Heading into this past Wednesday’s non-tender deadline, many had speculated that the Cubs would part with most or all of a group of middling arbitration-eligible relievers. As it turned out, however, the only one no longer on the roster is Ryan Tepera, the pitcher who seemed most likely to be tendered a deal. There are at least a few hundred thousand reasons for that decision, as revealed by the salaries of the other pitchers.
Rather than going through the arbitration process, the Cubs agreed to team-friendly terms with Colin Rea at $702,500, Dan Winkler at $900,000, and Kyle Ryan on a split contract that will pay him $800,000 if he’s on the 26-man roster. Based on their projected arbitration salaries, that’s a combined savings of anywhere from $700K to $1.9 million. Doesn’t seem like a lot until you consider that represents a 23-44% discount over initial salary projections.
You can click that link for additional context, but here are the ranges calculated by MLB Trade Rumors:
- Colin Rea – $1.0MM / $1.6MM / $1.0MM
- Kyle Ryan – $1.2MM / $1.5MM / $1.2MM
- Dan Winkler – $1.0MM / $1.2MM / $900K
Though any attempt to accurately project salaries this winter is obviously more complicated than in the past, even the most conservative methods had all of these relievers earning at least $1 million. Okay, there is one model that had Winkler at the same $900K he ended up getting. Ryan is the only one seeing his 2020 salary cut, as he made $975K this past season, so the other two are at least getting raises of some sort.
This is the same thing we saw across baseball as somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 players took pre-tender deals rather than being forced into a free agency market that might have seen them settling for minor league deals. Tepera was presumably non-tendered because he wouldn’t take an offer he didn’t feel was a significant enough raise over the $900K he earned in 2020.
Scratch that, he only took home a prorated amount of that total. Even though his control got a little wonky in the second half, his cutter was the best pitch in baseball in terms of whiff rate and he closed the season with a six-game scoreless streak during which he allowed just one hit. Seems like the kind of guy you’d want to keep around, but also like the kind of guy who feels he won’t take as much of a bath by hitting the market.
These are the kinds of moves you typically expect when it comes to bullpen construction, but we’ll probably see that strategy extend to the rest of the roster this winter. Minors deals, reclamation projects, pillow deals. Just don’t get your hopes up that any savings will be funneled into signing a big-name replacement for Kyle Schwarber or any future departures.