Non-Tender Candidates Rumors

Non-Tender Candidate: Kris Medlen

This year, teams have until 11:59 ET on December 2 to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. About 40 players are non-tender candidates, per MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes. Included on the list is injured Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen.

Medlen, 29, earned $5.8MM through arbitration last season. He’s likely to earn a similar amount next season and no less than $4.64MM after missing the entire 2014 season due to his second Tommy John surgery. Based only on his statistics – a career 2.95 ERA, 7.62 K/9, and 2.15 BB/9 in 512 2/3 innings – he appears to be bargain. He’s been flexible about his role, with 61 starts and 89 relief appearances to his name. Return from major injury always comes with risk, especially for players who have undergone multiple Tommy John procedures. With only one more season of club control, the budget-conscious Braves may opt to cut ties with Medlen.

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves Jon Roegele and Jeff Zimmerman of the Hardball Times recently researched Tommy John surgeries in separate articles. Pitchers usually see an increase in their walk rate, decrease in strikeouts, and allow more runs in their first year back from the injury. Zimmerman cites the American Journal of Sports Medicine as saying, “83% of the pitchers they looked at made it back to the majors after surgery and 97% were at least able to pitch in a minor-league game after the surgery.” Roegele found that 28-to-29-year-old pitchers (sample size 73) took an average of 16.9 months to return from the surgery. Only 71% of pitchers in the cohort returned to big league action. Roegele does note some sample size issues, but it’s safe to say Medlen is bordering on the danger zone where age begins to correlate with poorer outcomes.

The average recovery time is skewed by players who suffer extended setbacks – like Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson. Even so, there is a plausible chance Medlen won’t be ready to compete until next July – 16 months from his surgery on March 18. An efficent recovery of 13 months still has him missing the early part of the season. A more financially endowed club may feel inclined to hope for the best outcome, but the Braves may have to be more pragmatic with a possible $5.8MM investment.

Reportedly, Atlanta’s preferred option is to re-sign Medlen at a lower rate, possibly with performance bonuses. Last offseason, the club inked Gavin Floyd to a one-year, $4MM deal with $4.5MM in possible bonuses. Floyd was also coming off Tommy John surgery and was expected to miss the beginning of the season. He made his Braves debut in May, but landed back on the disabled list in June after fracturing a bone near his elbow.

The experience with Floyd may serve as both a benchmark for expected contract and a cautionary tale. Floyd has a career 4.40 ERA and 4.36 FIP, so his performance has been substantially worse than Medlen’s. However, Floyd was relatively durable prior to his injury, whereas Medlen has a history of problems. Another relevant anecdote is that of Andrew Miller. The Red Sox non-tendered and re-signed him prior to last season. Atlanta may wish to try the same tactic, although it will be a risky move if their goal is to retain him.

On the open market, I foresee a one-year, $5MM guarantee with performance bonuses. Mutual options are not uncommon with injured or injury prone players. With a mid-season return uncertain, a club option could prove attractive to teams hoping to get more than a couple months of production.

The injury complicates any potential trades. Obviously, the Braves cannot expect a substantial return – Medlen wouldn’t be a non-tender candidate if they could. Trades involving injured players are rare, so Braves fans shouldn’t expect a notable prospect in return if a deal is reached.

Medlen, who is represented by Wasserman Media Group, seemingly fits with any club in need of rotation depth and upside. Since that describes the Braves, they could be motivated to bite the bullet and tender a contract. While half of the teams in the league could serve as possible landing spots, a few suitable playoff contenders include the Angels and Dodgers. Both clubs could use rotation depth with the flexibility to work out of the bullpen.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Non-Tender Candidate: Travis Wood

In 2013, Travis Wood was a bright spot on a miserable Cubs team, posting a 3.11 ERA over 200 innings. That led to a $3.9MM payout in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2014. A year later, he’s coming off a 5.03 ERA season, and he could be a non-tender candidate. So what changed?

USATSI_8048115_154513410_lowresActually, not much. Or, at least, not much Wood could have controlled. In 2013, Wood’s xFIP was 4.50. In 2014, it was 4.51. By far the most important cause of his two-run jump in ERA was a 72-point increase in his batting average on balls in play, from .248 to .320. Wood walked batters at a significantly higher rate (4.0 BB/9 vs. 3.0) in 2014, but he struck out more of them, too, and slightly increased his ground ball percentage, although he remained a fly ball pitcher. His command was worse, but not so much so that it represented a fundamental change. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two seasons was Wood’s cut fastball, which was lost a mile an hour in velocity and was far less effective in 2014. In general, though, the best way to explain the difference between the two seasons is that Wood wasn’t nearly as good as his 2013 ERA, nor as bad as his ERA last year.

Wood’s team has changed as well. Even if Wood hadn’t had a strong-looking 2013 season, he would have had utility on the 2014 Cubs, which looked poised to unload veteran starters like Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and (if he had pitched well) Edwin Jackson. Having an innings eater like Wood makes sense when facing that kind of upheaval, and if Wood had somehow repeated his 2013 performance, he would have had trade value himself.

2015 is different. Jake Arrieta emerged during the 2014 season as a top young starter, and Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada had unexpectedly strong seasons as well. The Cubs are likely to continue to give chances to Jacob Turner, and Jackson is also still under contract. There’s also Eric Jokisch, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily as potential rotation candidates. And then, of course, the Cubs are expected to be major players for free agent pitching and could perhaps add two hurlers this offseason. Despite the wide variance in Wood’s ERAs, he’s essentially a back-end lefty who can soak up innings. That makes him useful, but perhaps not for the 2015 Cubs, who will have plenty of options who are either better or who have more upside.

Then, of course, there’s Wood’s salary. The Frontline client’s strong 2013 numbers set a relatively high baseline for his salaries during his arbitration years, and he’s projected to make $5.5MM in 2015. Many teams would likely see $5.5MM as more than Wood is worth, so it’s doubtful he has much trade value. Teams like the Braves, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rangers, Twins or White Sox could have interest in Wood, but perhaps not so much that they’re willing to give up $5.5MM and trade talent to get him, particularly not so early in the offseason.

One factor working against Wood is that the free agent market for pitching is rather strong, particularly in comparison with the rest of the market. The non-tender deadline is December 2, and plenty of higher-upside arms will surely remain on the free agent market then. The most likely outcome, therefore, might be that the Cubs non-tender Wood, and he signs elsewhere later in the offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Non-Tender Candidates: Ike Davis & Gaby Sanchez

Teams have until December 2 at 11:59pm ET to decide which of their arbitration-eligible players they’ll tender contracts. By MLBTR’s reckoning, about 40 of those players are non-tender candidates, including two first basemen, Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez, who platooned at the position for the Pirates in 2014.

USATSI_7961599_154513410_lowresDavis is projected to make $4.4MM in 2015 after earning $3.5MM last season. Sanchez, meanwhile, is projected to make $2.7MM, a raise from $2.3MM. Those costs wouldn’t be exorbitant for any team, even the low-payroll Pirates, but after another somewhat disappointing season from Davis and an off year for Sanchez, it’s worth asking whether the Pirates’ money might best be spent elsewhere.

Perhaps just as important for Davis is the fact that Pedro Alvarez now appears to be a first baseman. The former No. 2 overall pick struggled with throws from third base in 2014, while utilityman Josh Harrison had an unexpectedly outstanding season and staked a claim on a starting job, which will likely end up being at third. GM Neal Huntington has said that Alvarez will likely get the bulk of the playing time at first base, and he called keeping Davis “probably a challenge.” Alvarez and Davis both bat left-handed, so they can’t share a position. Davis has been working out in the outfield this offseason, but there’s probably no space on the Pirates’ roster there, either, since the Pirates already have a top young lefty outfielder in Gregory Polanco and another reasonably strong one in Travis Snider.

It’s still possible that the Pirates could trade Davis, who could theoretically have a bit of value for a team in need of a lefty first base option. But Davis will be more expensive through arbitration than he was in 2014, when he had a .233/.343/.378 season that qualified as a modest disappointment. The trade that brought Davis to Pittsburgh early in the 2014 season didn’t cost the Pirates much (a minor league reliever in Zack Thornton and a young pitching prospect in Blake Taylor), and it’s unlikely the Bucs could get more than that if they traded Davis now. It’s also obvious that, unless they trade Alvarez, the Pirates don’t have space for Davis on their roster. So there’s little incentive for interested teams to do anything but wait until the deadline for the Pirates to cut him loose.

Sanchez is right-handed and has had a reputation as a strong hitter against lefties, so Alvarez’s move to first base doesn’t impact Sanchez the way it impacts Davis. Given Sanchez’s declining performance, however, the Pirates could decide to allocate resources elsewhere. Sanchez hit .229/.293/.385 last season. He was better against lefties, at .256/.318/.429, but perhaps not so well as to justify the expense and the roster spot, especially given that the NL Central is thin on left-handed pitching. Sanchez is a career .291/.382/.481 hitter against southpaws, but at 31, his 2014 performance might be closer to his expected level going forward.

Like Davis, Sanchez has little or no trade value. So the Pirates’ best option might be to non-tender him and save money to spend elsewhere. The Bucs could then look for a cheaper Triple-A slugger to platoon with Alvarez (who, like Davis, can certainly use a good platoon partner). They could also employ some more creative arrangement like having Tony Sanchez, who dabbled as a first baseman late last season at Triple-A Indianapolis, break camp as a righty first base option and third catcher. They could also attempt to bring Gaby Sanchez back for less than $2.7MM.

Davis, who is represented by Octagon, should still be able to land a big-league deal somewhere — his 10 homers last season weren’t anything to write home about, but .343 on-base percentages don’t grow on trees, and Davis is still just 27 (28 in March). The Marlins already have a lefty first baseman in Garrett Jones, but they reportedly like Davis and could have interest if he becomes a free agent. The Padres could also be a possibility, although it’s questionable whether they’ll see Davis as an upgrade over incumbent lefty first baseman Yonder Alonso.

Sanchez, who is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council, would be a good fit (on a cheap Major League deal or minor league deal with an out clause) for a team looking for a partner for their lefty first baseman. St. Louis, where Matt Adams has a career .197/.227/.326 line against lefties, could be one possibility. A reunion with the Marlins, and with either Davis or Jones (who platooned with Sanchez in Pittsburgh in 2013) could make sense also.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



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.