The free agent market has shrunk over the past few weeks, with names ranging from Brian McCann to Brayan Pena coming off the board (MLBTR's Free Agent Tracker can be used to see all of the action to this point). However, the free agent class figures to grow substantially today, as 11:00pm CT marks the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.
That, of course, means that it is also the deadline for teams to non-tender players that they feel are set to become too expensive via the arbitration process. As MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth pointed out last night, John Axford is a prime example of a non-tender candidate. The former closer projects to earn roughly $5MM in 2014. The Cardinals could feel that's too steep a price to pay for a pitcher who won't close for their club, especially considering the wealth of relief options they have available.
A player's first trip through the arbitration process is usually fairly inexpensive (and the ones that are expensive are typically worth the price), but upon reaching arbitration for the second, third and fourth times, prices can begin to make teams uncomfortable. By non-tendering a player, the team is allowing him to become a free agent. It's certainly not unheard of for a player to be non-tendered and re-sign with his former club, however, as was the case with Jeff Karstens and Geovany Soto last year.
Players may also be non-tendered for injury concerns or due to the fact that a team simply feels it has a surplus at a position and doesn't want to commit a 40-man roster spot to a potentially superfluous player. Also, players who are not yet arbitration eligible can be non-tendered.
While many non-tendered players are borderline Major Leaguers that don't go on to have meaningful careers, there are others who provide large boosts to their new clubs. Nate Schierholtz and Manny Parra are two examples from last year's crop of non-tenders that thrived in new settings. Should a non-tendered player sign with a new team, that team secures control of his remaining arbitration seasons until free agency. For example, Schierholtz had four-plus years of service time last offseason and now has five years, 78 days, so the Cubs control him through arbitration this offseason before he accumulates six years of service time and hits the open market next winter.
The non-tender deadline also means that many players will simply avoid arbitration with their clubs today. We're still quite a ways from the deadline to do so, but several players have already avoided arb and a few more figure to see their 2014 contracts agreed upon and locked into place today.
Of course, we'll be keeping track of all the non-tender action here at MLBTR today. I'll be keeping track of non-tenders in a pair of posts (one for the American League, one for the National League), and you can follow along using MLBTR's Non-Tender Tracker as well. Also of use today could be MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker. First and foremost, though, is MLBTR's list of non-tender candidates, which includes most of the names to watch with regard to tonight's deadline.