December 2 is the deadline for teams to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players on their 40-man rosters. With that in mind, here's a look at some potential non-tender candidates and the possible fallout for 2014.
This year's list doesn't have as many big names as we have seen in previous years, but I think that's a sign of the times more than anything else. In the past, I almost certainly would have done write-ups on David Freese, Drew Stubbs, J.P. Arencibia, Luke Hochevar and Ryan Hanigan, but I'm confident that they'll either stay with their current teams or draw enough trade interest to avoid a non-tender situation. Meanwhile, others notable names (Chris Perez, Clayton Richard and most recently, Jeff Niemann) have already hit free agency. So, this is what we have.
Darwin Barney 2B, Cubs
Let's begin with a less likely non-tender. Carrie Muskat of MLB.com recently mentioned Barney as a potential candidate after he batted just .208 with seven homers and a .569 OPS over 141 games this season. With a .246/.293/.336 career batting line, there's little hope for progression offensively. What's on his side is that he's still a very good defender and MLB Trade Rumors projects that he'll only make around $2 million as a first-time arbitration-eligible player. The Cubs could use Luis Valbuena as a stopgap option at second base next season, but I think Barney will get another chance. Of course, this isn't good news for fantasy owners.
Tommy Hanson SP, Angels
The Angels gambled last offseason when they acquired Hanson from the Braves for Jordan Walden, but they appear ready to cut ties just one year later. Once considered among the most promising young starting pitchers in the game, the 27-year-old right-hander finished with an ugly 5.42 ERA over 13 starts and two relief appearances this season while posting the lowest strikeout rate (6.9 K/9) of his career. He missed time with a strained forearm and found himself demoted to Triple-A Salt Lake after the All-Star break. His velocity has been missing in action since his shoulder problems in the second half of 2011, so he hardly appears worthy of a raise from the $3.725 million he made in 2013. I still think someone will give him a major league deal this winter, but he'll have to earn his way back on the fantasy radar.
Nolan Reimold OF, Orioles
Reimold appeared primed for a long-awaited breakout when he began the 2012 season by hitting .313 with five homers and a .960 OPS through 16 games, but he has struggled to stay on the field since. The 30-year-old required season-ending spinal fusion surgery last June and only appeared in 40 games this season before the issue re-emerged and another surgery was necessary. Reimold is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and his salary for 2014 shouldn't be too much higher than the $1 million he made this year, but the uncertainty over his health means the Orioles will likely cut him loose. The ability is clearly there, so there shouldn't be a shortage of teams willing to give him a chance on a minor league deal.
Garrett Jones OF/1B, Pirates
While the Pirates have some uncertainty at both first base and right field at the moment, there's a chance that Jones will become a free agent before the December 2 deadline. Used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching this past season, the 32-year-old batted .233/.289/.419 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI over 144 games. He's just one year removed from 27 homers and an .832 OPS, so it's difficult to give up on that sort of power production, but the Pirates might not be willing to give him a raise from his $4.5 million salary going into his third year of arbitration. It wouldn't be surprising to see his name come up in trade rumors over the next couple of weeks, but I see him as a fit with the Rays, Astros, Rockies or Brewers if the Pirates let him go.
Seth Smith OF, Athletics
The Athletics had Smith split time between the DH spot and left field against right-handed pitchers this season, but he only hit eight home runs in 410 plate appearances while his OPS dropped to a career-low .721. A big reason for his was his decreased production at home, as he managed just three home runs and a .663 OPS. With his salary expected to jump over $4 million going into his final year of arbitration, it's unlikely the Athletics will deem him worthy of the rising price tag. This might not be a bad thing for Smith, who could benefit from a return to a more hitter-friendly environment. Keep in mind that he had a .775 OPS on the road this year. My guess is he'll be on the strong side of a platoon somewhere next season, just not in Oakland.
John Mayberry, Jr. OF/1B, Phillies
The Phillies inked Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract last week, which suddenly puts Mayberry's future with the club into question. The 29-year-old has failed to build on his promise from 2011, batting .237 with a .687 OPS over the past two seasons. While he still offers value against southpaws, it's unclear whether the Phillies will be willing to pay him around $2 million to be a part-time player, especially since fellow right-handed hitter Darin Ruf could slide into a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman role. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. said that he expects to tender a contract to Mayberry even after signing Byrd, but I wouldn't bank on it.
Tyler Flowers C, White Sox
Flowers took over as the starting catcher for the White Sox this past season after A.J. Pierzynski left via free agency, but he could be looking for a new home soon. The 27-year-old struggled during the first half before losing playing time to Josh Phegley and eventually required season-ending shoulder surgery in September. While the injury partially explains his 2013 struggles, he now owns a .200/.279/.372 batting line over his first 592 plate appearances in the big leagues and has struck out 34 percent of the time. His pop isn't all that useful if he can't make contact. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make around $1 million in arbitration as a Super Two player, which makes his future with the White Sox a legitimate question. He's unlikely to get another starting gig no matter where he's playing next year.
John Axford RP, Cardinals
Axford was given another chance in the closer role with the Brewers to begin this season, but he struggled early on before giving way to Jim Henderson and found success in a set-up role before he was traded to the Cardinals in August. He pitched well down the stretch and during the postseason after some mechanical changes, but with a raise coming from the $5 million he made as a first-year arbitration-eligible player in 2013, a non-tender has been expected. It's worth noting that Axford posted a 2.92 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings after those four disastrous outings to begin the year, so he could make for a savvy addition. The velocity and strikeouts are still there, so I wouldn't rule him out from getting more save chances down the line somewhere.
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