According to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, the Cubs have declined the $5 million option on reliever David Phelps for next season. The veteran righty posted a 3.41 ERA across 34.1 innings for the Cubs and Blue Jays in 2019 and now joins a pretty thin relief market. Despite his solid production, it’s not surprising that the Cubs aren’t paying the 33-year-old five times what his option was initially worth.
Cubs news. Source indicates the team has declined the option they held on reliever David Phelps. It would have paid him $5 million next season. He's a free agent
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) November 4, 2019
Therein lies a pretty interesting twist to the whole deal, since the Cubs could have manipulated things late last season to keep Phelps at a mere $3 million. His original contract was for $2.5 million in 2019 with a $1 million option for 2020 that would jump to $3 million with 30 appearances, $5 million with 40 appearances, and $7 million with 50 appearances.
Phelps had already pitched in 17 games when the Cubs acquired him from Toronto just ahead of the trade deadline, so reaching the first of those thresholds was pretty much a given. But by giving him 24 appearances over the final two months of the season, the Cubs pushed Phelps to $5 million by just two games and essentially guaranteed that he’d be a free agent.
Not that I’m suggesting the Cubs should have limited Phelps’ workload in order to bring him back at a lower cost. They got two months of solid effort from a veteran reliever and Phelps could well command more money in a weak relief market, so everything may have worked out the best for both sides. With a renewed focus on pitching development and a few young relievers waiting in the wings, letting Phelps go at the higher amount was a pretty easy decision.