Both players are classified as a Type B free agents by Major League Baseball. That classification could behoove the Cubs if either player signs elsewhere. In that case, the Cubs are entitled to a sandwich pick in the June amateur draft. Sandwich selections are made between the draft's first and second rounds. Free agents who are offered arbitration have until Dec. 7 to accept or decline arbitration offers.
The club opted not to offer arbitration to relief pitcher Kerry Wood. That is hardly an indication that he won't be returning, however. Both team president Theo Epstein and general manger Jed Hoyer have indicated the team wants to negotiate a deal that would bring Wood back for the 2012 season.
Both Ramirez and Pena are looking for multiyear contracts. Ramirez elected not to exercise a $16 million, one-year option on his previous contract in November. Pena was paid $10 million in 2011. In a unique agreement, the Cubs paid Pena's one-year deal in three different calendar years. He received $3 million in December 2010, $4 million during the 2011 season and he will receive the final $3 million in January 2012.
The Cubs run the risk of both players accepting arbitration. Ramirez, who made $15 million last season, could ask for $17 or $18 million in the arbitration process, after hitting .305 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs. He also won a Silver Slugger award, given to the top offensive player at third base in the National League.
Ramirez's agent Paul Kinzer has had meaningful conversations with at least five teams and will soon take the third baseman with him on his second-round talks with interested clubs, according to a Major League source. Ramirez is seeking a three- or four-year contract. The Cubs have shown little interest in signing Ramirez to a long-term deal.
The 33-year-old Pena led the Cubs with 28 home runs in 2011. His list of suitors is unlikely to heat up until Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the top free agent first basemen available, sign their lucrative contracts.
Both Pena and Fielder are represented by Scott Boras. That situation could be somewhat of a conflict for Boras, as the Cubs may be involved in the Fielder sweepstakes. Boras met with the Cubs during the general manager meetings in Milwaukee last week.
Boras was vague last week when asked about the possibility of Fielder landing in Chicago.
"Prince has put (up) some outstanding numbers at Wrigley Field," Boras said at the GM meetings.
Money might not be an object for the Cubs, who would have $55 million coming off their 2011 payroll if Ramirez and Pena decline arbitration. The team also sheds the contracts of John Grabow, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Silva.
The Cubs elected not to offer arbitration to Reed Johnson, Grabow, Ramon Ortiz and Rodrigo Lopez. That doesn't preclude the Cubs from negotiating contracts with those players on the free-agent market.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs for ESPNChicago.com.