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Explaining MLB's non-tender deadline: Why Kyle Schwarber and other big names joined the free agent pool

Mike Oz
·9 min read
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Wednesday was the deadline for Major League Baseball teams to tender contracts to players with less than six years experience in the big leagues. While this is generally just another date circled on the offseason calendar, this year’s non-tender deadline was one of the most explosive in recent memory.

Well-known players such as Kyle Schwarber, Eddie Rosario and Archie Bradley are now free agents, so are once-hyped prospects like Nomar Mazara and David Dahl after not living up to their billing for one reason or another.

A combination of last year’s shortened season and teams crying poor after the pandemic took away their ticket sales meant more well-known and valuable players than usual were unexpectedly thrust into free agency. It means these players are now out on the open market, adding depth to a free agent pool that isn’t really moving yet.

Normally, the non-tender deadline is when a team decides a player in his arbitration years isn’t worth what they are likely to make through negotiation or the precedent-based arbitration process, so they cut bait.

As the deadline approached, we saw players like Kris Bryant and Gary Sanchez mentioned as non-tender candidates. A player like Bryant, an ex-MVP whose stock hasn’t risen as much as expected over the years, is more likely to be traded than just tossed aside by the Chicago Cubs.

Both Bryant and Sanchez were tendered contracts Wednesday, but the fact that they were even mentioned — even it doesn’t happen — proves that this offseason will be a different beast.

Here’s a list of notable non-tenders among MLB teams from throughout the day.

Kyle Schwarber has been non-tendered by the Cubs and will now be a free agent. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Kyle Schwarber has been non-tendered by the Cubs and will now be a free agent. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Notable players who are now free agents

  • Kyle Schwarber: The Schwarber era is Chicago is likely over after he was not tendered a contract Wednesday, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago. There is a chance that he re-signs with the Cubs as a free agent, but this officially gets him out of the arbitration system that could have paid him $7.9 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors projections. Schwarber, 27, hit only .188 last season with the Cubs with 11 homers. Still, the power and potential is enough that he becomes one of the most interesting free agents on the market.

  • Archie Bradley: The Reds have cut loose Bradley, who they just acquired in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks this summer. He only pitched six games with the Reds, but has proven himself a bullpen weapon either as a closer or an arm to turn to in high-leverage situations. He’s 28 and now hits free agency a year early.

  • Eddie Rosario: The Twins did not tender a contract to Rosario. The 29-year-old outfielder was a year away from free agency, a year removed from hitting 32 homers, driving in 109 runs and two years removed from having a 4.1 WAR season, according to Baseball-Reference’s calculations. He made $7.75 million in 2020 and a raise might be too rich for the Twins, who were reportedly been trying to trade him ahead of the deadline, but may just let go of him after he cleared waivers.

  • David Dahl: The Rockies are giving up on Dahl, a high-potential outfielder who always seemed to be held back by injuries. He was an All-Star in 2019, seemingly turning a corner in his start-and-stop early career — but he was injured again in 2020 and hit only .183/.222/.247 in 24 games. He’s 26 and would only be entering his first year of arbitration, making this move surprising.

  • Nomar Mazara: The Chicago White Sox announced they declined to tender a contract to Nomar Mazara. The 25-year-old outfielder came over from the Texas Rangers in a deal last offseason, but saw his production drop off considerably. Once a top prospect, Mazara put up several years of roughly average offensive production in Texas — with flashes of potential exhibited in tape-measure home runs — before stumbling to a .228/.295/.294 line with the White Sox.

  • Carlos Rodón: The White Sox also non-tendered left-handed starter Carlos Rodón. The 27-year-old once figured prominently in the club’s plans, but had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and only made it back for 7 2/3 innings in 2020.

  • Adam Duvall: The Braves won’t bring back 32-year-old Duvall, one of the top home run hitters in MLB last season. Only six players had more homers than Duvall’s 16 (in 57 games), but he hit .237 with a .301 on-base percentage. He was projected to make around $4.7 million by MLB Trade Rumors in his second year of arbitration. Now he’ll hit free agency and should catch some eyes from teams looking for a power bat. The Braves could aim to re-sign him too, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports, but also are waiting to see if the DH will be in the National League again.

  • Hanser Alberto: A .299 hitter in two years since joining the Baltimore Orioles from Texas, infielder Hanser Alberto was a surprise non-tender. However, Orioles GM Mike Elias told reporters the team is still talking to Alberto about returning to the club on a new contract.

  • Travis Shaw: Versatile infielder Travis Shaw has been non-tendered by the Blue Jays, a year after being non-tendered by the Brewers. This one isn’t a surprise after a down season, but he can play first, second and third base and hit 30 homers as recently as 2018.

  • Tyler Naquin: The Cleveland Indians reportedly non-tendered outfielder Tyler Naquin. He had a terrific debut with the team in 2016 — which included a memorable walk-off inside-the-park-homer — and finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting, but has since struggled to gain any traction as a hitter.

  • José Martínez: The Cubs have informed Martínez of their decision, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN. Martínez came to Chicago mid-season in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and didn’t even get a hit in 10 games. He’s 32 with experience as a first baseman, right fielder and DH. He’s not terribly far removed from a stellar 2018 season with the St. Louis Cardinals in which he had a .364 on-base percentage with 17 homers and 84 RBIs. Still, 2021 would see him playing for this fourth team in three years, as the Cardinals traded him in January to the Rays in the deal that also sent Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay. MLB Trade Rumors had Martínez projected to make $2.1 million in arbitration.

  • Maikel Franco: The Royals are cutting loose Maikel Franco, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. The 28-year-old third baseman has home-run power but has never been able to match expectations. Franco, a former Phillies top prospect, has averaged 25 homers across 162 games for his career, but has never been consistent with much else. His one season in Kansas City saw a nice jump in his slash line, from .234/.297/.409 to .278/.321/.457, but it wasn’t enough for the Royals to keep him around. MLB Trade Rumors projected his salary at $4.5-$5 million for 2021, what would have been his final arbitration year.

  • Brian Goodwin: Goodwin, a 30-year-old outfielder, is more of a traditional non-tender candidate. He was let go by the Reds after 20 games last season in which he hit .163. He’ll now be looking to join his fifth team in five years after being traded by the Nats to the Royals, waived by K.C., picked up by the Angels and traded to the Reds last season. Goodwin broke his own news too.

Why this year’s non-tender deadline is different

If you’re a bargain-shopping team actually looking to improve, all of this could be good news. The free agent pool isn’t particularly wonderful this year after the first six or eight players. Teams already seem less likely to spend big money during a pandemic, as they face more uncertainty about the 2021 season should coronavirus limit ticket sales again.

Many more baseball teams than usual find themselves tightening budgets this year. At the very least, they’ll be much more discerning about what they’re spending.

One NL executive told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand leading up to the deadline:

“It’s going to be crazy over the next few days, in my opinion. I think you’re going to see a bunch of deals get done and I also think you’ll see a bunch of non-tenders, including some legit players.”

The other side of that coin is teams will either be looking to sign players to one-year deals to avoid arbitration or trade them. That could make for a busy day too. And light a little bit of a flame for the Hot Stove season.

Here are some of those notable deals:

• The Angels have acquired slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Orioles in a trade, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, which will fill the gap left by another slick-fielding shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, becoming a free agent. No word yet on the return for Baltimore.

• The Dodgers acquired reliever Corey Knebel from the Brewers after it initially appeared Milwaukee would non-tender the former closer. After a 6.08 ERA across 15 appearances in 2020, he’s a reclamation project now, but that’s exactly the sort of pitcher the Dodgers have had success with. In 2017, he had a 1.78 ERA and 39 saves.

• Jorge Soler, who has hit 56 homers the past two seasons with the Royals, has reportedly settled on an $8.05 million deal. It’s his last year of arbitration before free agency.

• Matt Barnes, one of the Red Sox players who got the most whispers about non-tenders, was tendered a contract. He and the team reportedly agreed to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million.

• Steven Matz and the Mets reportedly came to terms on a $5.2 million contract for one year.

• Matt Olson and the A’s reportedly agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million.

• Slugger Jesus Aguilar and the Marlins have reportedly agreed to a $4.35 million deal for one year.

• The Braves and reliever Luke Jackson agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.9 million, the club announced.

• The Yankees and pitcher Luis Cessa reportedly agreed to a one-year, $1 million deal.

• The Giants and outfielder Alex Dickerson have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.1 million.

• Orlando Arcia reportedly agreed to a one-year deal worth $2 million to stay in Milwaukee.

• Catcher Andrew Knapp is returning to the Phillies on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, which could be important if they don’t re-sign J.T. Realmuto.

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