Let's just say that our next team is presumably looking forward to a nice offseason of change. It remains to be seen what the Chicago Cubs will do with Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez, but presumably 2011 will look an awful lot like a transition season on the North Side. The new wave of Cubs, led by shortstop Starlin Castro, outfielder Tyler Colvin and pitchers like Andrew Cashner and Jay Jackson, are slowly making their way onto the big league roster. We've already seen two mainstays from that roster get dealt this season in Ted Lilly and Derrek Lee. They also get to say goodbye to Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva and John Grabow at the end of next season. Right now, Chicago has four players locked up for 2012: Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd. They hold options on Silva, Ramirez and Jeff Samardzija, but it doesn't appear likely that they'll exercise any of those.
With all of that said, let's take a look at what they'll do this offseason. Presumably this won't be a particularly eventful offseason in Chicago, as the team is focused on the future and dealing with the inflexibility of being burdened with multiple awful contracts. Here are some quick explanations of the arbitration system, service time, and "Super Twos" for those who aren't totally familiar, courtesy of MLBTR.
And as always, we're doing these in order of each player's respective 2010 salary like I did in the previous posts, and any references to a raise are based on those salaries as well.
RHP Carlos Marmol - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $2.125M
He may have a nasty habit for walking like 25 guys in an inning every once in a while, but when he's on I don't know if I've seen many guys that can dominate like Marmol does. His slider is an absolutely devastating pitch when he's locating it, and that's reflected in his ability to miss bats with the pitch - he's getting guys to swing-and-miss on 18% of the sliders that he throws. He has by far the best strikeout rate among pitchers with 60+ innings pitched at 15.83 per 9 innings; Joel Hanrahan is a distant second at 12.64 per 9 innings. Only Luke Gregerson and Jonny Venters are getting more swing-and-misses among the same group of pitchers. He's 65th among all pitchers in strikeouts even though 178 pitchers have thrown more innings than him. At times he's absolutely nerve-wracking, but damn is he fun to watch, and he's pretty freaking good, too.
2B/3B Jeff Baker - 2nd season of arbitration - Non-tender
It seems pretty likely that the Cubs will go with Aramis Ramirez and Blake DeWitt at third base and second base, respectively, so it's not really clear what kind of role Baker would fill. He could presumably fill-in as a back-up to them and as a part-time outfielder, but he hasn't hit particularly well this year and is likely to get a decent raise if tendered a contract. I just think they're better off with the additional flexibility; maybe they trade him or try to sign him for less, or maybe they see if Darwin Barney can be a cheap utility infielder for the team. And I suppose there's the possibility that Ramirez opts out and this entire plan gets pretty out of whack.
LHP Sean Marshall - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $0.950M
This one is proving to be a much easier call for Chicago than it was coming into the season. After making the gradual transition from the rotation to the bullpen over the past couple years, Marshall has truly broken out this season as the primary left-handed reliever for the Cubs. Despite an unusual new approach to pitching, Marshall has drastically improved his ability to miss bats while maintaining his solid walk rate and strong groundball rate. He's fifth among all MLB relievers in WAR at the moment, so he's clearly emerging as one of the better left-handed relievers in the game.
RHP Angel Guzman - 2nd season of arbitration - Non-tender
He probably would get tendered if it wasn't for the shoulder surgery, but the combination of alright performance and a bad history of health is enough for a non-tender in my opinion. 2009 appeared to be a breakout for Guzman, as he put up decent peripherals along with a very strong ERA in 61 innings with the Cubs. Armed with a fastball that sat around 94-95, Guzman appeared to be in line for the job as Marmol's set-up man before the shoulder injury put him on the DL. Maybe the Cubs will re-sign him for cheaper, though.
LHP Tom Gorzelanny - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $0.8M
An easy tender at this point, as the left-hander has all but locked up a place in the team's 2011 rotation. He hasn't pitched nearly as well in his past 10 starts and he's been on the shelf since September 1 after taking a comebacker off the pinkie, but he's still putting up some pretty solid numbers. Even after getting a raise from his $800K salary, he still projects to be a solid investment for next season. And even if the Cubs don't have a spot for him in their rotation, he'll presumably hold some solid trade value as well, which reinforces that he's assuredly be tendered.
C Koyie Hill - 2nd season of arbitration - Non-tender
Given the year that Hill has had, I don't really see how the Cubs could bring him back. I know that it's nice to have a really solid defensive catcher around, especially when your primary guy is one of the better offensive catchers in baseball (more on him in a moment). But we're talking about a guy who's simply never hit in any of the seven seasons during which he's gotten some playing time, and that hasn't changed as his playing time has increased in Chicago. Maybe he's worth bringing back on a minor-league deal, but the Cubs really don't need to have such a huge disparity in quality between their starter and their back-up.
C Geovany Soto - 1st season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $0.575M
In case you didn't notice, Soto has quietly re-emerged as one of the best catchers in baseball, with a bat that could easily play at essentially any position. With above-average power (.225 ISO) and a crazy good walk rate (16.3%), Soto has emerged as a legitimate force at the position. His .387 wOBA is easily the best in baseball among catchers with 350+ plate appearances, and he projects to continue to be one of the top backstops in the game even after some regression.