Non-Tender Candidates Rumors
The Rangers wanted Geovany Soto enough to trade minor league pitcher Jake Brigham for him. Do they like him enough to earmark $4MM-plus and a roster spot for him in 2013? Soto doesn’t have any guarantee that his Rangers career will last more than a few months.
Soto has emerged as a 2012 non-tender candidate, since his offense has diminished to uncomfortably low levels. He’s on track for career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage this year, and after 206 total plate appearances he has a batting line of .201/.286/.348.
Those offensive numbers would be disappointing for just about any player, but they’re especially troubling for a former Rookie of the Year known for his bat. Soto was an above-average offensive player in 2008 and 2010, and his offense remained passable in 2009 and 2011. His batting average on balls in play is presently 74 points below his career average, an indication that bad luck has contributed to his poor season. Soto’s still just 29 years old and he has a history of hitting left-handed pitching (career .904 OPS vs. southpaws), so there’s some reason for optimism going forward.
Soto does an average job at limiting the running game. He has prevented 27% of stolen base attempts both this year (league average is 26%) and for his career. The Fielding Bible Volume III suggested before the season that Soto was a capable but unremarkable defensive catcher.
Soto now earns $4.3MM and is on track to go to arbitration for the third and final time this offseason. The Wasserman Media Group client projects to earn $4.6MM in 2013, according to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. If the Rangers view Soto as a platoon or backup catcher, they probably won’t be inclined to pay him starter money. And if they are willing to spend $4.5MM on a catcher, they’ll have plenty of choices other than Soto (only one free agent catcher obtained more than $4MM in guaranteed money last offseason).
Soto provides the Rangers with insurance in case Mike Napoli leaves as a free agent after the season. If Napoli signs with another team before the mid-December deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players, Texas might be more inclined to retain Soto and hope for a return to his career norms in 2013.
It’s possible for players to restore their value and avoid non-tenders with a strong showing down the stretch. Delmon Young seemed likely to be non-tendered a year ago this time, but he hit eight home runs in 40 regular season games with the Tigers before adding five more homers in the postseason. If Soto shows flashes of being the same hitter he was in 2008 and 2010, the Rangers may determine he’s worth retaining for 2013. If not, expect him to hit free agency in December as a 2012 non-tender.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
The average MLB second baseman has a .254/.317/.380 batting line this year, so it's safe to say teams don't demand as much offense from the position as they once did. In 2000, for example, the average second baseman hit .278/.349/.404 and 18 teams got a .750 OPS or better from their second basemen. Now just six teams have a .750 OPS from second base, but you can’t expect to play regularly unless you provide at least some offense.
Alexi Casilla, the Twins’ starting second baseman, isn’t hitting at all this year and his poor offensive production could cost him his job this coming offseason. The switch-hitter has a .223/.259/.293 batting line in 234 plate appearances so far in 2012. Though 13 of his 14 stolen base attempts have been successful, he’s not providing value on offense.
Casilla is a decent defensive middle infielder best-suited for second base, according to a pre-season scouting report in The Fielding Bible: Volume III. The 28-year-old Proformance client has spent most of this season at second base, making a few appearances at third base and none at shortstop.
Unless the Twins believe Casilla’s defense makes up for his below-average bat, they’ll have to consider non-tendering him this offseason. He’s earning 1.38MM this year as a second-time arbitration eligible player and would be in line for a salary approaching $2MM if Minnesota tenders him a contract this offseason -- MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a salary of $1.8MM.
That may be more than the Twins are willing to commit to a player who isn’t hitting, especially since they have internal alternatives up the middle. Brian Dozier and Jamey Carroll will be back in 2013. And pre-arbitration eligible utility player Eduardo Escobar, who joined the Twins in the Francisco Liriano trade, provides Minnesota with another affordable infield option. Many more utility infield options will be available on minor league deals in a matter of months.
Casilla has added some value according to the versions of the wins above replacement metric at Baseball-Reference (0.9 WAR) and FanGraphs (0.4 WAR). But it’s hard to see Twins general manager Terry Ryan committing a roster spot and a couple million dollars to a player who contributes so little on offense. Instead, it looks as though Casilla will hit free agency a year early barring a late-season surge.
On average, each MLB team currently has about six arbitration eligible players. I count 188 in total, from the White Sox and Astros with two each to the Giants with a dozen. This winter, arbitration eligible players are those with at least two years and 146 days of MLB service and less than six years, who aren't signed to multiyear deals.
Tonight at 11pm central time, teams must decide whether to tender contracts to their arbitration eligible players. Perhaps 20% of arbitration eligible players are at risk of being cut loose (non-tendered) tonight. Of course, reaching free agency without having to accrue six years of service can sometimes be a positive. Also, note that each year there are a few stray non-tenders who are not yet arbitration eligible, such as Alfredo Aceves last year.
We'll have posts for non-tenders in each league constantly updated today, but another great way to stay informed is MLBTR's non-tender tracker. There you can see all the arbitration eligible players and filter by team and whether the player was tendered a contract. Be sure to bookmark our non-tender tracker and check it throughout the day.
I initially published my non-tender candidates list on November 14th, and since then many of the 54 players I mentioned have been removed from 40-man rosters or traded. Below is my revised list in advance of tonight's 11pm central time deadline. As a reminder, not all of these players will be non-tendered, but those who are become free agents. Click here for MLBTR's projected salaries for these players, if they are tendered contracts. You can follow all of today's action with MLBTR's non-tender tracker.
Tony Gwynn Jr.
The Marlins have been a popular team so far this offseason, targeting high-end free agents like Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Ryan Madson, and Mark Buehrle. While they're busy trying to lure free agents to their new ballpark in Miami, they also have decisions to make about some players they currently employ. Juan Carlos Oviedo's situation is rather unique, but 25-year-old righty Chris Volstad is a more traditional non-tender candidate.
Now four-plus years into his big league career, Volstad has made at least 29 starts for the Fish in each of the last three seasons. During that time he's pitched to a 4.88 ERA in 499 2/3 innings (88 starts), relying on ground balls (49.9%) rather than strikeouts (5.87 K/9). Volstad does a decent job of limiting walks (3.03 BB/9), but he's struggled against left-handed batters (.278/.342/.465 against) and tends to be pretty homer prone (1.24 HR/9) despite the ground ball tendencies.
The Marlins may have telegraphed their intentions for Volstad when they declined to invite him to their new uniform unveiling earlier this month. Our projections peg the right-hander for a $2.6MM salary next season, his first time through the arbitration process. Volstad figures to be affordable enough that the Marlins might not have to non-tender him before the December 12th deadline, they could probably find a trade partner. Baseball America ranked him as Florida's top prospect as recently as 2008, and he'd remain under team control through the 2014 season.
At the moment, the Marlins' rotation figures to include Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez. They're making a play for Buehrle and have kicked the tires on C.J. Wilson, and there's a non-zero chance that Javier Vazquez will return. Brad Hand and the recently acquired Wade LeBlanc are in the mix as well. If they deem Volstad expendable, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a new team for next season. It's just a question of whether he gets to choose his next club, or if the Marlins will choose it for him.
There is no position in baseball more volatile than relief pitcher, which is how Hong-Chih Kuo can go from being one of the most dominant bullpen arms in the game last September to taking about retirement this September. As a result of his 2011 struggles and off-the-field issues, the Dodgers' left-hander is a candidate to be non-tendered this offseason.
Kuo, 30, allowed just 29 hits and eight runs (1.20 ERA) in 60 innings in 2010, striking out 73 (11.0 K/9) and walking just 18 (2.7 BB/9). Left-handed batters had no chance against him that season, hitting just .095/.159/.111 with 28 strikeouts in 69 plate appearances. When Jonathan Broxton struggled in the second half, Kuo stepped in and went a perfect 9-for-9 in save chances in August and September. At $950K, he was a bargain.
That performance pushed Kuo's salary up to $2.725MM in 2011, his second time through arbitration. Unfortunately, his 2010 performance did not carry over. After walking four batters in his first 2 2/3 innings of the season (four appearances), the Dodgers placed Kuo on the DL with a lower back strain. He was activated on May 1st, struggled in his next five appearances (six runs in two innings), and was again placed on the DL on May 11th. This time he was dealing with social anxiety disorder.
One day later we heard that Kuo was not considering retirement, but it wasn't until June 19th that he was activated off the DL. He struggled the rest of the season, allowing 22 runs in 22 1/3 innings across 31 appearances. He did strike out 28 men, but he also walked 17. All told, Kuo pitched to a 9.00 ERA with 7.7 BB/9 in 40 appearances and 27 innings in 2011.
After the season, Kuo told MLB.com's Ken Gurnick that he needed a break from baseball and was unsure if he'd ever play again. "If I want to still play and somebody wants to give me a try, I'll play," he said. "If not, fine with me. I'll miss it." He indicated that his alternative to baseball would be returning home to Taiwan and opening a restaurant.
Our projections have Kuo's salary going down to $2.5MM next season, what would be his third time through arbitration. It's worth noting that he's been battling the injury bug for his entire career, one that's featured a total of four elbow operations, including a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Hard-throwing lefty relievers (he's averaged 93.4 mph with the fastball in his career) are a valuable commodity, but Kuo's bout with social anxiety disorder and extreme control problems in 2011 could lead to a non-tender. It'll be interesting to see if any teams are willing to offer him a guaranteed Major League contract if he does in fact hit the market.
Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.
"He certainly logs innings, which is good. A veteran with experience. A good guy. Fits in well with our club. We like him. A deciding factor will be how much confidence do we have with the younger players in our system."
Every rotation needs innings guys, and this year Saunders tallied 215 including a playoff start. Throw in a 3.69 ERA and how could the D'Backs be thinking about cutting Saunders for no return?
First there's the price tag, which we project at a hefty $8.7MM. That'd represent a $3.2MM raise as Saunders enters his last season before free agency. Then there's that ERA, which doesn't seem representative of Saunders' skills. His SIERAs have consistently been in the 4.70 range. Saunders is a hittable, low-strikeout pitcher who can be prone to the longball. Finally there's Arizona's depth; they might have young starters who can provide similar performance for the league minimum, if not the innings.
Trading or non-tendering Saunders would greatly add to the D'Backs' payroll flexibility, though they don't have huge needs. Would at least one team feel that Saunders is worth $8-9MM on a one-year deal, and also give up a minor leaguer for him? I find it unlikely. Saunders is similar to a healthy Jon Garland, and the open market repeatedly valued Garland close to $5MM. Only four free agents reached 200 innings this year, and C.C. Sabathia, C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, and Hiroki Kuroda will either be expensive or picky about where they sign. However, innings alone don't get a free agent an $8MM+ payday, as we saw with Garland and Rodrigo Lopez last year. Let's hear your thoughts on Saunders in the poll below.
Russell Martin, Alfredo Aceves and Joel Peralta 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, Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t eligible for free agency yet, but he and agent Scott Boras have some say in his future earnings. If the Red Sox offered Ellsbury $3MM in arbitration this offseason, Boras and Ellsbury could counter with a $10MM submission and win. Arbitration can be expensive for teams, since a player’s salary depends 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 and projects to earn a considerable amount, his team will likely consider a non-tender to save money and preserve roster flexibility. 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.
Left-handers Hideki Okajima and Andrew Miller both re-signed with the Red Sox after Boston non-tendered them last winter. The Red Sox signed the pair of pitchers for less guaranteed money, but only after they risked losing them 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 them to another team than go through the potentially expensive arbitration process.
MLBTR first published a modified version of this post by Ben Nicholson-Smith in September 2010.
The last-place Marlins won't taste the playoffs in 2012, but they're moving into a new ballpark next year and could spend big this offseason, so things might be different in Miami a year from now. Here's the latest on the Marlins...
- Omar Infante told Christina De Nicola of MLB.com that he and the Marlins are going to postpone all contract talks until the season ends next week. The sides have discussed a multiyear deal this month.
- Javier Vazquez has given every indication that this will be his final season, though he hasn't officially said he's going to retire, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. The Marlins haven't discussed next season with Vazquez, who has had a resurgent second half, as I explained last week.
- Clay Hensley, a non-tender candidate this offseason, told Spencer that he would love to return to Miami in 2012. The right-hander earned $1.4MM in 2011 and will be arbitration eligible for the second time this offseason. He has pitched well recently, though he had two stints on the disabled list and struggled as a starter.
Luke Scott had the best full season of his career in 2010, ranking sixth in the American League with a .535 slugging percentage. As a late bloomer with lightly-regarded defense, Scott has been going year to year through arbitration and is an oft-cited comparable due to the healthy raises he's received. In his last time through, he beat the midpoint of his and the Orioles' submissions and received a $2.35MM increase, bringing his 2011 salary to $6.4MM. Scott's offseason, of course, was better known for a Winter Meetings interview with Yahoo's David Brown than his arbitration raise.
Scott, 33, had his projected position changed twice during the offseason. When Derrek Lee was signed to play first base Scott became the designated hitter, and then he became the left fielder upon the Vladimir Guerrero signing.
Scott's season started out with a whimper as he battled a groin strain in April, and then a shoulder issue became public in May. He decided to play through a torn labrum in his shoulder, using a combination of rehab and a June cortisone injection. But then Scott bruised his knee in late June, and he landed on the disabled list a week later. During that DL stint the pain in his shoulder worsened, and after another cortisone shot and a rehab assignment he was activated in late July. It only took one game for Scott to realize he had to have surgery on his shoulder. From what I've heard, Scott is a disciplined and devoted offseason worker, and is expected to be ready for Spring Training next year.
Scott didn't add much in the way of counting stats in 2011 - nine home runs, 22 RBI, and 24 runs. So, we project his salary to be in the $6.4MM range again. Is that a worthwhile gamble for the Orioles, who have gotten power production this year from J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters? Scott's recovery progress leading up to the December non-tender deadline will be a big factor, but I'm leaning toward the Orioles tendering him a contract. The O's will have a lot of payroll space, and the free agent market doesn't offer much in the way of alternatives who have Scott's power potential and will sign a one-year deal under $7MM. The x factor will be a potential new GM in Baltimore, who could certainly find reasons to cut Scott as part of a mini-shakeup.
Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.