A non-tender deadline looms, but teams are trying desperately to make some trades before the deadline!

Photo by Andrew Lang for TalkNats

The non-tender/tender deadline for arbitration-eligible players is at 8 pm ET on Wednesday, and we still do not know if Juan Soto and Wander Suero cleared the Super-Two threshold. What is happening behind the scenes is there are cellphones connecting between general managers who are discussing trades of non-tender candidates and also players who do not fit into the plans of some teams. So far, nothing has broken loose with Kris Bryant and Francisco Lindor as the two biggest names being shopped around. 

Sharks are circling their prey and waiting to make their move — when the time is right. Why make a trade when you can dare the team to commit to a non-tender? The whole price structure changes when you can sign that player as a free agent and not be bound by the rules of arbitration.

Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors wrote that he puts a 5% chance on a Bryant non-tender by the Cubs. The Cubs are one of the teams that have already made some tough decisions as they cut Jon Lester and if they tender Bryant, he would join teammates Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Craig Kimbrel all with one-year of team control remaining before free agency.

While the Cubs look to be set for a major purge, there are other teams that could join them. In all, there are over 200 players who are arb-eligible and they could join a bloated free agency pool that is well over 200 players and will grow further once non-tenders are added. Currently, all arbitration-eligible players are part of the 40-man count.

One of the issues is that 40-man rosters are nearly full across the Majors.  All-in-all, there are only 37 open spots this morning across all teams in the MLB. The Nats have the most at seven open spots. That is the total number before non-tenders that would open up some spots, but not enough to absorb all of the free agents.  The bottomline is that many free agents will take minor league deals, go to Korea or Japan to play, go to independent ball, not take a deal, or retire.

Over the last three years from 2017-2019, the non-tender counts across the MLB totaled an alarmingly large year over year increase with 25, 41 and 53 players non-tendered respectively. If you are into math patterns — and there is nothing to suggest a pattern exists — but if it did — there would be 73 non-tenders in total. That would be nearly 2½ players per team. The Nats took care of their non-tenders early when they cut Michael Taylor and Roenis Elias. Other teams have done the same.

Don H. provided analysis for this article including age comparisons on the Nationals. The When you consider the Nats 40-man roster, the Los Viejos were actually older on the final 2020 roster than 2019 at 29.94 years versus 30.09 to finish this past season. Today, the Nats 40-man roster is 28.15 years of age and growing with each added day. It is hard to say when this team will get younger as they could change that average as they sign free agents.

Over the weekend, there was unrest with the Phillies as internal conversations were reportedly leaked and much of it was inaccurate, but it looks like the red ink in Philly was $145 million for 2020. They just laid off more internal staff. That purge continues as well as the tightening in Minor League baseball. Baseball, as a whole, lost close to $2 billion dollars and that number would have been much higher if the postseason was not played in its entirety.

The math on team’s losses takes on some creative accounting but suffice it to say that the highest payroll teams that did not make the postseason lost a ton of money. The biggest hits were taken by the non-playoff teams that had high payrolls and poor TV contracts.

We will not know the actual spending in free agency until it wraps up. Besides Robbie Ray, Drew Smyly, Charlie Morton, and Mike Minor, there has been little action. Those players suggest that the early birds got paid about 10% over the projections, but that may not be indicative of what is to come in the cruel game of musical chairs.

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