The 2021 Chicago Cubs are already on the move for the upcoming season. Players have declared free agency, options have been both picked up and declined, players are being signed from waiver claims. Yes, it’s that time of the year again, MLB Hot Stove is starting. For the next six months, players will come and go, so much so, that they may want to install a revolving door at 1060 W. Addison Street in Chicago.
2021 Cubs: Free Agency Declarations
Out with the old, in with the new. Every year, all 30 MLB teams experience a transitional period, as players claim their right to test the free-agent market, and this year will be no different for the Cubs.
The following players have declared free agency. Most of this list was expected, as several were rentals, but the only two players who were eligible to receive a qualifying offer (Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana), did not receive one.
This isn’t to say that these players won’t be with the 2021 Chicago Cubs, but contracts will have to be negotiated. I wouldn’t look for them to retain very many on the list, but there is an outside shot that they attempt to retain Jeffress, as he was certainly the go-to guy in 2020.
2021 Chicago Cubs: Team Options
Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer were left with three decisions on team options this year, and for the most part, their decisions were obvious.
The Cubs declined 2B Daniel Descalso‘s option, electing instead to pay the buyout and rid themselves of a player who just never materialized. One of the reasons that Chicago took on Descalso was for his veteran leadership abilities, but injuries (both legit and phantom) had Descalso on the IL more than he was on the field or in the clubhouse. His fielding was mediocre at best and his hitting was deplorable. The team should have never signed him to begin with, but live and learn – even if it does cost you $5M bucks.
Also not very surprising, was the Cubs’ decision to decline Jon Lesters $25M option for 2021. Lester is a seasoned vet, but with age comes a drop in velocity and control, and Lester has struggled a lot for the better part of the last two seasons.
Lester had a $10M buyout, so the question became whether or not he was worth an additional $15M for the year. Sadly, it was decided that he wasn’t. Big Jon had become a staple in the starting rotation, but it was clear that David Ross would drop him in the rotation this past season. Lester went from the #1 starter to the #4 man in the blink of an eye. When that happened, the writing on the wall became very clear: Lester would not be part of the 2021 Chicago Cubs.
In true Jon Lester fashion, he celebrated his time in Chicago by thanking the fans with a beer.
For the last eight years (2013-2020), Rizzo has played for an average annual value (AAV) of just $5,638,888.88, with his 2021 option ($16.5M) being the year he finally got paid what he’s worked so hard for. Had the Cubs forgone his option, there was a $2M buyout, which would have only raised his AAV to just under $5.9M.
When you factor out the $15M that the Cubs saved from not paying Lester, Rizzo’s option cost them a mere $1.5M. Granted, they still have to fill Lester’s spot in the rotation, but Alec Mills appears ready to step in.
2021 Chicago Cubs: Waiver Claim
The Cubs have already managed to add a man to their 40-man roster for 2021. On October 30th, they claimed 2B Max Schrock off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Schrock’s rookie status is still intact in 2021, and he’ll remain under club control until the end of the 2026 season. With Kipnis gone (and Descalso, for whatever he was worth), Schrock could find himself competing with David Bote and/or Nico Hoerner for a full-time slot at second base.
During the 2020 season, Schrock only appeared in 11 games at the MLB level, during which time he batted .176/.176/.353 with a .529 OPS. Not great by any means, but included in those stats (17 plate appearances, 17 at-bats) was a single and solo home run (six strikeouts, no walks). Schrock just turned 26 on October 12th, so he’s far from the has-been that the Cubs seem to have a tendency to sign.
Interestingly enough, Schrock’s at-bats were all as a pinch hitter. While he had no fielding time, it’s interesting to note that he also plays third base, something which could come in handy if (more likely, when) the Cubs trade Kris Bryant.
2021 Chicago Cubs: To KB or Not to KB
And now, the question of the winter for Cubs fans: Will the 2021 Chicago Cubs roster include the name Kris Bryant? The short answer is that in all likelihood, no.
Consider the following: Bryant filed a service time grievance against the team, which he lost. To Bryant’s credit, he has maintained a positive attitude (at least outwardly) about remaining with the team, but if your boss cost you tens of millions of dollars, wouldn’t you be a little disgruntled?
Make no mistake, the Cubs absolutely manipulated Bryant’s service time so as to be able to control him through the end of the 2021 season. What they did may have been unethical, but per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it wasn’t illegal. Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, aka as a major league pain in the rear to team owners. Don’t expect Boras to give the Cubs any sort of hometown discount after next season, as he hasn’t forgotten the service time manipulation.
Further complicating issues for the 2021 Chicago Cubs roster is that Bryant has been on the decline for the past couple of seasons. His fielding percentage has gone down, his batting stats in 2020 hit rock bottom, and suddenly he spends a lot of time on the IL. During the course of the 2020 MLB season, Bryant appeared in only 34 of the 60 games (56.7%).
With one year of controllability left, it’s time to trade Bryant. Let the 2021 Chicago Cubs save the $18.5M that KB is expected to earn in arbitration, and spend that money on replacing the two open spots they’ll still have in their starting rotation.
The offseason just started, but the 2021 Chicago Cubs are already starting to take shape. As the winter wears on, keep in mind that it’s not so important who isn’t on the roster, but rather who is.
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