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Thoughts about the 5 Cubs eligible for 2021 arbitration who are still unsigned

The Cubs still have to go through this process with five key players.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This week would normally be the week of baseball’s Winter Meetings, where team executives, managers, agents and media gather in some warm-weather spot and the so-called “Hot Stove” gets warm with rumors, etc.

Due to the pandemic, this year’s in-person meetings were cancelled. But there are still winter baseball things to think about, and here’s one that’s very important for the Chicago Cubs.

At the non-tender deadline, in addition to the Cubs non-tendering four arbitration-eligible players (Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ryan Tepera and Jose Martinez), they signed three other arb-eligible players to contracts: Colin Rea, Dan Winkler and Kyle Ryan.

That leaves five Cubs eligible for arbitration for 2021 who are still unsigned: Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Ian Happ, Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini.

Let’s look at all five of them and what they might be paid for 2021. Some numbers below are from MLB Trade Rumors’ projections of salaries. MLBTR posted three different possible salaries for all arb-eligible players because of the uncertainties caused by the pandemic-shortened 2020 season using these methods:

Method 1: Applies model directly with actual statistics from this 60-game season

Method 2: Extrapolates all counting stats to would-be 162-game totals. One home run becomes 2.7 home runs.

Method 3: For non-first-time eligibles, finds the raise they’d get in a 162 game season, then gives them 37% of that raise

They note it’s really impossible to tell how teams will look at the 2020 season and how it would apply to salaries, so we’re really sort of dancing in the dark here.

With that said, here are the Cubs’ arb-eligible players and estimates.

Javier Báez

Báez had the worst year of his career in 2020. At one point he said he missed having in-game video to review. Whether that was a cause of his poor performance, or the pandemic was, or whether there was some other reason, we might never know.

Báez’ full salary in 2020 would have been $10 million. MLBTR projects him at $10 million with Method 1 (above), $11.9 million via Method 2 and $10.7 million via Method 3.

Let’s split the difference of all three methods and say Javy will sign for $10.9 million.

Kris Bryant

KB is the proverbial elephant in the room, because it’s widely assumed he’ll be traded, either before the 2020 season begins or perhaps at the trade deadline if the Cubs aren’t in contention.

MLBTR estimates Bryant’s 2021 salary at $18.6 million by all three methods. That’s what he would have made in a full 2020 season. With KB’s poor, injury-plagued 2020 season, he’s probably not in line for a huge raise, so I’m going to bump that up just a bit and say that Bryant will sign for $19 million.

Ian Happ

2021 is Happ’s first arb-eligible season. He had a very good year in 2020, early-on he was thought of as an MVP candidate, though he tailed off in September.

MLBTR has him at $2.5 million using Method 1 and Method 3 and $4.6 million using Method 2.

Again, the final number is likely to be somewhere in the middle. Let’s say $3.5 million would likely get it done.

Willson Contreras

Willson made $4.5 million in his first arb-eligible season in 2020, and had a season that was a bit below his career norms.

MLBTR projects $5 million for Willson via Method 1, $7.4 million using Method 2 and $5.6 million via Method 3.

Again, let’s average all three projected numbers here and say Willson’s in line for $6 million.

Victor Caratini

Like Contreras, Caratini’s numbers in 2020 were somewhat below his career norms. 2021 is his first arb-eligible season.

MLBTR’s projections are $1.2 million using Methods 1 and 3, and $1.6 million using Method 2.

I’ll say he’s probably in line for $1.2 million.

The Cubs can certainly afford these contracts if they choose to. All the vibes say they’ll choose not to carry Bryant’s. As always, we await developments.