Cubs, Kris Bryant reach $18.6 million agreement for 2020

Third baseman among six eligible players with whom the Cubs avoided arbitration, but his future with the team remains uncertain.

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“We floated it out there. I might have brought it up, too,” Kris Bryant said of becoming a leadoff hitter.

Kris Bryant and the Cubs agreed to a one-year, $18.6 million contract.

Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The Cubs answered one of their Kris Bryant questions when they agreed to terms with their three-time All-Star third baseman Friday on an $18.6 million contract for 2020.

Next question: Who’s going to pay him that money?

The Cubs reached agreement with all six of their arbitration-eligible players on the deadline day for exchanging salary figures for potential hearings.

That included All-Star shortstop Javy Baez ($10 million) and All-Star catcher Willson Contreras ($4.5 million), both of whom are among those still in play for multiyear extensions before the season opens, sources say.

Also reaching agreement were left fielder Kyle Schwarber ($7.01 million), center fielder Albert Almora ($1.575 million) and left-handed reliever Kyle Ryan ($975,000).

Bryant remains one of the biggest keys to anything the Cubs yet can do this winter to improve a roster that won 84 games, missed the playoffs, then lost several key pitchers to free agency.

So far, the budget-tapped Cubs have done little with their roster. They and the Rockies are the only two teams that haven’t added even one major-league, non-split contract to their roster during a $2 billion free-agency season for the rest of the industry.

Moving salary still appears to be the Cubs’ only avenue to adding help for the roster. And trading Bryant not only would recoup $18.6 million in flexibility but presumably would mean one of their better possibilities for a strong return in a player package.

The agreements Friday clarified the Cubs’ payroll issues. Barring an extension or two that might bring down the annual average values of contracts involving those players, the deals bring the Cubs’ contract commitments for purposes of luxury-tax liability to $184.63 million for 16 players (excluding players recently acquired on split contracts).

If they stood pat, the remaining 10 big-league salaries alone (roster sizes increase to 26 this season) might be worth $8 million for in-house candidates. Add the roughly $15 million in annual player benefits that count against the $208 million luxury-tax threshold, and a conservative estimate has the Cubs already at $207.63 million.

And that doesn’t count the rest of the 40-man roster. The Cubs were one of three teams to pay the luxury tax in 2019, and multiple ‘‘violations’’ of the threshold result in increasing penalties.

Bryant, who is considered the least likely among the Cubs’ best core players to bite on a team-tolerant extension, might have been traded already this winter if not for a strong free-agent market at his position.

And the Cubs remain in a holding pattern until the market more fully develops after the last big-name free agent at the position, Josh Donaldson, is off the board. The Nationals, Twins and Braves all are linked to Donaldson.

Also in play, to a much smaller degree, is the pending decision in Bryant’s grievance against the Cubs over service-time manipulation — a decision most in the industry think will favor the Cubs and Major League Baseball. If Bryant prevails, it would make him a free agent after this season, one year earlier than he would be eligible now.

Another factor in Bryant’s market is that the Rockies are dangling franchise third baseman Nolan Arenado in trade conversations, although he would come with a remaining commitment of seven years and $234 million on the contract extension he signed last spring.

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