Explaining Non-Tenders

Matt Capps, D.J. Carrasco and Kelly Johnson were all non-tendered last offseason. One year later, we’re well on our way to welcoming another class of non-tenders to the club. It can be a confusing kind of transaction, so here’s an explanation of what exactly a non-tender is.

To tender a player a contract is to offer a contract, but non-tenders refer to a specific kind of offer: offers of arbitration. Rules and precedent shape the kind of salary a player can expect through arbitration, so players under team control usually get raises through the process. 

For example, Joey Votto isn’t eligible for free agency yet, but he and agent Dan Lozano have some say in his future earnings. If the Reds offered Votto $750K in arbitration this offseason, Lozano and Votto could counter with a $4MM proposal and win. Arbitration can be expensive for teams, since a player’s salary depends in part on his previous earnings and comparable players.

Players generally earn $400K or so for their first few major league seasons, so they’re usually relatively cheap in their first arbitration seasons, but players entering their second, third or (for super twos) fourth arbitration seasons stand to make more money if they’re tendered an offer. 

If an arbitration eligible player hasn’t performed well, but projects to earn a considerable amount, his team will likely consider a non-tender. That means they have turned down the option to negotiate a contract with that player through arbitration, but it doesn’t mean the player’s going to sign elsewhere.

Jonny Gomes and Jack Cust both re-signed with their former teams after being non-tendered last winter. Both took paycuts, so the Reds and A’s saved money, but they risked losing the players to rival teams. (After a player is non-tendered he hits free agency and can sign anywhere.)

It’s complicated, but here’s what you need to know: teams non-tender players when they would rather risk losing the players to another team than go through the potentially expensive arbitration process.

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