After Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune reported earlier today that the Chicago Cubs had reached agreements with three of their arbitration eligible players, five players were left for the Cubs to negotiate with before arbitration hearings begin on February 1.
According to the report, the Cubs have reached agreements with Nate Schierholtz, whose salary jumped from $2.25 million to $5 million, James Russell on a one-year, $1.775 million deal and Luis Valbuena on a one-year, $1.71 million deal. That leaves starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood, reliever Pedro Strop, second baseman Darwin Barney and outfielder Justin Ruggiano as arbitration-eligible players who have yet to reach agreements.
Based on their performances last season and the market for players of their caliber, here is how the Cubs' arbitration process figures to pan out.
RHP Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija has been one of the better pitchers in the Cubs rotation for a couple of years now and he's in for a raise. How much of a raise he receives remains to be seen. However, how his value is seen by his camp and how it is seen by the Cubs is likely to be different. That means that an arbitration hearing is very possible.
What the Cubs will argue is that Samardzija is too inconsistent to demand whatever figure his camp requests. Additionally, his 4.34 ERA doesn't look great when arguing for a second-tier salary.
Samardzija's camp will argue that his basic stats don't do him justice and that advanced sabermetrics show that he's more valuable than perceived. Also, the fact that Samardzija has eaten up innings over the past two seasons will help his case.
Dan Haren, who had worse statistics than Samardzija last season (10-14, 4.67 ERA and 169.2 IP) will be making $13 million this season. However, Haren's track record of success helped him get a more lucrative deal than most with those stats.
Last season, Samardzija made $2.64 million and he is sure to get more than that this coming season. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Samardzija's base salary this season will rise to $4.9 million. However, trying to keep a good relationship with their current ace as contract extension talks go forward, the Cubs may offer more than that.
The projection: $5.5-7M contract this season.
LHP Travis Wood
The Cubs' current No. 2 starter had a breakout year last season and actually produced at a higher level than the higher profile Samardzija. Wood posted a 3.11 ERA last year and pitched exactly 200 innings.
The fact that Wood made just $527.5 thousand last season puts him in line to receive the biggest raise of any Cub this offseason. Since he's a lefty, he ate up innings last year and posted a very solid ERA, he's earned the raise.
While the arbitration process isn't necessarily about the long term when negotiating, Wood is also entering his prime. All of these factors have led to MLB Trade Rumors projecting that Wood will jump to a $3.6 million base salary in 2014.
Since he's still in his mid-to-late 20s, is a lefty and is just hitting his prime, Wood deserves every penny of that if not more.
The projection: $4-5M contract this season.
2B Darwin Barney
It's no secret that the Cubs' second baseman had a brutal year at the plate last season, but Barney's fielding still makes him a valuable player. Add to that the fact that the Gold Glove winner made only $562 thousand a year ago and Barney is in for a raise even after hitting .208 in 2013.
Unless he turns around his woes at the plate, Barney doesn't figure into the Cubs' future plans. This really is Barney's last chance to prove himself and remain a Cub in the future. With plenty of infielders coming up through the minor leagues, Barney's fate may already be sealed.
However, for the 2014 season Barney is more valuable than his current base salary. That's why MLB Trade Rumors projects that Barney will make $2.1 million in 2014. That seems pretty fair as Barney's struggles at the plate and exploits in the field cancel each other out and make him a very average player.
The projection: $1.5-2.5M contract this season.
RHP Pedro Strop
Acquiring Strop from the Orioles last season may have been the Cubs' biggest trade steal in a while. For Baltimore last season Strop posted a 7.25 ERA. After arriving in Chicago, Strop lowered his ERA to a sterling 2.83. While pitching nearly twice as many innings for the Cubs, Strop gave up less hits and runs than he did for the Orioles.
While pitching for the Orioles Strop was tipping his slider and as soon as he came to Chicago, they corrected that problem and Strop was nearly lights out from the bullpen. As it stands right now, Strop should be the team's setup man coming out of spring training.
With an increased role comes an increased salary. Strop should figure into the Cubs' future plans and in 2014 at least, he will get a slight raise. MLB Trade Rumors projects Strop's base salary of $502 thousand to rise to $1 million this year. Depending on how he does this season, that figure could continue to rise in years to come.
The projection: $1-2M contract this season.
OF Justin Ruggiano
The former Marlins outfielder hasn't played a single game for the Cubs yet, but he is still arbitration eligible. Even though he swings and misses with the best of them, he also provides some power upside. Last season, Ruggiano hit .222 with 18 home runs and 50 runs batted in for Miami.
Ruggiano is likely to be a fourth outfielder and a frequently used pinch hitter this season and that will give him a sizable jump in base salary. His raw power alone will earn him far more than the $494.5 thousand that he made a season ago.
As a role player, Ruggiano won't make top dollar, but his ability to put the ball out of the ballpark will get him more money than most in his position. According to MLB Trade Rumors, his power is good enough to earn him $1.8 million. Given the fact that Cubs management hasn't dealt with him firsthand yet, he may make a tick below that.
The projection: $1.5-2M contract this season.
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