The list of non-tenders is out. Time to dream!
It’s actually a very tough place to shop, even if there are a few names that seem attractive this year. Only about one in twelve non-tenders manages to put up a win of value the year after they were let loose. Generally, teams know best which players to keep, and which to jettison.
You’re not going to get 12 non-tenders in your camp in any given year, but there is a way to improve your odds. It’s simple, really: pick up a player that was actually above replacement the year before. If you do that, you double your chance of picking up a productive major leaguer. So let’s look at this year’s market through that lens first.
Before last year, 20 of the last 233 non-tenders were worth a win the following season. Last year, four of 43 managed the feat, so the odds are still around one in twelve on this dartboard. 17 of the 24 non-tenders that were worth more than a win were above replacement the year before. Here’s the list of non-tenders this year that were above replacement last year:
The speedy Mets outfielder was actually worth a win last year, despite his obvious flaws. Only his left-field defense and speed were above-average skills for him, and that probably wasn’t going to be worth almost the almost three million dollars he was due this year in arbitration. Well, maybe that’s too harsh — Young is projected to be worth about a half win by Steamer this year, and that’s maybe worth three million. So this is probably just a case where the fit wasn’t right. Since Michael Cuddyer is only getting $6.5 million from the Mets this year, they got back half his salary by letting Young go. The Angels currently have the right-handed Collin Cowgill in the fourth outfielder role. It might make sense for them to get a switch-hitter there instead. The Tigers may want a cheap guy to platoon with Rajai Davis in left. The Blue Jays could maybe use an outfielder. He’ll probably get signed, and should probably get signed.
Rosales is a right-handed infielder with a little bit of pop who can play all over the diamond. Jeff Keppinger once fit that mold and is a patron saint of successful non-tenders (before he signed the multi-year deal). Last year’s jewel of the non-tender market — one we recommended — also fits that mold:
The sticking point is that Turner was 28 when he was let go by the Mets. Rosales is 31. Still, if you watched the Rangers and Athletics swap Rosales over the last few years, it’s clear that this sort of skillset is valuable. On the periphery, but valuable. Plenty of teams could use a right-handed middle infielder, and he’ll get an invite to some camp somewhere.
Pablo Sandoval made Juan Francisco less useful, and so the Red Sox let him go. And he’s been a negative with the glove at third base in three out of the last four years. And most years, he’s a negative on the basepaths. And he doesn’t walk much. And his strikeout rate was second-worst in baseball last year. But this is still a hitter with a career .248/.310/.476 line against right-handers (113 wRC+), and there are still four teams projected to get a win or less from their current third basemen. Odds are, Francisco gets another shot to help a team with his one-dimensional approach.
Health has been Blanks’ biggest problem. He’s managed to put up above-average patience (9.2% walk rate) and power (.174 isolated slugging percentage) despite all the time off the field, and if you look at his work against left-handed pitchers alone, the strikeout rate is manageable (22.4%). He profiles well among the cheap right-handed power options left on the market, too. The problem is that, with his defensive flexibility, he’s mostly a bench power bat or a platoon guy at first. Still, he’d fit perfectly in Miami, and maybe even the Brewers would take a look at him as a platonic partner for Adam Lind.
Mayberry didn’t make the cut for the list of attractive but affordable right-handed power options, ostensibly because his playing time projection is modest (199 plate appearances). But if you want your right-handed bat to play a little outfield defense without falling down, you may want to check out Mayberry. Certainly once Michael Morse, Tyler Moore, Corey Hart, and Andrew Brown are off the market. Maybe even before Brown is signed. Mayberry has shown above-average defensive work in the corner outfield, is projected for an average walk rate (8.1%) and above-average power (.188 ISO), and his career 22.7% strikeout rate is not terrible either. Given his health and youth (30) compared to some of the other right-handed power outfielders, you could make the case he was the second- or third-base option at that position.
To say that Rivero was above replacement in 2014 seems like a stretch. He had eight plate appearances. With iffy power, patience, and D, he’s more likely to get a minor league invite as organizational depth somewhere than anything.
Let’s put all the relievers in one basket. Well, Carroll started some and has the million-pitch arsenal of a fringe starter, but maybe putting him in the pen exclusively will help his fastball crack 90 more often. But his slider, curve, and change were all average-ish by whiff rates — if he could push that fastball to average, he might be more of an average (relief) pitcher. LeBlanc has almost 500 innings under his belt and hasn’t managed a win above replacement yet. Maybe you could mess around with his arm slot, and keep him from starting entirely, and get a LOOGY out of him? Herrera showed an average change and an above-average curve by whiff rates last year, but his straight fastball kept him from being better. Ogando barely cracked 90 in his last outing, before going on the disabled list for half the year, but his past velocity should be enough to get him an invite into someone’s camp. Maybe even the Rangers’. Wesley Wright was non-tendered before and now non-tendered again, making him a one-man argument for finding your LOOGY wherever you can and avoiding the multi-year deal. He’s got a career 2.80 FIP against lefties (5.52 vs RHB).
We haven’t talked about the three best non-tendered pitchers by the projections yet. Kris Medlen, in particular, seems attractive as a three-pitch guy with great career results starting. No reason not to invite him to camp if you need a starter, or maybe even pay him major league money if you have the 40-man space. But let’s remember past injury-plagued non-tendered starters as a warning sign: Tommy Hanson, Daniel Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Chien-Ming Wang, John Maine, Tim Redding, Mark Prior — the list goes on. The players’ former team knows their medical history best and there aren’t really any success stories. Chris Capuano counts, but he didn’t help the first year he was signed after being non-tendered. You could say that Scott Olsen in 2010, Alfredo Aceves in 2011, and Joe Saunders in 2012 are the best starting pitchers that were non-tendered. And you can only add Mike Pelfrey in 2013 and Rich Hill (twice) as injury-plagued non-tendered starters, and Hill ended up in relief. One success story since 2008 does not make for much optimism. Especially since it’s likely — as with Capuano before — that if Beachy or Medlen is valuable again, it’s in 2016. The limiting factor here may be 40-man roster space, and opportunity in the rotation in order to entice.
And then there’s Everth Cabrera. Projected by Steamer for a 1.4-win season with a salary of around $3 million, maybe it’s surprising to find this shortstop on the list. He’s probably worth picking up as a utility man at worst. But let’s not forget all the things that the projection systems cannot take into consideration. The one season in which Cabrera managed to be above-average overall, he was suspended for performance-enhancers. That throws the only other good season, 2012, into a certain focus as well. Without those seasons to buoy the projections, he’s most likely a below-average shortstop with the glove, with below-average ability to make contact, well below-average power, and league-average patience. That’s how he’s been below replacement three times in his six-year career. Add in injury-prone (he’s never managed 500 plate appearances) and jail-prone (he’s been arrested for DUI and charged with domestic abuse), and you can see why the Padres couldn’t trade him. On the other hand, just because there hasn’t been a case like Cabrera’s since 2008 doesn’t mean he can’t be worth a win in 2014. Someone will give him a chance, with the Athletics and Mets as perhaps the most likely.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.