Later today, the free agent class will expand to accommodate this year’s non-tenders. Dozens of players will join the free agent market at the 10:59pm CDT deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players. 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, and players under team control usually get raises through the process.
For example, Mark Reynolds isn’t eligible for free agency yet, but he and agent Beverly Hills Sports Council have some say in his future earnings. Reynolds projects to earn $8.9MM through the arbitration process, and if the Orioles believe that’s too much, they can let Reynolds leave instead. Arbitration can be expensive for teams, since a player’s salary depends in part on his previous earnings and comparable players. Players like Reynolds who have accumulated considerable service time and playing time have substantial leverage.
Players usually remain relatively affordable for their first time or two as an arbitration eligible player. Once players enter their second, third or (for super twos) fourth arbitration seasons, the stakes increase (a few players do see their salaries drop or stay the same).
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 the club has turned down the option to negotiate a contract with that player through arbitration, though it doesn’t mean the player’s going to sign elsewhere. After a player is non-tendered he hits free agency and can sign anywhere, including with his former team.
Sometimes it’s not about the money. Teams might choose to non-tender a player if they don’t have 40-man roster spots to spare or they view players as injury risks.
Every year some non-tendered players exceed expectations on the field, often with new teams. Joe Saunders, Jeff Keppinger and Jose Mijares were all non-tendered last offseason before producing in 2012.
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.
MLBTR has you covered with a Non-Tender Tracker, a list of non-tender candidates and specific pieces on certain players who could be cut loose. Plus MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker has up to date information on the players who are tendered contracts.