Love Me Some Non-Tender
The Cubs did not tender 2024 contracts to RHP Codi Heuer, LHP Brandon Hughes, or RHP Ethan Roberts, so the trio are now free agents, eligible to sign an MLB or minor league contract with any club, including the Cubs.
Patrick Wisdom signed a $2.725M one-year "pre-tender" contract to avoid being non-tendered.
The other 28 unsigned players on the 40-man roster (including six who are eligible for salary arbitration) were tendered 2024 contracts but are still unsigned. (The six unsigned players eligible for salary arbitration cannot request arbitration until the second week of January, and the 22 pre-arbitration unsigned players can have their 2023 contracts automatically renewed by the club on March 1st if the player has not signed by that date),
With the three non-tenders, the Cubs MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) now stands at 37 (three slots are open).
ORIGINAL POST 11/14:
Now that the Cubs have filed their minor league reserve lists with MLB, the next order of business is deciding whether or not to tender 2024 contracts to the 32 unsigned players on their MLB Reserve List (40-man roster).
If an unsigned player on an MLB Reserve List is not tendered a contract by 8 PM (Eastern) on the Friday prior to Thanksgiving (November 17th in 2023), the player is said to be "Non-Tendered," he is immediately removed from his club's MLB 40-man roster, and he becomes an unrestricted free-agent, free to sign a major league or minor league contract with any club, including the club that non-tendered the player.
NOTE: Prior to 2022, the MLB contract tender date was December 2nd.
The actual method for tendering contracts on MLB Contract Tender Day (this coming Friday) is for each club to submit a list of of its unsigned players to the MLB Labor Relations Department (MLB LRD), indicating which of the players are being tendered contracts, and which are not. Then the LRD forwards the list to the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), and the individual players (and their agents) are notified by the MLBPA.
A "Non-Tendered" player receives no termination pay, and the player's former club receives no compensation if the player subsequently signs with another club.
Unlike players who receive an outright release, a player who is not tendered a contract is not placed on waivers prior to becoming a free-agent.
Each unsigned player on an MLB 40-man roster who is tendered a contract must be offered at least the MLB minimum salary ($740,000 in 2024) and (with a couple of exceptions) at least 80% of the player's previous season's salary, and at least 70% of the player's salary from two seasons back.
Some players have a "minor league split" salary in their contract which they are paid if they are sent to the minors. In most cases, a player's minor league "split" salary must be at least 50% of the player's salary (what the player was actually paid) from the previous season. The one exception is if a free-agent signs a major league contract with a minor league "split" salary, the "50% rule" does not apply.
The minor league "split" minimum salary is $120,600 in 2024, and the minor league "split" minimum salary for players who are on an MLB Reserve List for the first time is $60,300 in 2024.
An unsigned player under club control who has accrued at least three but less than six years of MLB Service Time is automatically eligible for salary arbitration.
Also, any unsigned player with at least two years but less than three years of MLB Service Time who accrued at least 86 days of MLB Service Time during the previous season can qualify for salary arbitration as a so-called "Super Two" if the player is among the top 22% in MLB Service Time of players in that group (rounded to the nearest whole number). And if two or more players are tied with the same MLB Service Time just above the "Super Two" threshold, all of the players with that accrued MLB ST would get "Super Two" status even if that means the number of players with "Super Two" status exceeds 22%.
NOTE: The "Super Two" threshold post-2023 is two years plus 118 days of MLB Service Time (or 2+118.
Besides gaining the right to request salary arbitration and have that right four times instead of just three times, being a "Super Two" player also means the player can elect free-agency if he is sent outright to the minors, even though he has not yet accrued three years of MLB Service Time and even if he has not been outrighted previously in his career (however, unlike a player who has accrued at least three years of MLB Service Time and/or has been outrighted previously in his career and who therefore has the option to elect free-agency immediately or else defer the choice until after the conclusion of the MLB regular season, a "Super Two ' player who has not been outrighted previously in his career must make his choice immediately upon being outrighted).
CUBS PLAYERS ELIGIBLE FOR SALARY ARBITRATION POST-2023: (last updated 11-2-2023)
Adbert Alzolay, RHP
Codi Heuer, RHP
Mark Leiter Jr, RHP
Nick Madrigal, INF
Julian Merryweather, RHP
Justin Steele, LHP ("Super Two")
Mike Tauchman, OF
Patrick Wisdom, INF-OF
It is not unusual for a club to give an arbitration-eligible player a "take-it-or-leave-it" offer (ultimatum) prior to deciding whether to tender or not tender a contract to the player. If the player accepts the terms (known as a "pre-tender") and signs prior to the MLB Contract Tender deadline, he is retained; if he declines, he gets non-tendered. (This is often decided hours or even minutes prior to the MLB Contract Tender deadline).
If an arbitration-eligible player is tendered a contract and the club and the player cannot agree on a salary, the player can request the MLBPA to file for salary arbitration. The MLBPA is responsible for delivering all requests for salary arbitration to the MLB LRD on the Tuesday immediately prior to the second Friday of January. Once salary arbitration has been requested, the player submits his desired salary to the MLBPA, the club submits its salary offer to the MLB LRD, and the MLBPA and MLB LRD exchange the two figures on the second Friday of January. The MLBPA and MLB LRD then schedule a hearing with a three-person arbitration panel. Hearings are held on various dates during the three weeks prior to the start of MLB Spring Training.
Because a club can automatically renew a player's contract on March 1st, clubs - NEVER - request salary arbitration.
ONLY THE PLAYER CAN REQUEST SALARY ARBITRATION.
The club's offer must be at least the MLB minimum salary, and, in most cases, must be at least 80% of the player's previous year's salary and at least 70% of the player's salary from two seasons back. However, if the player received a raise in excess of 50% by a salary arbitration panel the previous season, a 20% maximum salary reduction from the previous season and a 30% maximum salary reduction from two seasons back does not apply, and the club only has to offer at least the MLB minimum salary.
After arbitration has been requested, the player and the club can continue to negotiate back & forth, and the player can withdraw from the process any time up until the hearing. And in fact this frequently happens, as the player and the club will often agree to just "split the difference" (something the panel cannot do).
NOTE: Beginning in 2022, if an arbitration-eligible player signs a contract prior to a hearing, the contract is fully guaranteed.
If the matter does go to a hearing, the arbitration panel must choose either the club's offer or the player's figure, and win or lose, the player is awarded a standard one-year MLB contract with no "minor league split" salary or incentive/performance bonuses. Also, the contract is not guaranteed, so if the player is released during Spring Training, the club would only owe the player 30 days or 45 days salary as termination pay, depending on when the player is released. (A player on an MLB Reserve List signed to a non-guaranteed contract who is released more than 15 days prior to Opening Day receives 30 days salary as termination pay, a player on an MLB Reserve List signed to a non-guaranteed contract who is released 15 or fewer days prior to Opening Day receives 45 days salary as termination pay, and a player on an MLB Reserve List who is released during the MLB regular season receives 100% of his salary as termination pay).
NOTE: The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is very sensitive about salary arbitration, so if a player is awarded a contract by an arbitration panel and then is subsequently released by his club prior to or during Spring Training, the MLBPA will almost always file a grievance on behalf of the player, claiming the player was released for economic reasons only (which is not permitted), and asking that the released player receive 100% of his salary as termination pay. In that situation, a club would have to show (by submitting official Spring Training game stats) that the released player was out-performed in Spring Training games by another player (or players) competing for that roster spot.
An unsigned player under club control who does not yet qualify for salary arbitration ultimately has to either accept the club's offer or just not play.
A club will negotiate with the player up to a point, but if the player has not signed a contract for the current season by March 1st, the club has the right to unilaterally dictate the player's salary and renew the player's contract ("auto-renewal") from the previous season (albeit for an amount not less than the MLB minimum salary, and not less than 80% of the player's salary from the previous season and not less than 70% of the player's salary from two season's back).
These players are the ones who have a "minor league split" salary in their contract, which the player is paid if he is sent to the minors (optioned or outrighted). A player's "minor league split" salary must be at least equal to the 2023 MLB "minor league split" minimum salary and must be at least 50% of the player's salary (what the player was actually paid) from the previous season.
NOTE: If a free-agent signs a major league contract with a minor league "split" salary, the "50% rule" does not apply.
POST-2023 CUBS PRE-ARBITRATION (AUTO-RENEWAL) PLAYERS: (last updated 11-14-2023)
Kevin Alcantara, OF
Miguel Amaya, C
Michael Arias, RHP
Javier Assad, RHP
Ben Brown, RHP
Alexander Canario, OF
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF
Jose Cuas, RHP
Brennen Davis, OF
Porter Hodge, RHP
Bailey Horn, LHP
Brandon Hughes, LHP
Caleb Kilian, RHP
Luke Little, LHP
Miles Mastrobuoni, INF-OF
Matt Mervis, 1B
Christopher Morel, INF
Daniel Palencia, RHP
Ethan Roberts, RHP
Michael Rucker, RHP
Keegan Thompson, RHP
Luis Vazquez, INF
Hayden Wesneski, RHP
Jordan Wicks, LHP
At this time (November 14th), eight Cubs players are signed:
Yan Gomes, C (signed thru 2024)
Ian Happ, OF (signed thru 2026)
Kyle Hendricks, RHSP (signed thru 2024)
Nico Hoerner, INF (signed thru 2026)
Drew Smyly, LHSP (signed thru 2024 with a mutual option for 2025)
Seiya Suzuki (signed thru 2026)
Dansby Swanson (signed thru 2029)
Jameson Taillon (signed thru 2026)
The Cubs' decision to tender or not to tender a 2024 MLB contract to the 32 unsigned players will depend on several factors:
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE WITH ARTICLE XIX-A STATUS (cannot be optioned or sent outright to the minors without player's consent):
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE WITH ARTICLE XX-D STATUS (can be optioned to minors if player has an option or options available, but player can elect free-agency if he is sent outright to the minors)
Adbert Alzolay, RHRP
Codi Heuer, RHRP
Mark Leiter Jr, RHRP
Nick Madrigal, INF
Julian Merryweather, RHRP
Justin Steele, LHSP ("Super Two")
Mike Tauchman, OF
Patrick Wisdom, INF-OF
NOTE: Alzolay, Leiter, Merryweather, Steele, and Tauchman are out of minor league options.
COMMENT: A player in GROUP TWO who is tendered a contract and then files for salary arbitration in January would not receive a minor league split salary or performance bonus if the contract is awarded by an arbitration panel.
Alzolay and Steele are part of the Cubs MLB core and so they will certainly be tendered, Merryweather and Leiter are out of options so they have no roster "fungibility" but they otherwise project to be a part of the Cubs bullpen in 2024 so they will probably be tendered, and Heuer will likely miss most if not all of the 2024 season so the Cubs will almost certainly non-tender him and offer him a minor league contract with a low base salary while he spends the season rehabbing in Mesa. And if he refuses the offer, so be it. (Because he is rehabbing from an injury, Heuer cannot be placed on Outright Assignment Waivers after 5 PM on the 5th day after the final game of the World Series).
Madrigal and Wisdom can be optioned to the minors in 2024 so they have the roster "fungibility" that Tauchman does not. If the Cubs need Madrigal's, Wisdom's, and/or Tauchman's 40-man roster slots at some point during the off-season for a free agent(s) and/or a player acquired in a trade, the Cubs can just DFA the player at that time. So it really isn't necessary to non-tender the player - UNLESS - the Cubs simply want to ax the player's salary from the 2024 payroll to reduce the payroll and AAV (which is entirely possible).
PRE-ARBITRATION / HAS ARTICLE XX-D STATUS (has been outrighted previously in his career so he can elect free-agency if he is outrighted):
Michael Rucker, RHRP
COMMENT: Similar to the players in GROUP TWO (see above), except Rucker is not arbitration-eligible so (unlike the arbitration-eligible guys) he can have a minor league split salary in his contract, and (because he has a minor league option available) he can be optioned to the minors in 2024 without restriction, making him an ideal Des Moines - Chicago "shuttle" guy. Also, if the Cubs were planning on dropping Rucker from the 40, they probably would have done so when they waived Nick Burdi, Jeremiah Estrada, and Jared Young last week, So the only reason to non-tender Rucker would be if the Cubs believe his 40-man roster slot will be needed at some point in the off-season and that they don't want to risk losing him off waivers. in which case they might have a pre-arranged deal in place for him to sign a minor league contract (for MLB money) after being non-tendered (and preferably after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft) with an NRI to Spring Trasining. Otherwise, the Cubs can just DFA Rucker if & when they actually need his 40-man roster slot, and if he gets claimed off waivers or elects free-agency after being outrighted, so be it.
PRE-ARBITRATION BUT OUT OF MINOR LEAGUE OPTIONS (cannot be optioned to the minors in 2021):
Miguel Amaya, C
COMMENT: A player on the 40 who is out of minor league options is a tricky proposition, because if the player is tendered a 2024 MLB contract and has a good Spring Training but there isn't room for him on the Opening Day Active List roster, he will likely get claimed off waivers if the Cubs try and send him to the minors.
However, Amaya is a virtual lock to make the Opening Day roster, so he will be tendered.
DRAFT-EXCLUDED PLAYER (cannot be optioned or outrighted to the minors until 20 days prior to MLB Opening Day)
Michael Arias, RHSP
Porter Hodge, RHRP
Bailey Horn, LHRP
Luke Little, LHRP
Luis Vazquez, INF
COMMENT: Every now & then a player is added to the 40 after the Draft-Excluded Status deadline (8/15), and then the club decides it doesn't want to keep the player on the 40 during the entire off-season because the club believes it will need the player's slot on the 40 at some point in the interim.
So because these players cannot be outrighhted to the minors until twenty days prior to MLB Opening Day, a club might find it necessary to non-tender the player and then (hopefully) re-sign him to a minor league contract after the conclusion of the MLB Rule 5 Draft.
However, none of the Cubs Draft-Excluded players are non-tender candidates.
PRE-ARBITRATION MLB RULE 9 PLAYER (would have been declared a minor league 6YFA after World Series if player had not been on MLB 40-man roster at that time):
Miguel Amaya, C (also out of minor league options - see GROUP FOUR above)
Javier Assad, RHSP
Alexander Canario, OF
Jose Cuas, RHRP
Miles Mastrobuoni, INF
Christopher Morel, INF-OF
Keegan Thompson, RHRP
COMMENT: These players cannot be outrighted to the minors beginning at 5 PM (Eastern) on the 5th day after the final game of the World Series up until the player signs a contract for the next season. Because the players (or at least certainly their agents) know this, players in this group normally do not sign until they physically report to Spring Training. That way the player can't be outrighted during the off-season. (A club cannot unilaterally renew the contract of a pre-arbitration player until March 1st).
So if a club expects it might need the 40-man roster slot of one of the players in this group prior to the start of Spring Training and can't be sure that the player will sign his contract prior to arriving at Spring Training, the club could choose to non-tender the player and then (hopefully) re-sign him to a minor league contract (probably for a bit more money than he would have received if he had remained on the 40), preferably after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft (although again, the player does not have to accept the offer).
The only players in this group who might be non-tendered are Miles Mastrobuoni and Keegan Thompson, but that's only if the Cubs believe they will need the player's roster slot prior to the start of Spring Training - AND - that the player would be OK with signing a minor league contract after being non-tendered.
THE OTHERS (PRE-ARBITRATION):
Kevin Alcantara, OF
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF
Brandon Hughes, LHRP
Ben Brown, RHSP
Brennen Davis, OF
Caleb Kilian, RHSP
Matt Mervis, 1B
Daniel Palencia, RHRP
Ethan Roberts, RHRP
Hayden Wesneski, RHSP
Jordan Wicks, LHSP
COMMENT: There are generally no off-season restrictions on outrighting the players in this group, unless the player is injured or rehabbing from an injury, in which case the only way he could be removed from the 40 and retained by the Cubs would be via non-tender or outright release. The exception to this rule is any player on the 40 who did not accrue any MLB Service Time in 2024, meaning Alcantara, Brown, and Davis. (They can be optioned or outrighted to the minors even if injured any time up until 15 days prior to MLB Opening Day).
Also, a player's minor league split salary must be at least 50% of what the player was actually paid the previous season, so because Hughes and Roberts spent the entire 2023 MLB season on an MLB IL and were paid at the MLB rate for the entire season, their minor league split salaries will be in the $375K range (the split salary minimum is $120K), certainly way more than what the Cubs will want to pay a player who might spend much of the 2024 season at AAA. So the Cubs will likely want to non-tender Roberts and Hughes (especially Roberts).
That said, if Roberts or Hughes are non-tendered, there would probably be an arrangement in place for the player to sign a 2024 minor league deal for a lot less minor league split money, preferably after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft.
So to summarize, the most-likely non-tenders on Friday are Heuer (very likely), Roberts (also very likely), and Hughes (a bit less likely than Heuer or Roberts, but still likely), all three of whom the Cubs would no doubt want to re-sign to a 2024 minor league contract.
The next most-likely are (in order) Wisdom (projected to make $2.75M), Tauchman (projected to make $2M), Madrigal (projected to make $2M), Leiter (projected to make $1.75M), and Merryweather (projected to make $1.5M), mainly because they are arbitration-eligible and the Cubs can cut as much as $9M in 2024 payroll (and AAV) by non-tendering them.