Which Cubs' options will get exercised? (2024)

October 30th, 2020

Which Cubs' options will get exercised? (1)

Jordan Bastian


CHICAGO -- As soon as the Dodgers hoisted the World Series trophy earlier this week, baseball's offseason clock began to tick. For the Cubs, that meant continuing to plan for some crucial decisions that are just around the corner.

By Sunday, the Cubs must decide on 2021 options for first baseman Anthony Rizzo and utility man Daniel Descalso. Following its decision to decline Jon Lester’s $25 million option on Friday, Chicago has nine free agents in the MLB pool and could add more as the team evaluates its payroll situation and examines the landscape amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's a challenging environment out there," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said during a discussion with reporters at the end of the season. "That said, we have a lot going for us as an organization moving forward.

"And [we have] a lot of chips to bring to the table with us this offseason, both in terms of building a very strong and improved team in 2021, and also, in some instances, being transactional, as we see how the marketplace unfolds."

Besides Lester, the Cubs have free agents in Andrew Chafin, Tyler Chatwood, Billy Hamilton, Jeremy Jeffress, Jason Kipnis, Cameron Maybin, Josh Phegley and José Quintana, but none would seem to be a candidate for the one-year qualifying offer for '21. The three option cases look to be the bigger priority come Sunday.

Here is a breakdown of the Cubs' three option cases:

1B Anthony Rizzo
Option value: $16.5 million
Buyout: $2 million

Even in an uncertain economic climate across MLB, combined with the Cubs' need to be smart about their payroll for '21, Rizzo's option seems like a no-brainer. One way to think about it is that his one-year deal is under this year's one-year qualifying offer for free agents ($18.9 million). That's good value for the Cubs.

Rizzo, 31, hit .222/.342/.414 with 11 homers and 24 RBIs in 58 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. But it's hard to read too much into a sample that is roughly 35% of a typical season. In the previous seven years, Rizzo slashed .276/.376/.499 with nearly 30 homers, 75 walks and 100 RBIs per season.

At the moment, the Cubs do not have an obvious internal solution for first base, either. Retaining Rizzo not only makes sense in terms of value, but his experience, stature, leadership and production would remain key for a Chicago team trying to thread that needle of contending now and planning for the future.

Prediction: Option exercised

LHP Jon Lester
Option value: $25 million
Buyout: $10 million

There could be a scenario in which the 36-year-old Lester is still in a Cubs uniform in 2021. It just won't be via this option, which was included in the six-year, $155 million contract he signed with the club prior to '15. It was arguably the best free-agent signing in franchise history, but the option was always an improbability.

There is interest on both sides of the negotiating table for the lefty to return to the Cubs, and there is certainly a sense of unfinished business for Lester. The abbreviated season cost him a chance at reaching his 200th career win. He is currently at 193 after going 3-3 with a 5.16 ERA in 12 starts in '20. It's worth noting that 15 of Lester's 35 earned runs allowed came between a pair of tough starts against the White Sox.

The top of the Cubs' rotation is set with Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, but the depth behind them is thin beyond Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay. Chicago will need to add a starter (plus depth options) this winter, so a Lester reunion does make some sense. But if that happens, the club will pay the buyout and look to work out a team-friendly, one-year pact.

Decision: Option declined

Daniel Descalso
Option value: $3.5 million
Buyout: $1 million

Coming off a solid '18 campaign, Descalso's two-year, $5 million contract with the Cubs looked like a bargain going into the '19 campaign. That was before poor production (.173 average with a .521 OPS in 82 games in '19) and injuries (he missed the entire '20 season) plagued his time with the Cubs.

Even while sidelined, the Cubs valued the leadership that the 34-year-old Descalso brought behind the scenes for the ballclub. That said, it seems inevitable that Chicago will take the buyout and send the veteran infielder into the free-agent pool. The Cubs have internal utility alternatives, or they could find cost-effective bench solutions this winter.

Prediction: Option declined

Which Cubs' options will get exercised? (2024)
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