CHICAGO — As if the winter in Chicago hasn't been cold enough already, Dallas Green, general manager of the Cubs, forecasts more chill off Lake Michigan.
Last fall, after the Cubs won the National League Eastern division title, Green barely had time to wash the champagne out of his gray hair before he was involved in contract negotiations.
The negotiations with free agents Rick Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley, Steve Trout and Tim Stoddard were exhausting, but provided great reviews. Green signed Eckersley first to a three-year deal, followed it up with a five-year pact for Trout and then capped it with a victory in the Sutcliffe sweepstakes, signing the bearded right-hander to a five-year deal worth more than $9.5 million.
But the free agent talks were just the beginning. Now, Green has to tackle Cubs who are eligible for salary arbitration.
"It could be a long, hard winter for us," Green conceded.
Tops on the list is first baseman Leon Durham, who is not eligible to become a free agent, but whose contract is now up. In addition, the Cubs face possible arbitration cases with pitcher George Frazier and fleet center fielder Bob Dernier.
Frazier came in the Sutcliffe deal and is needed to shore up the bullpen. Dernier came from the Phillies before spring training and wound up being a Gold Glove center fielder.
Durham, switched to first from the outfield in a move that enabled the Cubs to trade Bill Buckner for Eckersley, was one of the team's most consistent power and RBI men. He batted .279 with 23 homers and 96 RBIs.
Frazier was 6-3 with a 4.10 ERA and three saves after coming over June 13 from the Indians.
Dernier hit .278, but was better than .300 for the first two-thirds of the season.
The negotiations with Durham may be the most tricky. He can command big money, the kind that was offered to the free agents.
No doubt he is aware of the kind of money the Cubs have to throw around and may ask for much more than they will offer. It will then be up to an arbiter to decide which figure is the more realistic.
Fortunately for the Cubs, none of the three are eligible to become free agents next year.
The same cannot be said for either outfielder Gary Matthews, credited with being the inspirational force for last year's division championship, or pitcher Scott Sanderson.
The Cubs could elect to tie up all loose ends right now by extending their contracts. More realistically, they will probably wait. If they do, both could become free agents next year.
Unless Matthews or Sanderson can duplicate the kind of season that Sutcliffe had in 1984, it is doubtful either could command the type of money Sutcliffe wound up getting.
Additionally, Matthews' age is a factor as is Sanderson's sore back.
Still, with attempting to come to terms with Durham, Frazier and Dernier without going to arbitration--and contemplating whether to avoid free agency wars with Sanderson and Matthews next year--Green and the Cubs face some continued hard monetary decisions in the coming weeks.
That is not even counting any other demands by Cubs such as Jody Davis or even MVP Ryne Sandberg to have their contracts renegotiated.
"That's baseball, that's what happens," Green said. "Player salaries went up on the average 30% last year, win lose or draw. That's something that is going to continue."
Once known as one of the most frugal of baseball organizations when the Wrigley family owned the Cubs, the club under the Tribune Co. has zoomed upward on the salary level.
Unofficial estimates show the Cubs ranked either sixth or seventh at the present time in player payroll. It may have climbed to as high as fourth after the signing of the free agent pitchers earlier in the winter.
"That could conceivably be an upper 5th place by the time that is over," Green conceded. "The Tribune Co. haven't put any limitations on me other than just using good sense."
However, because the Cubs face some tough decisions in the coming weeks, next year may wind up being less of a budgetary nightmare for the team.
"At least next year I'll know how much my payroll is likely to be. It won't have that large jump because of all of the multi-year contracts," Green said.