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MLB’s 2023 qualifying offer has been set, and thoughts on arbitration-eligible Cubs

It’s time to start planning for next year.

Will Willson still be wearing this uniform in 2023?
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Last year, the qualifying offer for MLB free agents — the number that would trigger draft-pick compensation if the FA signed with another team — was $18.4 million.

For 2023, that number has jumped by $1.25 million, to $19.65 million, per the Associated Press.

We learned last week during Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer’s season-ending news conference that the Cubs would “definitely” be extending a qualifying offer to Willson Contreras.

It is almost certainly true that any free-agent contract Contreras signed would not pay him that much on an AAV basis. On the other hand, a multi-year free-agent offer would certainly be worth more in total dollars to Contreras.

So what’s more valuable to him? Making $19.65 million in 2023 and perhaps still going to free agency for 2024 and beyond and cashing in then? Or, perhaps signing a free-agent deal worth a total of (say) $65 million or $70 million and getting that much in guaranteed total dollars?

As always, we await developments.

I also wanted to talk here about the 10 Cubs players who are arbitration-eligible for next year.

Ten arb-eligible Cubs players! Bet you had no idea there were that many. Here’s the list via MLB Trade Rumors, plus MLBTR’s estimate of how much each player might get. The number in parentheses is the player’s MLB service time, in years plus days. A MLB season consists of 172 days for arbitration purposes:

Ian Happ (5.036): $10.6MM
Steven Brault (4.167): $1.7MM
Franmil Reyes (4.115): $6MM
Rowan Wick (3.114): $1.5MM
Alec Mills (3.097): $800K
Brad Wieck (3.085): $800K
Nico Hoerner (3.014): $2.2MM
Codi Heuer (3.000): $800K
Nick Madrigal (2.164): $1.1MM
Rafael Ortega (2.145): $1.7MM

So, here’s what I think. You can almost certainly cross two of those players off that list immediately — the Cubs will very likely non-tender Alec Mills and Rafael Ortega. They very well might non-tender Franmil Reyes — at an estimated $6 million he’s not really a good fit for 2023.

Steven Brault, Brad Wieck and Codi Heuer all ended the 2023 season on the injured list. It’s possible they could all be non-tendered and re-signed to minor league contracts with MLB-level salaries paid if they make the team. The purpose of doing that would be to keep them off the 40-man roster, as I wrote last week.

Rowan Wick has had some good outings for the Cubs, but also some rough patches and it’s possible the Cubs non-tender him as well.

That leaves Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal.

Presuming you think, as many do, that the Cubs are going to make a big push to sign one of the upcoming big-name free agent shortstops, that doesn’t leave much room for Madrigal on the 2023 Cubs, as Hoerner would likely move to second base in that case and Madrigal can only play second base. I assume the Cubs would try to trade him in that event.

Ian Happ made $6.85 million in 2021. had a very good year (4.3 bWAR) and made the NL All-Star team. $10.6 million sounds about right for him for 2023, and I’d still like to see the Cubs sign him to a contract extension.

Nico Hoerner made $720,000 in 2022, just above the new MLB minimum of $700,000. He also had a very good year, posting a team-leading 4.5 bWAR and establishing himself as a solid everyday shortstop.

Hoyer said the Cubs have taken “the first steps” for extensions for both Happ and Hoerner, and let me just throw out a figure for a possible extension for Hoerner, who turns 26 next May. In August, I proposed a deal that would give Nico six years and $68 million (or 8/$108 if the Cubs exercised a couple of option years). I’ll stand by that.

What do you think fair extension offers to Happ and Hoerner would look like?

We will, of course, have a deeper dive into the Cubs payroll and roster next month after it becomes clearer who’ll be on the 40-man roster as free agency begins after the World Series.