Non-Tender Candidates Rumors
The deadline for teams to offer contracts to players with fewer than six years of service time is less than two weeks away. An entirely new batch of free agents will hit the market as clubs non-tender guys they a) don't want, b) can't afford, or c) usually a combination of both. One player that's on the bubble was one of the game's most electrifying rookies just a few years ago, Joel Zumaya of the Tigers.
Zumaya burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old in 2006 with a season that was straight out of a video game. He threw 83 1/3 innings of relief, striking out 97 batters and allowing just 18 earned runs to score (1.94 ERA) before chipping in another six innings of relief work during Detroit's march to the World Series. His fastball routinely exceeded 100 mph and batters mustered just a .187/.287/.270 batting line against. Zumaya did, however, miss some time in October after suffering tendinitis in his wrist while playing Guitar Hero, and it was pretty much all downhill from there.
The 2007 season featured a lengthy (107 days) stint on the disabled list because of a ruptured tendon in his finger, and when Zumaya was on the mound he pitched to a 4.28 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. The righty then separated the AC joint in his throwing shoulder after the season while helping his father move boxes as wildfires approached the family home in San Diego. Zumaya started the 2008 season on the DL but made it back in June, pitching to a 3.47 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. He ended the year like he started it, on the DL with a shoulder injury. This time it was a stress fracture.
Zumaya started the 2009 campaign on the DL but was activated in late April. He threw 31 innings through mid-July (4.94 ERA), but his season ended there because of another stress fracture in his shoulder. This one required surgery. Zumaya was healthy enough to start the 2010 season with the Tigers, and he boasted an impressive 2.58 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 38 1/3 innings through June. His fastball was again humming in the triple digits and Detroit had one of the game's best setup men in their bullpen. But again, it did not last. Zumaya's season ended on June 28th in Minnesota, when he fractured the olecranon in his elbow throwing a pitch, an injury that was particularly horrifying to watch live.
Since that stellar rookie campaign, Zumaya has been able to make more than 30 appearances in a season just once (31 in 2010), and he spent more days on the disabled list (450) than on the active roster (278). All the while his salary climbed from $327K in 2006 to $915K in 2010, and he's about to enter his final season of arbitration eligibility.
GM Dave Dombrowski recently told MLive.com's James Schmehl that Zumaya would be ready for Spring Training, which seems to indicate that the now 26-year-old's rehab is going well. We also know that the Tigers are looking to add pieces to their bullpen, evidenced by the contract they just gave Joaquin Benoit. Normally you'd expect a pitcher as unreliable as Zumaya (because of the injuries, not his actual performance) to get non-tendered, but his salary is reasonably low (even with a slight raise) and Detroit did shed approximately $70MM off of 2010's payroll thanks to expiring contracts.
Even before they acquired Cameron Maybin, the Padres had more outfielders than jobs. Ryan Ludwick, Kyle Blanks, Will Venable, Scott Hairston, Chris Denorfia, Aaron Cunningham and Tony Gwynn Jr. are all options in San Diego, but the Padres can't hand big league jobs to all of those players in 2011. Not only do they have limited roster space, they have limited payroll.
With more outfielders than jobs and a number of holes to address on a limited budget, GM Jed Hoyer will likely consider non-tendering some of his arbitration eligible players. Ludwick is one candidate to be non-tendered and Hairston and Denorfia are others, but today we'll examine the case for Gwynn.
A top defender, Gwynn fits in Petco Park for the same reasons the Padres acquired Maybin. Last year Gwynn stole 17 bases (21 attempts) and his career 18.4 UZR/150 is spectacular. However, he doesn't have the same offensive upside as Maybin. He has never posted an OPS above .700. and last year he batted just .204/.304/.287 in 339 plate appearances.
Gwynn, 28, is arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason and could be in line for a salary of $1MM or so. That's more than any team wants to pay for a fifth outfielder and the Padres don't have as much room for error as big market teams. That doesn't mean Gwynn will be non-tendered, though. The Padres could keep him and cut others or tender him a contract and flip him to a team looking for a defense-first outfielder. Click here to predict what the Padres will do and here to view the results.
About a month ago, Padres GM Jed Hoyer appeared on XX-1090 Sports Radio with Darren Smith, and one of the topics was outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick is eligible for arbitration for the last time this winter, and he'll get a raise on this year's $5.45MM salary. Though Ludwick struggled mightily after coming to the Padres in a deadline deal, Hoyer's comments on the radio show strongly implied the outfielder will be tendered a contract:
I think he came over here and probably put too much pressure on himself to try to protect Adrian and hit home runs and he struggled, but a lot of people can struggle over a two-month period and we still love the power, the corner outfield power and I think one thing that we'll probably talk about at some point is moving him to left here. I think Will [Venable] is a great right fielder defensively and that might be a better fit, but otherwise we’re excited to have him back and he's a guy that we think will have a lot of home runs for us. I think he'll fit in better for us over the course of a full season than he did and I think he'll put less pressure on himself.
Those comments indicate Hoyer has Ludwick in his plans for 2011, but should he? Ludwick is likely to be paid $6.5-7MM next year. Coming off a .251/.325/.418 season, he might make half that as a free agent if he's non-tendered. It may be difficult to convince a slugger to sign in San Diego, but not to the point where they must be paid double.
In Ludwick's defense, he did slug .484 with the Cardinals this year. Only a dozen free agents had a higher slugging percentage in 2010. Ludwick also has a ridiculous 2008 season on his resume - a 37 home run campaign. If the Padres let him go, what's the backup plan in left field? Free agents like Pat Burrell and Brad Hawpe aren't much better, while Adam Dunn and even Magglio Ordonez may be expensive. Trade options could include Josh Willingham, Luke Scott, Carlos Quentin, and Kosuke Fukudome.
As new Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers looks to remake his bullpen, he may choose to cut 29-year-old right-handed reliever Blaine Boyer loose. Towers will need to decide by the December 2nd non-tender deadline, as Boyer is arbitration eligible for the second time in his career after earning $725K in 2010.
Boyer tossed 57 innings out of Arizona's pen this year, with a 4.26 ERA, 4.6 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, and 0.5 HR/9. His 65.8% groundball rate stood out; that ranked third among all pitchers with at least 50 innings. He also throws hard, averaging a 94.6 mph fastball this year.
Boyer has moved around in his career since coming up with the Braves. The Braves traded him to the Cardinals in April of '09, and then the D'Backs claimed him off waivers two months later after he'd been designated for assignment. Former D'Backs GM Josh Byrnes designated Boyer again in May of this year, but he cleared waivers and was added back to the roster in June.
Boyer's control in 2010 had been horrible prior to his demotion, but an arm slot adjustment led to a 3.7 BB/9 after his recall. That's tolerable, but with so few strikeouts it's tough to make that formula work even with frequent groundballs.
Kyle Davies was a well-regarded young pitcher in the summer of 2007, when the Royals acquired him from the Braves for a few months of Octavio Dotel. Since then Davies has had an extended opportunity in Kansas City. Over 469 2/3 innings spread across 86 starts, he sports a 5.15 ERA, 6.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, and 1.11 HR/9. He also logged another 104 innings at Triple-A.
Davies, 27, just hasn't made much progress in the bigs. The best that can be said is that he's been healthy and is good for 170-180 innings with an ERA around 5.00. That has value, in that it's better than the production of most fifth starters, but you'd prefer to pay the league minimum for it. Davies, however, could make more than $2MM as a third-time arbitration eligible player.
Davies is still young, and he throws relatively hard with a 92.6 mph average fastball this year. With improved control and a move to the NL, you can picture him as a solid #4 starter. In that sense Davies is more of a trade candidate than a non-tender possibility. Still, you have to wonder if the Royals will give him one more shot given their rotation uncertainty. Zack Greinke could be traded, though he'd likely bring back a Major League ready arm. Brian Bannister is a non-tender candidate, and Bruce Chen is a free agent. If the Royals do give up on Davies and Bannister, they'll probably have to add at least one free agent starter.
By our count, there are 225 arbitration eligible players. Of those, about 80 might be considered non-tender candidates. The deadline to decide is December 2nd, ten days earlier than years past. Non-tendering a player makes him a free agent.
How do I define a non-tender candidate? In my mind, it means the player has at least a 25% chance of being cut loose. This is a subjective list, one that I may revise in a few weeks. I've run it by a few people in the game to ensure there's nothing horribly wrong, but the list is mainly my opinion based on trying to predict non-tenders for the past several years. The links go to non-tender candidate posts we've done.
The Mariners acquired Casey Kotchman from the Red Sox in January, installing him as Russell Branyan's replacement at first base. 457 plate appearances later, Kotchman is a lock to be non-tendered next month.
Kotchman, 28 in February, hit .217/.280/.336 for the Mariners this year. He's known for his defense, but more was expected offensively. He earned $3.5175MM in 2010, but may have to settle for a minor league deal this time around.
There is some silver lining for Kotchman's bat. In 2007 for the Angels, Kotchman hit .296/.372/.467 in 508 plate appearances. Drafted 13th overall in '01, Kotchman had seemingly recovered from a bout with mononucleosis and broken through in the bigs. He was the centerpiece of the Angels' trade with Atlanta for Mark Teixeira in July of '08, but his power slipped into reserve territory from that point forward.
There is no commodity in baseball more precious than young power pitching, and that goes double if the player happens to be lefthanded. That's the case with Andrew Miller of the Marlins, the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft and one of the key pieces in the December 2007 trade that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit.
It's easy to forget that he's still just 25 years old, but it seems like Miller had lived a baseball lifetime. He made his big league debut a few weeks after signing his first contract, throwing 10.1 innings of low-pressure relief down the stretch for Jim Leyland's club. After a brief minor league tune-up the next year, Miller found himself in the Tigers' rotation at midsummer, posting a 5.63 ERA in 13 starts. The next year he was in Florida, and in his three seasons with the Fish he's pitched to a 5.89 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9 in 220 innings.
Miller has been bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors throughout his career as he's struggled to find consistency with his delivery and command, and as a result he's now out of options. If the Marlins want to sent him to minors next year, he'll have to first be exposed to the other 29 teams on waivers. There's a chance that will be a non-issue though, because Florida may opt to simply non-tender Miller this offseason.
Thanks to the major league contract he signed out of the draft, Miller earned a touch over $1.79MM in 2010. That original deal expired after 2009, though it paid him $1.575MM that season, which was used as a base for his 2010 compensation. Considering how poorly he's pitched, not to mention the system in general, Miller wouldn't have come close to a seven-figure salary in either of the last two years if he was a regular player with less than three years of service time. Given their financial restraints, it's not tough to see why the Marlins may opt to pass on paying Miller close to $2MM in 2011.
Despite all that, it's tough to walk away from a young lefty that still touches the mid-90's with his fastball. The Kevin Towers led Padres wanted Miller in a potential Heath Bell trade last year, and I'm sure general manager Michael Hill would be able to drum up some trade interest if he looks around. That would be preferable than a non-tender, since at least Florida would get something other than payroll relief in return.
In mid-August the Giants struck a deal with the Cubs to acquire infielder Mike Fontenot in exchange for minor league center fielder Evan Crawford. The Cubs chose to part ways with the 30-year-old who was unable to give an encore performance of his strong 2008 campaign. In that season he delivered a slash line of .305/.395/.514 with nine homers. His flat 2010 numbers with the Cubbies (91 OPS+) and the rise of Starlin Castro made Fontenot expendable.
Fontenot didn't set the world on fire at the end of the Giants' regular season either, hitting .282/.329/.310 in 76 plate appearances. While he has the ability to play shortstop and third base, his best position is second base. Second base is, of course, already occupied by Freddy Sanchez, who is under contract through 2011. While he could conceivably be a cheap alternative if the Giants choose not to retain Juan Uribe, his light-hitting and weak play at shortstop make that unlikely.
As for Fontenot, he earned $1MM and will head to arbitration this winter for the second time. While he's not a bad utility option to keep around, the Giants could very well choose to non-tender him. After all, they didn't exactly give up a ton to acquire him this year. What do you think San Francisco will do with Fontenot? Click here to vote, and here to view the results.
Jack Cust isn’t the home run threat he once was, so even in an offseason when the A's are prioritizing power, he doesn’t have any assurances that an offer of arbitration will come his way. The A’s non-tendered him last winter after a third consecutive season of 25-plus home runs. This year, his power dropped off, so there’s a real possibility that GM Billy Beane non-tenders Cust once again.
Cust, 32 in January, hit just 13 homers this year, but still managed to reach base. He posted a robust .395 on base average and batted .272. That figure is deceptive, though; Cust’s career-high average was inflated by his unsustainable .387 average on balls in play.
Cust is a power hitter who no longer hits for power and he doesn’t have much to fall back on other than his walks. He strikes out too much, doesn’t inspire confidence on defense (he played just 16 games in the outfield this year) and is working off of a $2.65MM base salary.
Offering Cust arbitration could cost $3-4MM, but it seems more likely that the A’s will non-tender him and try to renegotiate a contract worth less guaranteed money if they have interest in keeping him. The A’s would risk losing Cust to another team if they non-tender him, but they saved money when they took that chance a year ago.
Conor Jackson and Kevin Kouzmanoff are also among Oakland's non-tender candidates, but we've already voted on them. It's time to see what you think the A's will do with Cust. Click here to vote and here to view the results.