It’s never too early to talk about “next year” when you’re a baseball team not in the postseason, and along those lines we now have the annual arbitration salary estimates from MLB Trade Rumors.
In the past, these estimates have proven to be pretty close to what players actually get, with the occasional exception.
So let’s take a look at the nine Cubs who will be arb-eligible for 2024. (In alphabetical order.)
Adbert Alzolay: $2.5 million
Sign on the dotted line, I’d say, for that kind of money Alzolay is well worth it, no matter what role he has (and I’d want him closing). He made $744,750 in 2023.
Nick Burdi: $800,000
Burdi threw pretty well at Triple-A Iowa and got a callup in May, appearing in three MLB games before hitting the injured list after an appendectomy.
He pitched in 10 games for Iowa with a 3.00 ERA and 14 strikeouts in nine innings after recovering from the surgery, but never got a callup. Perhaps the nine walks in those nine innings was the reason.
Burdi will be 31 in January. He’s a Chicago-area native (Downers Grove South HS) and though he throws hard and strikes guys out, he also walks too many. This isn’t a lot of mney either, but I could see the Cubs non-tendering him and then giving him a NRI to Spring Training.
Codi Heuer: $785,000
Heuer last pitched in the major leagues two years ago, in late 2021. He threw pretty well in 25 appearances for the Cubs that year after being acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade from the White Sox: 3.14 ERA, 1.151 WHIP. That produced 0.6 bWAR, not too bad for two months’ production.
Heuer was injured, apparently, in an independent workout during last year’s lockout and had Tommy John surgery in March 2022. With the usual timetable of 12-18 months’ recovery, Heuer took the mound for Triple-A Iowa this year and... the results were not good, a 7.82 ERA and 2.053 WHIP in 15 appearances. He did strike out 17 in 12⅔ innings, but walked 11.
Heuer turned 27 in July and so he’s still (relatively) young. $785,000 is barely over the 2024 minimum of $740,000, so I’d expect the Cubs to come to a deal here before this ever gets to a hearing. It’s the same amount the Cubs paid him in 2023. If Heuer can return to his previous form, that’s a huge boost to the bullpen.
Mark Leiter Jr.: $1.6 million
Leiter had some sort of unspecified injury that kept him out of most of the games the last couple of weeks, and then when he did pitch he wound up giving up a devastating home run to Marcell Ozuna in Atlanta.
Overall Leiter’s had two pretty good years as a reliever for the Cubs, since he was placed in that role in the second half of 2022. Leiter will turn 33 during Spring Training next year. $1.6 million, again, is not a lot of money but do the Cubs want to perhaps turn to younger pitchers going forward?
That is a question Jed Hoyer & Co. will need to answer.
Nick Madrigal: $1.9 million
Madrigal is one of the most polarizing figures on the Cubs. You can see signs of the first-round talent there — in 17 games from June 11 to July 3 he hit .359/.424/.509 (19-for-53) and smacked his first Cubs home run — but overall his hitting is just okay and he cannot seem to stay healthy.
He was decent enough at third base, but I don’t think that’s any sort of long-term spot for him.
I would imagine the Cubs will try to identify a team that could use a second baseman and engineer a trade. He wouldn’t bring much by himself in a deal, but perhaps as part of a larger deal.
The amount here isn’t that much, but the Cubs might not have roster space for him. He made $1.225 million in 2023.
Julian Merryweather: $1.3 million
Speaking of walks, as we were above...
Merryweather did calm down the walks after a while, but still had a walk rate of 4.5 per nine innings. It’s the 12.3 per nine innings K rate that makes teams want to keep guys like this — 98 strikeouts in 72 innings.
This was the most innings Merryweather threw in any of his four MLB seasons, and it was also his best MLB season, worth 1.1 bWAR. He turns 32 on Saturday, but I can see the Cubs wanting to keep him around at this price.
Justin Steele: $4.1 million
The real question here is: Should the Cubs simply go through Steele’s arb seasons, pay him the going rate, then let him walk, or should they try to sign him long-term?
I’d vote for the latter. Steele turned 28 in July, so 2024 will be his age-28 season. Signing him to a five-year deal would buy out his arb years and first two years of free agency and give the Cubs his age 28-32 seasons.
Five years, $95 million, who says no?
Mike Tauchman: $2 million
Tauchman got an opportunity to play when Cody Bellinger was injured and made the most of it. Even though he slumped late in the year, overall he batted .252/.363/.377 in 108 games with 18 doubles and eight home runs, and played good defense in center field.
He produced 2.3 bWAR as a part-time player, the second-best figure of his MLB career. He’s not young — he turns 33 in December — but $2 million doesn’t seem like a lot for a versatile fourth outfielder.
Patrick Wisdom: $2.6 million
Another polarizing figure, Wisdom hits for power — 23 home runs in 268 at-bats is essentially the same home run rate as Matt Olson had.
But yeah, there’s the strikeouts, and yeah, he doesn’t really have a position. And he’s 32.
Depending on what sorts of free agents the Cubs want to go after, I could see them moving on from Wisdom. $2.6 million is not a lot of money but... maybe they’d like that going somewhere else (for example, if they want to re-sign Jeimer Candelario). Wisdom made $763,000 in 2023.
Later this week, I’ll have an article with a very early estimate of the Cubs’ 2024 payroll, with the usual analysis from BCB’s The Deputy Mayor of Rush Street.
This poll is closed
... the Cubs should sign him to a long-term deal like the one proposed in the article
,,, the Cubs should sign him to a long-term deal, but it will take more in dollars or years or both
... the Cubs should just go year-by-year in arbitration
Something else (leave in comments)