to shortstop, Baez to second, and Bote and Zobrist to miscellaneous spots around the field. Torreyes, with options, could be sent back to Iowa. (Incidentally, barring rainouts, the first game for which Russell would be eligible to come off suspension would be May 3 at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals.)
But the Cubs wouldn’t want to pay Torreyes a full MLB salary to be on the position-player version of the Iowa Shuttle. Non-tendering him, presuming Jordan Bastian is correct (and I think he is) about the Cubs still having interest in him, would allow them to re-sign him to a minor-league deal with a NRI to spring training. Then he breaks camp with the Cubs, and is optioned when Russell returns — on a split contract, one that pays him more when he’s on the MLB roster, less when he’s at Iowa.
In doing this the Cubs likely save about half that $900,000. It doesn’t sound like much money, but maybe it is if the team is bumping up against one of the luxury tax levels.
Remember also this: The Cubs can certainly afford to blow through all those levels if they so choose. They — and apparently many other teams as well — have chosen not to. Ronald Torreyes was not the only surprising non-tender Friday by major-league teams.
In any case, the Cubs are going to have to find someone to back up Baez at shortstop for the first 29 games of the season. If it isn’t Torreyes, it will be someone like him