Across Major League Baseball, the non-tender moves hit hard even before the actual deadline of 8 pm on the second day of December. Arbitration-eligible players were DFA’d long beforehand like the Nats did with Michael A. Taylor, Roenis Elias, and Javy Guerra in early October. The Rays who just finished up a World Series run did the same with Hunter Renfroe. These players were not factored into the final tallies that ended at 59 players non-tendered according to Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic. Technically, that was only three players more than last year in a growing trend of year over year moves to cut arbitration-eligible players that saw 53 non-tendered in 2019, 41 in 2018, and just 25 in 2017. This has to be addressed in the next CBA.
How can you explain a team taking their best rated active player and non-tendering him at what was estimated at about $2.3 to $4.1 million by MLBTR? That is exactly what the Orioles did with Hanser Alberto. This is why we must have a salary floor in MLB because the team from Baltimore has been tanking for so long it is hard to remember the last time they were above league average (if ever).
“I think a number of these moves were driven by the clubs’ profession of economic distress instead of the players’ comparative worths in the market,” said veteran agent Barry Meister as quoted in The Athletic. “It is another step in disenfranchising solid, regular major-league players and creating a huge economic divide between the star player and the good major-league player who has worked (many) years only to see his arbitration rights devalued.”
In total, there were 59 players who signed pre-deadline contracts and that kept the non-tenders from totaling the 70-99 quantities that some were predicting. There are still nearly 100 “tendered” players who have to work-out their 2021 salaries either in a pre-negotiated deal or an arbitration hearing. Nats fans hope that Trea Turner and Juan Soto are part of the former, rather than the latter. This will be Soto’s first year of arbitration as he met the Super-Two guidelines and is now eligible for four years of arbitration instead of the standard of three years.
A few of those pre-deadline deals that were signed turned out to be guaranteed deals which means if the team DFA’s the player at any point, the money is guaranteed for 2021. That normally does not happen, but is a wise strategy for players, especially if they gave team-friendly deals. Remember, if a tendered player is DFA’d from now until the sixteenth day of Spring Training, they are only paid a severance fee of 1/6th of their arb contract if it was not guaranteed. Best we can tell, many of those pre-signings were a case of using what some called the “fear factor” in an effort to gain the leverage to get better deals for teams in most instances. In one of the more unusual situations, Corey Knebel was traded by the Brewers just before the 8 pm deadline, and he did not become part of the carnage even though he was incorrectly named as a non-tender in early reports on Wednesday.
“We’ll know a little bit more after the tender date, which is coming up in the next day or so,” general manager Mike Rizzo said 106.7 The Fan radio earlier in the week, “… What actually the field of players is really going to look like and then we’ll start implementing our offseason plan.”
Now Rizzo can move forward. The available free agent players, which includes international veterans who could be posted, added to the current list of MLB players is well over 270 at this point. Some players have already decided to take deals in Japan and Korea in early moves like Gerardo Parra did last year. Those might be the wise moves. But you have an American player like Chris Flexen with the Doosan Bears of the KBO League and named series MVP in their postseason in a situation where he could be sought after as a free agent, but should he just stay in Korea?
Let’s rank the recent group that just became free agents in the last two weeks by a combined FanGraphs WAR from 2019 and 2020. We are only going to analyze the positive WAR players:
1. Kyle Schwarber, LF (3.0 WAR)
We all remember Schwarber as a lethal bat who didn’t have a position on the Cubs roster after he was brought up as a catcher and eventually moved to the outfield where there were growing pains. He was on the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016 but really turned into a platoon player. His defense was often questioned, but he could certainly DH. His career slash against right-handed pitching is where his value is .239/.345/.514/.859 and would have been better if he did not drop so far in 2020.
2. Hanser Alberto, IF (2.5 WAR)
No active player on the Orioles roster in 2020 had a higher WAR from 2019-2020 than Alberto. After Trey Mancini went to the IL for the season with cancer and Jonathan Villar wasn’t retained, Alberto was the guy. He hit .299 in his two years with the Orioles, including .394 against left-handed pitchers. Is there a fit there for the Nats?
3. Eddie Rosario, OF (2.1 WAR)
Rosario was part of the Twins “Bomba Squad” and he even had some MVP Award votes in each of the last two seasons. His issue is that he is a platoon lefty with questionable defense and baserunning. At 29 years old, he only had an OPS of .536 against LHPs in 2020, but his value is in that power against RHPs. Depending on his price, he will be highly sought after.
4. Brian Goodwin, OF (2.0 WAR)
It is amazing to see the former 1st round pick of the Nats on this list. Once again he started off the season strong but then hit a deep funk and was traded by the Angels to Cincinnati when he was acquired Goodwin from the Angels before the 2020 Trade Deadline. We know what Goody can do.
5. Archie Bradley, RHP (1.8 WAR)
The No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 Draft by Arizona went from a starter to a fireballing reliever. Arizona traded him to Cincinnati and now he is the top non-tendered reliever. Did we see hard throwing reliever? Yes. The type of reliever that Rizzo loves but he still could demand a bigger contract than the Nats want to spend on another bullpen arm.
6. Curt Casali, C (1.8 WAR)
A catcher who brings some right-handed power with .260/.345/.440/.785 with 18 homers in less than 500 plate appearances spread across three seasons in Cincinnati. Casali owns an .816 career OPS against lefties. He was also the 17th best framer per Baseball Savant. Could he be an inexpensive complement that the Nats need behind the plate to pair with Yan Gomes?
7. Hansel Robles, RHP (1.7 WAR)
Robles struggled in 2020 out of the Angels bullpen. Originally claimed off waivers in 2018, he put up a 2.97 ERA in 37 games down the stretch in ’18 before recording a 2.48 mark in 71 appearances in 2019. Because of his 2020 issues, he is at best a deal for a minor league contract or a Major League deal that guarantees him near league minimum. Since the Nats have open 40-man spots, they could do it, but I would pass.
8. Danny Santana, IF/OF (1.7 WAR)
The switch-hitter was the Rangers best player in 2019 and named their Player of the Year in 2019 with a .283 batting average and big power tallying 28 home runs and 81 RBIs and a .534 slug, but his 2018 season was below Mendoza and his injury filled 2020 season made his excellent 2019 season look like an outlier. Unfortunately, he required elbow surgery less than 3 months ago putting his status up in the air. In 2014, Santana was a top rookie for the Twins and stumbled in his sophomore and junior seasons which led to a trade for junk to cut ties with him. Maybe the elbow surgery will help this 30 year old get back to what he did in 2014 and 2019. Certainly worth a minor league deal.
9. Hunter Renfroe, OF (1.5 WAR)
We have discussed Renfroe as the former 1st round pick of the Padres who fell on hard times and was mostly platooned. At one time, he showed flashes of being a 5-tool player. He has ties to the D.C. area after starring in a summer collegiate team for the Bethesda Big Train. Yes, he could certainly platoon with Andrew Stevenson if the price is right.
10. John Brebbia, RHP (1.3 WAR)
Brebbia had Tommy John surgery which KO’d his 2020 season after he showed a lot of promise before that. Not a fit for the Nats.
11. Adam Duvall, OF (1.3 WAR)
Nats fans saw enough of Duvall who put on a power show for the Braves with 16 homers and drove in 33 runs in just 57 games for the Braves in 2020. He posted an above-average OPS+ in each of his two full seasons in Atlanta and ranked 16th among hitters in barrel rate in that span. The 32-year-old righty should also be considered as a platoon bat in the outfield but he isn’t awful against righties too which might make him more valuable than Renfroe. Against LHPs, he just slashed .277/.320/.574/.894. What is hard to understand is that the Braves have now allowed two of their big right-handed bats to head to free agency with Marcell Ozuna leaving a gaping hole after Freddie Freeman in Atlanta’s lineup.
12. Greg Garcia, INF/PH (1.2 WAR)
With San Diego, he batted just .200 last year but his value had been as a pinch-hitter and the ability to play all of the infield position except for 1st base. Probably not a fit for the Nats.
13. Tyler Naquin, OF (1.1 WAR)
Naquin has a big arm but not much else as his value has dropped.
14. Matt Andriese, RHP (1.0 WAR)
Andriese has a 4.65 ERA since the start of 2019 but his value was made in strikeouts. Not a fit for the Nats.
15. Ariel Jurado, RHP (1.0 WAR)
A struggling starter who the Mets picked up is a hard pass unless he is willing to take a minor league deal.
16. Carlos Rodon, LHP (1.0 WAR)
Once considered the best player in the country out of college, Trea Turner‘s former NC State teammate was picked 3rd overall by the White Sox in the 2014 Draft. Multiple injuries have changed the trajectory of his career. What is he now?
17. Matt Wisler, RHP (1.0 WAR)
This was a surprise non-tender as Wisler had a 1.07 ERA and struck out 35 batters in 25 1/3 relief innings for the Twins in 2020. He joins Kyle McGowin as a reliever who went slider dominant (81%) and the BAA against his sliders was just a scant .143 average.
18. Delino DeShields, OF (0.9 WAR)
Once a top prospect, DeShields stole at least 20 bases in three straight seasons from 2017-19 with the Rangers before being traded to the Indians as part of the Corey Kluber blockbuster last year. The 28-year-old has never lived up to the hype. Now he is a 5th outfielder at best until he finds some success.
19. Maikel Franco, 3B (0.8 WAR)
This former Phillies DFA landed with the Royals and had a decent 2020 with 16 doubles and 38 RBIs. The issue that surrounds him is his demeanor on the field and in the clubhouse.
20. Ben Gamel, OF (0.7 WAR)
This is the guy who almost crushed the Nats in the 2019 Wild Card in the 9th inning. The ballpark held his big line drive that Victor Robles caught in front of the warning track. He is and interesting bench outfielder who can play every position there.
21. Nomar Mazara, OF (0.7 WAR)
Once a top-20 prospect, Mazara just fell apart in 2020. Pass.
22. David Dahl, OF (0.6 WAR)
A former 1st round pick by Colorado at 10th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft and a 2019 All-Star, Dahl has the pedigree but has been an injury risk. Some of it could be that Rockie Mountain air. But what about those home and road splits? .918 vs. .722 for his career. He hits RHPs well too as a lefty batter. Certainly interesting if he was cheap. He will have plenty of suitors because of that pedigree.
23. A.J. Cole, RHP (0.5 WAR)
The Nats know this 28-year-old draftee well. The Blue Jays turned him into a long-man in the bullpen and short-reliever and he tied for second on the Blue Jays in appearances in 2020 and posted a 3.09 ERA while striking out 20. Another one we give a hard pass on unless he is willing to take a minor league deal.
24. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP (0.5 WAR)
Another former Nats farmhand. He was traded in the Yan Gomes deal with Cleveland. The 27-year-old battled through shoulder tendinitis in 2019 before missing the entire ’20 season due to back problems. A hard pass unless he is willing to take a minor league deal.
25. Ryne Stanek, RHP (0.5 WAR)
After producing a 3.55 ERA as a reliever/opener for the Rays, he struggled following a July 2019 trade to Miami (6.03 ERA in 31 appearances).
26. Jose Urena, RHP (0.5 WAR)
The Marlins tried to trade Ureña who at one point was their best starter. Now that the Marlins have a good rotation, they didn’t want to pay his salary increase that would have been due as an arb-eiligble. He suffered a fractured forearm sustained on a comebacker.
27. Tyler Anderson, LHP (0.4 WAR)
Once a highly touted prospect, Anderson turns 31 at the end of the month. His pitching mechanics along with injuries make him a questionable acquisition.
28. Chi Chi Gonzalez, RHP (0.4 WAR)
González is a pitcher who has issues controlling his pitches and that is not a good recipe for a veteran pitcher.
29. Justin Anderson, RHP (0.3 WAR)
Another Tommy John survivor trying to make a comeback.
30. Jonathan Holder, RHP (0.3 WAR)
Holder seemed to warm-up every game for the Yankees and in 2019 looked like he was going to be a really good flexible bullpen piece. Instead, he struggled in 2020 and is now unemployed.
31. Paul Sewald, RHP (0.2 WAR)
The Nats know Sewald who was used wasn’t tendered a contract after allowing nine runs in six innings for the Mets this past season and 6 of those runs were in his last appearance against the Nats. The 30-year-old righty probably will have to take a minor league deal somewhere.
32. Chasen Shreve, LHP (0.2 WAR)
Best known to Nats fans as a former travel teammate of Bryce Harper, Shreve was a very promising lefty reliever for the Yankees and was just non-tendered by the other New York team and not sure why they did not keep him since lefties were just 2-for-32 (.063) against him, but you can imagine that with the new minimum batter rules he wasn’t cutting it overall for their expectations.
33. Foster Griffin, LHP (0.1 WAR)
A former 1st round pick from back in 2014 and never really made it. He made his debut this year and nothing spectacular. He is a candidate for a minor league deal because he is a lefty.
34. Ryan Tepera, RHP (0.1 WAR)
Tepera is the last of the “positive” WAR guys left on the list. Pass.
Now you have the list, do you see anyone that would interest you? If there is a designated hitter, you could see a fit with Schwarber. Can he play 1st base is another question? He was never given the chance except one game there under Joe Maddon. With Anthony Rizzo cemented at 1st base, you have to wonder if that could be a steal for the Nats as leftfield might not be the best place for him. Of course the risk is that Schwarber was awful in 2020 and you have to hope that was an anomaly if you sign him. Curt Casali is another intriguing name among the others. There are others too.
Price is one factor and few teams have open roster spots except for the Nats who have the most at seven. That gives Mike Rizzo the opportunity to be open to bargains.