With the signing of Shõta Imanaga making big Cubs news this week, I didn’t want to forget — nor let you all forget — that the deadline for arbitration-eligible players to sign contracts is at hand.
Originally, that deadline was supposed to be this Friday, but last month owners and players agreed to move it up to today, Thursday, January 11:
Just clarifying some other reports out there: The deadline for arbitration agreements tomorrow is 1 p.m. ET, not 8 p.m., per sources. The official exchange of figures among teams and players who haven't come to a salary agreement -- and are likely headed to a trial -- is at 8.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 11, 2024
“Tomorrow” in Jeff Passan’s tweet, of course, refers to today. So, by early afternoon, we should know which Cubs have signed and which haven’t. Exchange of figures for those who haven’t signed by that deadline won’t happen until later this evening. In recent years teams have adopted a “file and trial” attitude, meaning that if a player doesn’t sign by the deadline today, the team and the player are likely headed for a hearing. Hearings will be scheduled between January 29 and February 16.
The Cubs results for last year were some last-minute signings, including Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner (who later signed multi-year deals), and so the Cubs did not go to a hearing with any arb-eligible players in 2023.
Six Cubs remain arbitration-eligible and not yet signed for 2024. Back in October I put together an article with those players, plus Nick Burdi and Codi Heuer. Those two were both non-tendered. Burdi signed with the Yankees and Heuer remains a free agent. In that article I posted what all the arb-eligible Cubs might get, based on MLB Trade Rumors projections. Not much has changed since then, so with a few minor edits, here’s what I wrote in October:
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.
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 of the 2023 season, 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, finishing the year on the IL with yet another hamstring injury.
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 still might 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 could as part of a larger trade.
The amount here isn’t that much, but the Cubs might have a better use for his 40-man spot. 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 turned 32 in October, 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.
In October I suggested five years for $95 million, and I’d still love to see the Cubs offer him that kind of long-term deal.
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 turned 33 in December — but $2 million doesn’t seem like a lot for a versatile fourth outfielder.