Every year, MLB’s non-tender deadline sees club’s allow players under team control to head for the open market early, whether it be due to an increasing price tag in arbitration or a need for additional space on the club’s 40-man roster. The 2023 campaign saw the likes of Cody Bellinger and Jeimer Candelario go on to have strong seasons after being non-tendered the offseason prior, and yesterday we discussed five hitters who were let go by their team’s prior to last week’s non-tender deadline.
While the best pieces among last offseason’s crop of non-tenders were both position players, recent history has offered a handful of arms who went on to provide significant value to teams after being non-tendered earlier in their career, with Kevin Gausman and Taijuan Walker standing as two of the more recent examples. The pair eventually went on to sign multi-year pacts worth $110MM and $72MM, respectively, though it’s anyone’s guess if any of members of this year’s group of non-tendered hurlers will manage to reach those same heights.
This year’s crop of arms won’t benefit from an otherwise weak free agent class the way this year’s hitters will, as the class of free agent starters is deep in potential options, ranging from top-of-the-line aces like Yoshinobu Yamamoto to interesting bounceback candidates like Jack Flaherty and Frankie Montas. Even so, clubs can never have enough starting pitching depth, and each of these arms could at least in theory provide a club with valuable innings in the future if given the chance to do so. Without further ado, let’s take a look at five starters who hit free agency following last week’s non-tender deadline and could be worth keeping an eye on throughout the offseason. Players are listed in alphabetical order, with their age for the 2024 season in parentheses.
Kolby Allard (26)
Not too long ago, Allard was among the game’s most highly-touted prospects. After being selected fourteenth overall by the Braves in the 2015 draft, Allard was a consensus top-50 prospect in the sport by the time he reached Double-A in 2017. After cruising through that campaign with a 3.18 ERA across 150 innings of work at just 19 years old, Allard got his first taste of big league action with Atlanta in 2018, though his stint in the majors lasted just eight innings. After being traded to the Rangers in 2019, Allard spent parts of three seasons swinging in and out of the Rangers rotation, with a 5.70 ERA and 4.96 FIP in 203 2/3 innings of work.
A failed stint in the bullpen in 2022 led the Rangers to deal Allard back to the Braves in exchange for Jake Odorizzi. Allard missed nearly the entire 2023 campaign with oblique and shoulder issues, leading the Braves to non-tender the lefty. While Allard has struggled to establish himself at the big league level, he’ll pitch next season at just 26 years old and advanced metrics such as xFIP (4.57) and SIERA (4.31) have seen his performance as roughly league average since the start of the 2021 campaign, lending credence to the hope that the lefty could still prove to be a solid back-end starter one day.
Yonny Chirinos (30)
Chirinos began his big league career back in 2018 as a member of the Rays, and was a quality arm for the club in a variety of roles from 2018-20. In those three seasons, the right-hander posted a 3.65 ERA (117 ERA+) and 4.17 FIP while appearing in 47 games (28 starts) and pitching a total of 234 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, Chirinos underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2020 and didn’t return to the mound until late in the 2022 campaign.
Chirinos struggled in his first full season back from surgery in 2023. Though he posted a decent 4.02 ERA in 62 2/3 innings of work as a swingman for the Rays, his peripherals (including a 5.49 FIP and an 11.8% strikeout rate) indicated his performance had slipped considerably. That led Tampa to part ways with Chirinos, who was ultimately claimed off waivers by the Braves. Chirinos’s results took a turn for the worse in Atlanta, as he was blown up for a 9.27 ERA in 22 1/3 innings of work before being placed on the injured list with elbow inflammation. While Chirinos struggled through his first full season back from Tommy John this year, it’s easy to see the right-hander becoming a valuable, versatile depth piece for a contending club again in 2024 if he manages to get healthy.
Dakota Hudson (29)
A first-round selection by the Cardinals in the 2016 draft, Hudson was a quick riser who made his big league debut with the club back in 2018. The groundballer significantly outperformed his peripheral stats early in his career to perform at a mid-rotation level for the Cardinals, with a sterling 3.17 ERA in 241 innings of work 2018-20 despite a 4.74 FIP. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery cost Hudson almost all of the 2021 season, and upon returning to the Cardinals’ rotation in 2022 his results diminished significantly. In 221 frames since the start of the 2022 campaign, Hudson has posted a 4.64 ERA (88 ERA+) and nearly matching 4.60 FIP as his strikeout rate has dipped to just 13% against a 10% walk rate. That led the Cardinals to non-tender Hudson even in spite of their extreme need for rotation depth headed into 2024.
Brutal as the past two seasons have been for Hudson, it’s worth noting that he still generates grounders at a elite clip; among pitchers with at least 200 innings of work over the past two years, Hudson’s 52.5% groundball rate ranks ninth, sandwiched between Sandy Alcantara and Ranger Suarez. Though the Cardinals were unable to trade Hudson before last week’s non-tender deadline, it’s certainly feasible that a team in need of starting depth could look to take a flier on Hudson’s groundball abilities in hopes they can return him to the form he flashed earlier in his career.
Spencer Turnbull (31)
After being drafted by the Tigers in the second round of the 2014 draft, Turnbull eventually reached the majors for a brief cup of coffee in 2018 before receiving a regular spot in the club’s starting rotation during the 2019 campaign. That rookie campaign saw Turnbull post a 4.61 ERA that was slightly better than league average (103 ERA+) in 148 1/3 innings of work, though his 3.99 FIP hinted at another gear to his performance. After taking a small step forward during the shortened 2020 season (3.97 ERA, 3.49 FIP in 11 starts), Turnbull appeared to put it all together in the 2021 campaign with a 2.88 ERA and 2.97 FIP before his season was cut short after just nine starts by Tommy John surgery.
Turnbull returned in early 2023 and appeared poised to step back into the club’s rotation, but a mix of injuries, under-performance, and a dispute between Turnbull and Detroit brass over service time led to the sides parting ways this offseason with Turnbull having posted a 7.26 ERA over seven starts at the big league level. Despite those brutal numbers, Turnbull is nonetheless among the more interesting bounceback candidates on the open market this offseason given his recent health struggles and the incredible upside he flashed during the 2021 campaign.
Brandon Woodruff (31)
This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Woodruff, who has emerged as one of the game’s best starters in recent years. Since his first season as a regular member of the Brewers’ rotation in 2019, Woodruff has dominated to the tune of a 2.93 ERA and 3.10 FIP in 103 starts while collecting two All Star appearances and a fifth-place finish in NL Cy Young award voting back in 2021. Woodruff was dominant as ever in 2023, with a 2.28 ERA and a 29.2% strikeout rate this season. Unfortunately, he was dogged by injuries throughout the season and limited to just eleven starts before undergoing shoulder surgery last month.
Unlike the other arms on this list, there are zero questions about Woodruff’s ability, as he’s a consensus front-of-the-rotation arm in terms of pure talent. Despite that, the Brewers made the difficult decision to non-tender him last week due to questions surrounding his availability for the 2024 campaign. It’s unclear if Woodruff will be able to return to the mound at all in 2024 following his surgery, though the right-hander expressed optimism earlier this offseason that he would be able to pitch again sometime next summer. Still, that uncertainty led the Brewers to part ways with the right-hander rather than tender him a contract that MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projected to be worth $11.6MM, a hefty sum for a small-market club to commit to a pitcher who might not be available next season. Though Woodruff’s timetable for return is uncertain, he has the potential to be among the most impactful pitchers in the entire free agent class based on his track record over the past several seasons. That combination of risk and tantalizing upside leave Woodruff as one of the most interesting free agents not only on this list but in the offseason’s entire class.