The Chicago Cubs had six arbitration eligible players this off-season, and on Friday they agreed to a 2018 salary with five of them.
The big winner of the day is Kris Bryant, and that should hardly come as a surprise. He agreed to a $10.85 million salary for next year, which is the highest total given to a player in their first year of arbitration. The previous record was the $10 million figure first baseman Ryan Howard received from the Philadelphia Phillies back in 2008. Bryant is more than deserving of the amount, having won the NL Rookie of the Year Award back in 2015 and the NL MVP Award in 2016. The two-time All-Star owns a career .288/.388/.527 slash line and 94 home runs over his first three big league seasons, and he has significantly cut down on his strikeout rate since entering the league. Bryant is still under team control through the 2021 season.
Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks agreed to a $4.175 million salary, which is a significant bump from his $760,500 total last season. In his four major league seasons he has shown the ability to pitch effectively with excellent command, despite not having a high velocity arm. Hendricks owns a 2.94 career ERA, 2.2 BB/9 rate, and he has the ability to keep cool under intense pressure with a 2.88 postseason ERA. He will most likely slot in as the second or third starting pitcher in the rotation this year, and that will depend on what personnel that Cubs have employed by the start of the season. As it stands right now, he would probably take the #2 slot behind Jon Lester. But if the team acquires one of the top starting pitchers still on the market, then that would bump Hendricks down to the middle of the rotation.
Starting shortstop Addison Russell agreed to a 2018 salary as well, and will make $3.2 million this year. While his contract increase isn’t as big as what Hendricks received, he still got a solid bump up from the $644,000 salary he made last year. Although the batting average hasn’t been there for him in his three year big league career (.240 career average), he has been able to provide pop and solid defense. The starting shortstop for the National League in the 2016 All-Star Game still has plenty of time to bring his average up, but even if he doesn’t he will still be a very key big league player.
Other players to avoid arbitration are left-handed relief pitcher Justin Wilson and utility infielder Tommy La Stella. Wilson, who agreed to a $4.25 million salary, struggled with the Cubs after he arrived to Chicago. In 17.2 innings of work he put up a 5.09 ERA, 2.09 WHIP, and walked 9.7 batters per 9 innings. Everyone will be hoping that Wilson will return to the dominant pitcher he has proven to be in the past, and if he can return to that form he will be a weapon in the bullpen. La Stella will continue his role as a guy who will come in to pinch-hit or occasionally give the regular starters a rest, as he has done each of the last three years with the team. He did post a .288 average in limited work last year, and if he can keep up that level of production this year he will provide valuable depth off of the bench.
The only player not reported to have an agreement is right-handed reliever Justin Grimm, so he will enter the arbitration process. Grimm had his worst season in Cubbie blue last year, putting up a 5.53 ERA, 5.36 FIP, and a 1.34 WHIP in 55.1 innings of work. If the Cubs add another arm to the bullpen this off-season or decide that rookie Dillon Maples has earned a big league spot, Grimm may end up being the odd man out.
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