The new CBA rules on free agency took effect after the World Series. The old Qualifying Offer rules have been diluted and complicated to a point where there is less incentive to make offers and more incentive to sign players who rejected them (as the loss of a first or second round draft pick has been lessened based on revenue sharing and luxury tax components in a compensation formula).
Only 9 players received the $17.4 million one year offer from their clubs. The Cubs offered SP Arrieta and closer Davis contracts.
Arrieta had been adamant that he was going to reject a QO and head into free agency looking for a career ending 7 year $180 million plus contract. But his advanced statistics have shown the wear and tear of the last two seasons. He may have missed the golden parachute by a year. He may still get $20 million annual salary over 5 years.
Davis is the more interesting question. Closers are in high demand and there is a shortage on the open market (unless you think teams will convert some second tier starters like Andrew Cashner into closers). The Cubs have had a philosophy of not paying high value free agent closers. The long term contract requirements scare off the Cubs sinking potential dead money on older pitchers dead arms. And the way Joe Maddon tends to burn out his bullpen in the post-season is also an issue. (There is no question Chapman was not the same pitcher this year after his Cubs post-season abuse.)
But the Cubs have no closer on their current roster. Edwards may be projected into that role, but his lack of command at the end of last season has given some Cub observers the Marmol chills.
The front office has admitted that the minor league system is bare. It means that if the team wants to find a quality starter or a closer in the trade market, it will have to send one or two players off their current 25 man roster. The likely trade chips are Russell, Baez, Schwarber and/or Happ.
One rumor is that the Cubs could package two position players for Tampa's Chris Archer, a quality starter with four more years of team control. But like Arrieta, Archer's advanced pitching stats indicate that his 4 to 1 strikeout ratio and innings pitched have made him more ineffective in the last two season. The quality of his pitches is down.
There was also another rumor that the Cubs could try to package a deal to swap bad money deals. What was floated in the speculative bubble of the internet was the Cubs trading Heyward and half his salary to the Giants for Jeff Samardzija and his $59 million, 3 year contract. There are two problems with this speculation: one, Samardzija had a poor year with a 4.42 ERA and two, Heyward still has one more year of a no-trade clause. It is doubtful that Heyward would waive his no trade to move to a rebuilding club in San Francisco. The Cubs really do not have a great right field player to push Heyward to the bench.
The Cubs painted themselves into a corner. The minor league system is not producing quality starting pitchers. AAA Iowa does not have quality arms to re-stock the major league bullpen. Edwards is not ready for a prime time closer role. The Cubs have two starting rotation slots to fill. The Brewers are one or two players away from taking the NL Central.