Though we’ve already seen a good deal of bats come off the free agent market — including top free agents Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Nelson Cruz — a group of lower-profile names will be added back to the pool tonight. That’s because 11pm CT is the deadline for clubs to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players or to decide that such players aren’t worth the risk in arbitration. As Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith points out (Twitter link), 43 players were released on this day last year (though a great many of them were fringe Major Leaguers who made little impact). For those who aren’t familiar with the process, here’s a quick look at how it works.
In Major League Baseball, players become eligible for arbitration once they’ve accumulated three years of MLB service time (the top 22 percent of each year’s group of players with two to three years of service also qualify as “Super Two” players). Prior to arbitration, players have virtually no say in their earnings. They typically make the league minimum or perhaps maybe a few thousand more. (MLBTR’s Zach Links wrote a lengthy piece on how pre-arb salaries are determined earlier this year.) It is via arbitration that they can begin to earn more substantial salaries.
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. Teams will decide by tonight whether to tender contracts to those arb-eligible players (they’ll still have a couple months to agree to a specific salary) or cut them loose — a non-tender. By non-tendering a player, the team is allowing him to immediately become a free agent. It’s certainly not unheard of for a player to be non-tendered and re-sign with his former club at a lower, however. Daniel Hudson did this last season, and Jeff Karstens and Geovany Soto followed that path the previous year.
Players may also be non-tendered for injury concerns, and players that are not yet arbitration eligible but currently occupy a 40-man roster spot can be non-tendered as well.
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. Last year’s group of non-tenders included Justin Turner — one of the offseason’s best signings — as well as Sam Fuld, Wesley Wright, Ronald Belisario and Jerome Williams. Each of those players spent significant time on a Major League roster in 2014. Garrett Jones and Ryan Webb, another pair of non-tenders, each received two-year deals after being cut loose last year.
Should a non-tendered player sign with a new team, that team secures control of his remaining arbitration seasons until free agency. For example, Turner has four-plus years of Major League service time after his excellent 2014, meaning he still needs two more years of service to qualify for free agency. The Dodgers will control him through the 2016 season. The same can be said of Fuld with the A’s.
The non-tender deadline also means that many players will avoid arbitration with their clubs today. We’re still quite a ways from the deadline to do so, but a few players have already avoided arb and a few more figure to see their 2015 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. We’ve also created a list of non-tender candidates featuring some names that could be on the bubble, and MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz has projected next year’s salary for each arb-eligible player. MLBTR writers have also taken an in-depth look at the cases of Alejandro De Aza (link), Gordon Beckham (link), Kris Medlen (link), Travis Wood (link), Mitch Moreland (link) and Ike Davis (link — post pre-dates his trade to Oakland).
One more thing to watch for today will be trades of some potential non-tender candidates. Last year’s non-tender deadline brought the trade of Chris Stewart to the Pirates, while in 2012 we saw the Tommy Hanson-for-Jordan Walden swap with the Braves and Angels.