The Cubs did not tender contracts to a trio of relievers who missed much or all of this past season due to injury, making Codi Heuer, Brandon Hughes and Ethan Roberts free agents after the deadline Friday.
The Cubs also agreed to terms on a 2024 contract with corner infielder Patrick Wisdom, avoiding arbitration in his first year of eligibility. He’s set to earn $2,725,000, a source confirmed.
The Cubs tendered contracts to six other arbitration-eligible players: left-hander Justin Steele; relievers Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr. and Julian Merryweather; third baseman Nick Madrigal; and outfielder Mike Tauchman. The Cubs have until a mid-January deadline to agree to a contract with those players or exchange salary figures for a hearing.
By non-tendering Heuer, Hughes and Roberts, the Cubs opened three spots on their previously full 40-man roster. The moves do not preclude the Cubs from engaging those players in free agency.
Heuer was expected to make his highly anticipated return from Tommy John surgery midway through this season. But more than six weeks into a rehab assignment at Triple-A Iowa, he sustained a fracture in his right pitching elbow. He underwent surgery to repair the fracture with screws and wires, putting his timetable into question. At the end of the season, he was targeting mid-November to begin a throwing progression.
Roberts also missed the entire season, after undergoing Tommy John surgery in July of 2022. He was throwing live batting practice by this August and was expected to have a normal offseason progression heading into spring training.
Hughes was similarly looking at a regular offseason ramp-up after undergoing left knee surgery in June. The left-hander managed 17 appearances this past season, but he was battling bouts of inflammation in his knee from at least spring training until the Cubs shut him down.
Wisdom weathered changing roles as the Cubs’ corner infield situation evolved throughout the year. He began the year in a platoon at third base but also filled in at first and was called upon in more high-leverage pinch-hit situations at the end of the year. He only hit .205 but surpassed the 20 home run mark for the third straight season.
“I’m happy with how I’ve handled myself,” Wisdom said in a conversation with the Sun-Times late in the season. “Mentally, I feel like I made a ton of strides just in that aspect. Sure, the numbers aren’t where I want them to be, but I feel like I’ve reacted in a good way.”
Steele: Even before giving Steele a strong platform in his first year of arbitration, his All-Star season set him up for a respectable payday out of this year’s $50 million pre-arbitration bonus pool, both for his 2023 WAR and for finishing fifth in National League Cy Young voting.
He was the team’s best pitcher over the course of the season, posting a career-best 3.06 ERA in a career-high 30 starts.
The new Big 3: The Cubs’ trio of back-end relievers — Alzolay, Leiter and Merryweather — all got their first taste of arbitration eligibility this offseason.
Alzolay locking down the closer role, and Leiter and Merryweather settling in as setup men, served as a turning point in the Cubs’ season. They all put together career-best seasons out of the bullpen and pushed through a heavy workload as the team pulled itself into playoff contention.
The Cubs struggled to adjust late in the year when Alzolay went on the IL for a strained right forearm and Leiter was sidelined for about a week with low back spasms.
Tauchman: Tauchman joined the organization last year on a minor-league deal with a spring training invitation. He ended up playing 108 major-league games for his hometown team, slashing .252/.363/.377. He made two of the Cubs’ most memorable defensive plays of the year: a diving catch in the right-field gap in San Francisco as Kyle Hendricks took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning, and a game-winning robbery of what would have been a walk-off home run in St. Louis.
Madrigal: The only player of the six in his second year of arbitration, Madrigal moved from second base to third this year, turning what sounded like a wacky experiment into a success story.
Though the 5-foot-8 Madrigal isn’t built like a typical third baseman, he developed into the Cubs’ best defensive option at the position. In his second season back from 2021 hamstring surgery, the physical difference from the year before was clear. He hit .263 with a career-high 16 doubles. But a right hamstring strain ended his season early.