Cubs

Cubs avoid arbitration with five players, including a record payday for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Cubs avoid arbitration with five players, including a record payday for Kris Bryant

The Cubs have avoided going to arbitration with a group of key players Friday.

In the hours before the Cubs Convention, the organization reached agreement with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Justin Wilson and Tommy La Stella.

Bryant received a record figure for the first year of arbitration, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer:

Here are the reported figures for all five players:

Bryant - $10.85 million
Wilson - $4.25 million
Hendricks - $4.175 million
Russell - $3.2 million
La Stella - $950K

MLB Trade Rumors predicted the salary figures for the five players at $8.9 million (Bryant), $4.9 million (Hendricks), $4.3 million (Wilson), $2.3 million (Russell) and $1 million (La Stella).

Bryant receives a huge, well-deserved pay raise for the former MVP and NL Rookie of the Year that has turned into one of the faces of baseball. Russell is aiming to put a rough 2017 season behind him and take another step forward in his development in 2018.

Wilson is in his third year of arbitration and figures to be a huge part of the 2018 Cubs bullpen. The 30-year-old southpaw had a 5.09 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in 23 games in Chicago after coming over at the trade deadline last season. But he was stellar in the first four months of 2017 with the Detroit Tigers, saving 13 games with a 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 12.3 K/9.

Hendricks just turned 28 this week and emerged as the organization's choice to pitch Game 1 of the postseason last year against the Dodgers in the NLDS. He's in the first year of arbitration and has a career 2.94 ERA, 1.098 WHIP and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2016.

La Stella isn't a starter on the Cubs but he's been a valuable bench bat the last three years, slashing .276/.363/.429 in 395 plate appearances while seeing the majority of his time at second and third base.

As of Friday afternoon, the Cubs still have to reach an agreement with only one other player: Justin Grimm. Arbitration hearings are set up for next month, though the two sides could reach an agreement before then.

Theo Epstein's front office has never gone to arbitration with any player.

MLBTR predicts Grimm will get $2.4 million.

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

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AP

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

It would be easy to point to Kyle Schwarber's new six-pack as the main reason why he's off to a solid start at the plate.

But Schwarber's offensive prowess is more related to the work he's done inside his own head, not on being in the Best Shape of His Life.

He's out to prove he's more than just a three true outcomes guy.

In the Cubs' 8-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Schwarber flashed a different part of his game with a pair of groundball RBI singles that helped stake his team to an early lead.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon also pointed to Schwarber's lineout up the middle in the eighth inning as his favorite at-bat, even above the run-scoring hits.

"That's as good as I've seen him in a while," Maddon said.

Schwarber is hitting the ball with authority up the middle and the other way, shortening up his swing with two strikes and finding ways to beat the shift by just sticking his bat out and directing the ball to the left side of second base, where teams only have one defender.

Schwarber is still largely a three true outcomes guy, on pace for 30 homers, 101 walks and 172 strikeouts.

But he no longer looks so stressed/anxious with runners in scoring position. He's been working toward relaxing with guys on base and instead of trying to put every ball out onto Sheffield Ave., he's doing what he can to just put the ball in play.

He insists his thought process with runners in scoring position hasn't changed since last year, but he is definitely getting better results now.

After starting the year 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, Schwarber went 3-for-6 in such situations on the Cubs' recent homestand. Even more impressive: All three hits have come with two outs and went to center or left field.

"I'm not trying to go out there and put a lot of pressure on myself because that's when negative things are gonna happen," Schwarber said. "You just gotta be able to have that same approach you have when there's no one on base."

Since the start of the 2017 season, here are Schwarber's numbers based on runners:

Bases empty: .220 AVG, .831 OPS
Runners on: .206 AVG, .730 OPS

The Cubs are trying to get him back to his 2015 form when he exploded onto the major-league scene to hit .270 with a .914 OPS with runners on base.

There is reason for optimism and the numbers back up Schwarber's progress.

In 2017, 83 percent of his season RBI came on home runs — he only had 10 RBI that didn't come from longballs.

This year, he already has 5 RBI on non-homers and there is still roughly 90 percent of the season remaining. Only 44 percent of his 2018 RBI have come on dingers.

As impressive as anything, Schwarber ranks 17th in baseball in walk percentage (16.9 percent) while also reducing his strikeout percentage slightly from last year's struggles

Schwarber has spent a lot of time working with new hitting coach Chili Davis, but he won't allow himself to ride the daily roller coaster based off recent success, even if it is helping his confidence.

"Yeah, I've been feeling good," Schwarber said. "There's been some tough at-bats here and there, but still taking the walks and also trying to get those guys in when they're on and go from there.

"Not gonna get too high, not gonna get too low when things are going bad. Just stay right in the middle."

When Schwarber is producing like this and Javy Baez is ascending to star status, this Cubs offense won't be struggling to find consistency for long.

"If these two guys keep on doing [this], wow," Maddon said. "Sky's the limit."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Connor McKnight (670 The Score) and Phil Thompson (Chicago Tribune) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs offense comes alive with Albert Almora, Jr. leading off. Is it time to make him the everyday centerfielder? 

Plus Mitch Trubisky says this week’s minicamp is the most he’s been coached in his career. So how long will it take him to master Matt Nagy’s new offense?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: