By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The decision process has begun now for the Cubs and their own free agents.
MLB teams must decide whether to extend qualifying offers to their own free agents by Monday afternoon. By doing so, a team can retain that player on a one-year contract if the qualifying offer is accepted or the club can receive draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. The qualifying offer for this offseason has been set at $17.4 million, and players have 10 days after Monday to decide to accept or decline.
For this 2017-’18 offseason, the policy has changed for draft pick compensation regarding players who leave their incumbent teams after being extended a qualifying offer. The default compensatory pick now given to teams losing a top-tier free agent comes after the second round. There’s still a path to receiving a compensatory pick after the first round, but it will be more rare. The team losing the free agent will have to be a club that receives revenue sharing and loses a free agent signing for $50 million guaranteed or more.
There are other stipulations as well, depending where a team falls in regards to the luxury tax threshold.
In the past, the incumbent team would receive a compensatory pick after the first round for top-tier free agents leaving, and the signing team would forfeit a first-round pick or their next-best pick if their first-rounder fell in the top 10.
As it pertains to the Cubs, right-hander Jake Arrieta and closer Wade Davis are high-profile candidates to receive the qualifying offer, which means Chicago would be in line to receive draft pick compensation if one or both leave.
Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, will be one of the most sought-after pitchers on the market. He’s worked hard to have this opportunity for a big payday, so he’ll reject the qualifying offer, assuming the Cubs extend it.
The equation is somewhat different for the 32-year-old Davis, who was a rock for the Cubs with 32 saves and a 2.30 ERA in 2017. He made $10 million in 2017, so the $17.4 million figure would be a substantial annual raise. The Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman is the highest-paid closer in baseball, with a five-year deal that pay an average of $17.2 million annually. So Davis accepting the qualifying offer would put him in line with the highest-paid player at his position, in a way that Arrieta wouldn’t be rewarded as a starting pitcher.
Davis could conceivably accept the qualifying offer and then hit free agency again after the 2018 season. That would be the ideal scenario for the Cubs, who don’t have an obvious in-house candidate in line to replace Davis. Carl Edwards Jr. had a quality 2017 season, but his command was poor in the playoffs, and the Cubs may be hesitant to move him into the closer’s role.
Davis and his former Royals teammate Greg Holland, most recently with the Rockies, headline the list of free-agent closers. The Cubs could end up bidding on either one. Until a heavy workload caught up with him after the All-Star break, Holland was as good as Davis in 2017. Two years removed from elbow surgery, Holland finished with an National League-best 41 saves, a 3.61 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Cubs handled Davis beautifully last season. He appeared in 59 games and was protected from re-injuring his forearm that landed him on the disabled list twice in 2016. That type of care shown by the Cubs and the familiar surrounding could make a return to Chicago a popular choice for Davis.
The Cubs won’t extend qualifying offers reliever Koji Uehara, outfielder Jon Jay, reliever Brian Duensing and right-hander John Lackey. Their other two free agents, catchers Alex Avila and Rene Rivera, aren’t eligible for a qualifying offer, because they didn’t spend the entire 2017 season with the Cubs. Chicago is free to pursue and sign any of those players in free agency.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.