Non-Tender Candidates Rumors

Tender Deadline Notes: Barton, Stewart, Nix, Kelly

Tomorrow at 10:59pm CT marks the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. Most arbitration-eligible players will be tendered, since players typically receive less in the arbitration system than they would be able to get in free agency. But a few dozen will likely be non-tendered, expanding the free-agent pool.

Clearly, that pool won't include any current stars. But it's likely a couple non-tenders will be contributors in 2014. Ben Nicholson-Smith of SportsNet.ca tweets a reminder that last year's crop of non-tenders included outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who ended up having a solid season with the Cubs, and reliever Brian Wilson. The list also included infielder Mark Reynolds, who landed a $6MM contract with the Indians, and Manny Parra, who posted a solid season out of the Reds' bullpen.

MLBTR will be updated with non-tender information throughout the day tomorrow. For more, you can check out MLBTR's list of non-tender candidates, as well as our arbitration tracker and list of tenders and non-tenders. The latter two resources will be updated as news rolls in. In the meantime, here are a couple notes on what to expect tomorrow.

  • One player who could be non-tendered is Daric Barton, who is the Athletics' longest-tenured player, as MLB.com's Jane Lee points out. Barton arrived in Oakland's 2004 trade of Mark Mulder. He never really became the high-OBP first baseman the A's were likely hoping he'd be, with only one strong full-time season (2010) to his credit, but the A's did get Dan Haren in that trade, so it turned out well for them anyway. Barton hit .269/.350/.375 in limited duty with the A's in 2013, spending most of the season at Triple-A Sacramento.
  • The Yankees could non-tender catcher Chris Stewart and infielder Jayson Nix, writes MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. The Yanks' signings of Brian McCann and Brendan Ryan don't bode well for Stewart or Nix, particularly given that GM Brian Cashman has said he will tender catcher Francisco Cervelli.
  • The Tigers' only non-tender candidate is utilityman Don Kelly, writes MLB.com's Jason Beck. Working in Kelly's favor are his low salary (MLBTR's projects he'll make $900K) and the fact that, even if they tender him a contract, the Tigers would be able to release him in spring training and pay only a fraction of his deal. It's currently unclear where Kelly will fit on the Tigers' roster next year. Kelly hit .222/.309/.343 in part-time duty for the Tigers last season.

Non-Tender Candidate: John Axford

AxfordThe deadline to tender contracts for arbitration-eligible players is tomorrow night at 10:59 CT. Most non-tenders will be afterthoughts on this offseason's free-agent market, but one potential non-tender who could make some noise is reliever John Axford.

The Cardinals acquired Axford from the Brewers at last August's waiver trade deadline for fellow pitcher Michael Blazek. Axford pitched very well down the stretch and through the Cards' World Series run, striking out 20 batters and walking seven in 16 innings for the Cardinals between the regular season and the postseason.

Still, the Cardinals are expected to non-tender him. One problem, of course, is his performance in 2012 and 2013 in Milwaukee, where he frequently struggled to throw strikes and ultimately lost his closer job to Francisco Rodriguez. The other is his arbitration situation. Axford rode his excellent 2010 and 2011 performances and his closer status to a $5MM salary in 2013, his first year of arbitration eligibility. If he were to be tendered, he would receive a raise on that salary (with the possibility of two more raises to come in 2015 and 2016, since Axford is a Super Two player). Anything over $5MM is a figure the Cardinals likely won't want to pay, given Axford's erratic history and their collection of young arms.

A non-tender, however, should create a terrific opportunity for Axford, who is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council. Axford is still just 30 (he'll be 31 in April), and while his control has at times deserted him, his mid-90s heat hasn't. That means Axford could be a sought-after free agent, even in an offseason featuring a long list of closer types that includes Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney, Brian Wilson and Edward Mujica, among others. While Axford likely wouldn't be a top candidate for a closer job, he might make a good setup man. If the Cardinals do let Axford go, he might well wind up with a two-year deal, a rarity among non-tendered players.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Non-Tender Candidate: Mark Reynolds

The Orioles declined an $11.5MM club option on corner infielder Mark Reynolds at the end of October, and as we approach next week's non-tender deadline they have to make another decision on him.  With less than six years of big league service time, Reynolds remains under the team's control as an arbitration eligible player.  Matt Swartz's arbitration projections have Reynolds at $8.9MM for 2013 if tendered a contract, but that dollar range still might be too high for the O's.

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Speaking to Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com after his option was declined, Reynolds expressed a desire to return to the Orioles in 2013.  Still, he intends to survey the marketplace if the Orioles decide to cut him loose a week from Friday.  Reynolds carries a poor reputation and UZR as a third baseman, but he seems to have settled in as a full-time first baseman this year.  It's probably fair to say he's become close to an average defensive first baseman.

That brings us to Reynolds' bat.  Clearly, the 29-year-old is a source of right-handed power.  He owns a .475 career slugging percentage and is generally good for 30 home runs over 600 plate appearances.  Reynolds also fans in about a third of his plate appearances, making him one of the game's foremost strikeout artists.  Overall, his bat is a positive, but the low .200s batting average and league-leading whiff total is hard to stomach.

A one-year, $9MM deal would be a reasonable commitment for Reynolds, in light of Carlos Pena receiving more than that two years ago from the Cubs.  Despite the recent acclaim, however, Reynolds does not carry the defensive reputation Pena did.  I expect the Orioles to go in a different direction at first base, allowing Reynolds to explore free agency.  He may receive some two-year offers, and as we saw with Melky Cabrera, sometimes a player decides a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  If Reynolds prefers a bigger risk and potential long-term reward, he can stick to a one-year deal with no option and hope to hit .250 with 35 home runs while continuing to improve his defensive reputation.  That type of season would allow him to cash in a year from now.  Teams such as the Mariners and Indians, who have been linked to Kevin Youkilis, could consider Reynolds as a backup plan at first base this offseason.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Presswire.



Non-Tender Candidate: Phil Humber

Five months ago it appeared that Phil Humber could be on the cusp of a breakout season. He had just pitched a perfect game in Seattle, striking out nine Mariners on day that his fastball sat in the 90-95 mph range. Since then Humber has allowed 72 earned runs, including 23 home runs, in 87 2/3 innings. There’s no guarantee the White Sox will tender him a contract this offseason when he’s arbitration eligible for the first time.

Phil Humber - White Sox (PW)

The White Sox selected Humber off waivers in January of 2011 and he responded with a solid season, pitching 163 innings with a 3.75 ERA and three times as many strikeouts as walks. The right-hander’s numbers have dropped off considerably in 2012. He has a 6.44 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a 34.9% ground ball rate in 102 innings this year. Humber’s average fastball velocity is 90.5 mph and he has a swinging strike rate of 7.8%. He has been exceptionally homer-prone, allowing 23 home runs, or 2.0 per nine innings.

Humber started the year in Chicago’s rotation, spent a month on the disabled list with a strained elbow midseason, and lost his rotation spot in early August. He has been pitching out of the bullpen since, but Robin Ventura has used Humber sparingly in September, another indication that the White Sox don’t count him among the organization’s most dependable arms.

Humber, who turns 30 in December, could obtain a salary in the $2MM range if the White Sox tender him a contract this coming offseason. The perfect game wouldn't make a major difference in an arbitration hearing, but his 2011 season was a strong one, and he has more than 300 MLB innings. Perhaps last year’s success would be enough to create some trade interest in Humber, the third overall selection in 2004.

Still, the White Sox don’t appear to view Humber as a $2MM player. If they considered him an essential part of their pitching staff, they’d have asked him to pitch more than twice this month. It means a season that began with a perfect game could end with a non-tender.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.


Non-Tender Candidate: Luke Hochevar

The next strikeout Luke Hochevar records will set a new career-high for the right-hander, but that's one of few positives to take away from an otherwise disappointing season. The 29-year-old has pitched to a 5.46 ERA despite reasonable peripheral stats such as his 6.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 43.6 percent ground-ball rate. All of those are pretty close to the numbers Hochevar has posted to date in his career: a 5.33 ERA, 6.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 47.9 percent ground-ball rate. Suffice it to say, that's not quite what the Royals were hoping for when they selected Hochevar first overall in the 2006 draft. Hochevar

The University of Tennessee product has spent his entire career with the Royals after refusing to sign with the Dodgers when they selected him in both 2002 and 2005. He appeared on Baseball America's list of Top 100 prospects prior to both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, but that pedigree never manifested at the Major League level.

Hochevar avoided arbitration with the Royals last winter, agreeing to a one-year deal that guaranteed him $3.51MM. At the time, he was coming off a 198-inning season in which he posted a 3.52 ERA in the season's second half. That won't be the case this upcoming offseason, but he's still on pace to rattle off roughly 180 innings. That durability will lead to another raise for Hochevar through arbitration, which could push his salary north of $5MM.

As Rany Jazayerli recently pointed out, Hochevar has the fifth-worst ERA and sixth-worst ERA+ of any starting pitcher to ever exceed 120 starts at the Major League level. Given the 752-inning sample size of subpar performance, it seems likely that even a pitching-starved organization like the Royals could move on from Hochevar and seek alternative rotation options. In the event that he's non-tendered, Hochevar would likely be in line for a one-year deal with a low base salary and some performance-based incentives from his new club.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Presswire.


Non-Tender Candidate: Andres Torres

The Mets have kept mum on their payroll situation heading into 2013 but several reports have indicated that the club won't ratchet it far beyond the neighborhood of $90MM.  There are a number of multi-million dollar contracts coming off of the books including $5.69MM for the very likely non-tendering of Mike Pelfrey, Jon Rauch's $3.5MM deal, and Ramon Ramirez's $2.65MM pact.  However, much of those savings will be eaten up by 2014 buyouts for Johan Santana and Jason Bay and pay raises to David Wright, Frank Francisco, Jonathon Niese, and others.  On top of that, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Bobby Parnell, and Josh Thole will all be headed to arbitration this winter.  General Manager Sandy Alderson will be working with an extremely tight budget, which will make it difficult for the club to justify also going to arbitration with outfielder Andres Torres.

Torres has started 79 games for the Mets in centerfield this year but has not been able to return to 2010 form when he hit .268/.343/.479 with 16 in 570 plate appearances with the Giants.  Instead, Torres owns a .227/.330/.320 batting line across 105 games with a career low -2.6 UZR/150.  Torres avoided arbitration with the Mets last season for $2.7MM after coming over from the Giants and would probably net something near $3MM for 2013. 

Looking ahead to next season, the club could install Kirk Nieuwenhuis as the full-time starting centerfielder.  That would position Torres as the club's fourth outfielder and at ~$3MM they would likely prefer to put that money into their bullpen and other areas of need.  Even if Torres can no longer deliver the kind of offensive production that he did in San Francisco in 2009 and '10, he can still be an attractive option to clubs looking for a veteran with experience at all three outfield positions.  However, he's not likely to see something in the range of $3MM and it would seem to be even less likely to be with the Mets.


Non-Tender Candidate: Dallas Braden

Two years and three months ago, Dallas Braden was on top of the baseball world. He had just thrown 19th perfect game in baseball history on Mother's Day with his grandmother in the stands. The left-hander finished the season with a 3.50 ERA in 30 starts and 192 2/3 innings, further cementing his place in the Athletics' rotation.

Uspw_4690664Braden, now 29, has made just three starts since the end of that season. He allowed seven runs in 18 innings across three starts last April, and has been on the shelf with shoulder problems ever since. Braden had surgery to repair a torn capsule one year and one week after his perfect game, and was expected to be ready in time to return to the team early this season.

Instead, the shoulder continues to give Braden problems and as Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported, he will have another procedure soon. This one will be exploratory but will cost him the rest of the season nonetheless. Fellow starting pitchers like Chien-Ming Wang, Johan Santana, and Brandon Webb have had shoulder capsule surgery in recent years with mixed comeback results.

Unlike those three, Braden is not a power pitcher. Even before the surgery his fastball averaged a little less than 88 mph, the 15th lowest average fastball velocity among the 156 pitchers who threw at least 400 innings from 2007-2011. Braden was a classic finesse left-hander who relied on his fastball and changeup to keep hitters off balance, so perhaps a potential loss of velocity due to the surgeries will have minimal impact on his effectiveness going forward.

Either way, the Athletics have to decide if their 24th round pick in the 2004 draft is worth the investment post-surgery very soon. Braden will earn $3.35MM without throwing a pitch this season, and will be eligible for arbitration for the third and final time this winter. He doesn't figure to get any kind of raise – he didn't a raise from 2011-2012 – however that remains a hefty investment for low-budget A's.

Oakland has enviable rotation depth going forward with Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, and Dan Straily all in their pre-arbitration years, plus Brett Anderson potentially under contract through 2014. They could decide that sinking more money into Braden isn't a wise investment considering the potential for zero return, so a non-tender in December looks like a very real possibility for the southpaw.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.


Non-Tender Candidate: Ian Stewart

It's been a little more than nine years since Ian Stewart was selected by the Rockies with the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft. Selected out of high school, Stewart would spend the next five years ranking between No. 4 and No. 57 on Baseball America's list of Top 100 prospects.

Stewart's production at Triple-A makes it easy to see why he was so highly regarded. In 226 games he's amassed a .291/.373/.540 batting line and homered roughly once every twenty times he's stepped to the plate. The Major Leagues, however, have been another story entirely.

The Rockies gave Stewart more than 1,400 plate appearances to cement himself as a regular, and played him at both third base and second base along the way. The minor league success never fully carried over, as Stewart batted .236/.323/.428 for the Rockies before being traded to the Cubs along with Casey Weathers in exchange for Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu last winter.

Things got worse for Stewart in Chicago, where he batted just .201/.292/.335 in 202 plate appearances before a left wrist injury cut his season short. Stewart earned $2.2375MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility this past offseason. Despite the injury and poor performance, he accumulated more than 200 plate appearances on the season, leading MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to project a slight raise to $2.3MM.

Stewart will turn 28 during the first week of the 2013 season, and his past 338 plate appearances have resulted in a paltry OPS+ of 50. The Cubs have also recalled Josh Vitters, signaling that they're likely ready to explore alternatives to the failed Stewart experiment. It appears very possible that he will reach free agency sooner than he ever anticpated.

In the event that he's non-tendered, Stewart's status as a once elite prospect and his career ISO of .185 at the Major League level could lead an offensively starved team to look at him as a buy-low candidate. It may be a long shot, but it wouldn't be the first time a general manager caught lightning in a bottle, and the signing would come with minimal risk attached.


Non-Tender Candidate: Jair Jurrjens

Jair Jurrjens entered the 2012 season with a career ERA of 3.40 and a sparkling 50-33 record. He had just obtained a substantial raise through the arbitration process and seemed to have established himself as an All-Star caliber pitcher.

Jair Jurrjens - Braves (PW)

But he has pitched ineffectively this season, struggling as a Braves starter and getting a demotion to the minor leagues. He’s now on the disabled list and he’s not getting any more affordable, so the Braves will have to consider removing him from their roster by the December deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration eligible players.

The Tigers signed Jurrjens back in 2003 and traded him and Gorkys Hernandez to Atlanta four years later for Edgar Renteria. In 2008, his first season with the Braves, Jurrjens started 31 games and finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting. By 2009 he had reached the 200-inning plateau and posted a 2.60 ERA with twice as many strikeouts as walks. And in 2011, he made the National League All-Star team, posting a 2.96 ERA with 5.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 42% ground ball rate in 152 innings.

Yet the 2012 season has consisted of one disappointment after another. Jurrjens struggled through four April starts and, after losing his rotation spot and being demoted to the minor leagues, posted a 5.18 ERA with 4.7 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in ten forgettable starts at Triple-A. The Braves recalled him in late June, and he made seven more appearances before hitting the disabled list with a strained right groin. In total, he has a 6.89 ERA with about as many strikeouts (19) as walks (18) in 48 1/3 innings at the MLB level this year.

Given that stat line, it’s not surprising to learn that Jurrjens’ stuff appears to be in decline. His average fastball velocity has declined for the fifth consecutive season and now sits at 88.6 mph, according to FanGraphs. And among pitchers with at least 40 innings this year, only Burke Badenhop, Bartolo Colon and Aaron Cook generate a lower percentage of swings and misses than Jurrjens, who induces swinging strikes on fewer than five pitches for every 100 thrown (4.6%). Simply put, hitters aren’t have any trouble connecting with his offerings. 

Jurrjens earns $5.5MM this year and is on track to go to arbitration for the third and final time this coming offseason. He projects to earn $5.9MM in 2013 if he continues pitching at the MLB level and the Braves tender him a contract, MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz estimates. That would be a major commitment for a player who might not even make the Braves’ 2013 rotation, so the possibility of a non-tender looms despite his past contributions.

Though Jurrjens seems headed for free agency this winter, another option exists. There could be a team looking for pitching — the Royals, Rockies, Astros or Twins, perhaps — that would be willing to take a chance on a 26-year-old one year removed from an All-Star season. The Braves, who were said to be willing to listen on Jurrjens last offseason, wouldn’t get much in return this time. But it’s a possibility general manager Frank Wren will surely consider if it would allow the Braves to obtain something of value in return.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.


Non-Tender Candidate: Chris Volstad

Chris Volstad’s most recent start provided a reminder of two things: that Volstad can pitch effectively against MLB offenses, and that it’s been a long time since he did so with much regularity. The 6’8” right-hander faced a Dodgers lineup including Shane Victorino, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez over the weekend and limited Los Angeles to two runs on six hits in seven innings. Yet Saturday's start was Volstad's first seven-inning outing of the season, and the first game in which he allowed fewer than three earned runs.

It’s been a disappointing season for Volstad to this point, and he will be a non-tender candidate this coming offseason. When the Cubs acquired Volstad from Miami for Carlos Zambrano, he seemed capable of providing value at the back of Chicago's rotation by making his starts, limiting walks and inducing ground balls. He had averaged 29 starts per season in the three years preceding the trade while posting a 4.88 ERA, accumulating twice as many strikeouts as walks, and generating more than his share of ground balls.

However, the results have been disappointing so far in 2012. Volstad opened the season in Dale Sveum's rotation, then got demoted after posting a 7.46 ERA through eight starts. He joined the rotation at Triple-A Iowa, posting an unremarkable 5.17 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 12 starts in the Pacific Coast League. The Cubs recalled him from Iowa last week, so he has the chance to prove he belongs at the MLB level — now and in 2013.

Volstad earns $2.66MM this year and he’ll get a raise through the arbitration process if the Cubs tender him a contract next winter. He has pitched enough innings at the MLB level this year that he projects to obtain a $3.1MM salary in 2013, according to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. Yes, he’s on track for a $450K raise despite a career-high 7.22 ERA, a diminished strikeout rate and an unsightly 0-8 record. The Cubs must decide between now and the middle of December whether another season of Volstad is worth $3MM-plus.

Though his stat line isn’t pretty, bad luck may be a contributing factor to Volstad’s season — to an extent. Opponents are hitting .319 on balls in play against Volstad, a career high. It's an indication that he isn't getting much help from luck or Chicago’s defenders. No MLB pitcher has a lower strand rate than Volstad, who allows nearly half of baserunners to score (min. 50 IP). Though he's probably due for some regression, it's not uncommon for pitchers who have trouble generating swings and misses to allow a relatively high percentage of baserunners to score. And if any MLB pitcher has trouble inducing swings and misses, it’s Volstad. He generates the lowest percentage of swinging strikes among the 192 MLB pitchers with at least 50 innings in 2012 (4.6%, tied with Bartolo Colon and Henderson Alvarez). In other words, it’d be overly optimistic to say Volstad's numbers are simply a product of bad luck. 

Volstad’s in the rotation for now, which means he has the chance to string together some more strong starts before the season ends. But if he fails to impress, the Cubs may choose to non-tender Volstad this winter and look elsewhere to strengthen the back of their rotation.