That would be a lot for a normal season and the odd conditions provided by the shortened schedule, the lack of a minor-league season and the pandemic changed the way the Cubs (and other teams) made transactions this year.
This is a look at the 40 players (plus four currently on the 60-day injured list) on the team’s roster and where I think they’ll be in 2021.
Jason Adam, RHP: Pre-arb. Had a pretty good year in 2020, likely in bullpen mix for 2021
Adbert Alzolay, RHP: Pre-arb. Expected to be in the 2021 rotation
Rex Brothers, LHP: Arb-eligible. Possible non-tender
Andrew Chafin, LHP: Free agent. Probably won’t be re-signed
Tyler Chatwood, RHP: Free agent. Probably won’t be re-signed
Yu Darvish, RHP: Under contract through 2023
Kyle Hendricks, RHP: Under contract through 2023 with team option for 2024
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP: Free agent, likely will be re-signed
Craig Kimbrel, RHP: Under contract through 2021 with team option for 2022
Jon Lester, LHP: Free agent. Could be re-signed after payment of buyout
Dillon Maples, RHP: Pre-arb. Possible non-tender
Brailyn Marquez, LHP: Pre-arb, expected to be key part of 2021 team
Tyson Miller, RHP: Pre-arb
Alec Mills, RHP: Pre-arb. Expected to be in the 2021 rotation
James Norwood, RHP: Pre-arb. Possible non-tender
Jose Quintana, LHP: Free agent. Probably won’t be re-signed
Colin Rea, RHP: Pre-arb
Manuel Rodriguez, RHP: Pre-arb
Kyle Ryan, LHP: Arb-eligible. Possible non-tender
Justin Steele, LHP: Pre-arb
Ryan Tepera, RHP: Arb-eligible
Duane Underwood Jr., RHP: Pre-arb
Rowan Wick, RHP: Pre-arb
Brad Wieck, LHP: Pre-arb
Dan Winkler, RHP: Arb-eligible
Miguel Amaya: Pre-arb
Victor Caratini: Arb-eligible
Willson Contreras: Arb-eligible
Josh Phegley: Free agent. Probably won’t be re-signed
Javier Baez: Arb-eligible
David Bote: Under contract through 2024 with team options for 2025 and 2026
Kris Bryant: Arb-eligible
Daniel Descalso: Free agent after payment of buyout. Won’t be re-signed
Nico Hoerner: Pre-arb
Jason Kipnis: Free agent. Probably won’t be re-signed
Jose Martinez: Arb-eligible, possible non-tender
Anthony Rizzo: Contract option for $16.5 million for 2021 that almost certainly will be exercised
Ildemaro Vargas: Pre-arb
Albert Almora Jr.: Arb-eligible, possible non-tender
Billy Hamilton: Free agent. Could be re-signed
Ian Happ: Arb-eligible
Jason Heyward: Under contract through 2023
Cameron Maybin: Free agent. Could be re-signed
Kyle Schwarber: Arb-eligible
Well. Unlike a couple years ago, when it looked like the Cubs roster/lineup/rotation would stay the same from year to year, there could be great change for 2021, as hinted by Theo Epstein in his season-ending news conference Monday. Of the 44 players listed above, nine are free agents and as noted above, the only one who’s pretty much a lock to return is Jeremy Jeffress.
Just after the World Series, the team will either have to restore the four players currently on the 60-day injured list to the 40-man roster or let them go. Those four players are Norwood, Rodriguez, Wieck and Descalso. Descalso will be sent to free agency after they pay his buyout. Norwood is a possible non-tender. Wieck and Rodriguez will be retained. At the same time, the free agent players will leave the 40-man, so that’s eight players gone apart from Descalso).
That should leave the 40-man roster at 34 players heading into the free-agent signing and trade season. The Cubs will want to leave a couple spots open for players they want to protect from the Rule 5 Draft. One of those players is already there — Marquez.
There are 12 arbitration-eligible players listed above. Look for that number to be reduced by non-tenders. To that end, I’ve listed five players (besides Norwood) who are possible non-tenders: Brothers, Maples, Ryan, Martinez and Almora. Those decisions likely won’t have to be made until late November or early December, whenever the deadline is (I’ll have more on that later this month).
Depending on what the Cubs’ budget is for 2021 — and as Theo noted Monday, there’s still a lot of uncertainty — Schwarber might also be non-tendered. He had a down year and might be looking at a $10 million contract in arbitration.
One final note: Patrick Wisdom, who briefly played for the Cubs this year after being acquired from the Mariners, was given a non-roster invitation to spring training.
We are definitely looking at a team in transition. The team that takes the field in Mesa in February is likely to look far different than the guys listed above.