Late Monday night, it was revealed that 43 players were non-tendered this season. Most of these players are some combination of mediocre, injured, expensive, or otherwise troublesome (see Jordany Valdespin). Teams interested in signing these new free agents can benefit doubly since they remain under club control through their arbitration seasons. This was how the Philadelphia Phillies received several reasonably priced seasons of Jayson Werth beginning in 2007.
Some of these players will go on to contribute in 2014 and beyond. Let’s peek in on the league’s newest free agents with the aid of some helpful buckets.
It is said that the cheese stands alone. Garrett Jones was expendable for the low-budget Pirates due to escalating arbitration costs and the addition of Jaff Decker. Jones has a potent platoon bat and should be fairly well rewarded in free agency. His agent will probably be looking for something in the vicinity of a two-year, $14 million contract.
Jones is coming off a down year and entering his age 33 season, so it’s not all sunshine and butterflies. Still, he should find a home and a regular role for 2014.
This is the bargain bin for players who are dealing with or recovering from injuries. It can also include once-great players who fell on hard times. Behold:
Bard, Axford and Arencibia are the seemingly healthy ones. Let’s start with the relievers.
Axford was projected to be pricey due to his history as a closer, but he’s struggled over the past two seasons with the long ball. Bard wouldn’t have cost much, but it appears that he’s been conquered by the yips. Axford should find demand for his services, but Bard will have to settle for a minor league contract.
Arencibia enters a thin catching market off a down season. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia the only starter on the market and up to five teams still interested in adding a full-time catcher, Arencibia should find a regular role. He hits for good power, including 21 home runs last season, but the rest of his skill set is so limited that he looks like a bad version of Mike Jacobs at the plate.
The injured trio of Bailey, Hudson and Hanson represent differing opportunities for risk and reward. As a reliever, Bailey might offer the quickest return on investment. He’s recovering from a shoulder injury, which is always a red flag. But a team with pre-existing bullpen depth can try to give Bailey the space he needs to recover and provide value.
Hudson is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, which comes with its own set of risks. The earliest he would return to a major league mound is next June, and that’s without any setbacks or delays. Teams shouldn’t count on Hudson in 2014, but he could be a cheap controllable asset through 2016.
Hanson actually recovered from his injury during the 2013 season, but ongoing mechanical issues and a multi-season decline in performance led to the Angels’ non-tender. He belongs on a second division roster that isn’t overly concerned with winning, like the Astros.
Hefner will probably miss the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. This is unfortunate since he actually projected to slightly outperform Ricky Nolasco next season.
Many players who are non-tendered are guys who became too expensive for the roles they filled. That doesn’t mean that another club won’t value that role. Let’s break it down by player and role:
Justin Turner – utility fielder
Jayson Nix – utility fielder
Michael McKenry – backup catcher
Lou Marson – backup catcher
Elliot Johnson – utility fielder
Paul Janish – utility fielder
Jerome Williams – fifth starter
Tyler Cloyd – swing starter
Dylan Axelrod – swing starter
Jerome Williams is the prize of this group. He can keep his team in the game with a ground ball-heavy approach, so he’ll probably land on his feet in 2014. A second division, National League club could try to tease a little more value out of his worm-burning ways. Scott Feldman is a decent comp.
The rest of these players have their limited uses. Turner and Nix hit enough that the average fan won’t hate them as a backup. McKenry and Marson are third-string quality catchers with defensive problems. Johnson and Janish are glove-oriented utility fielders who show few positive traits at the plate. Cloyd and Axelrod are the kind of swing starter that you keep sequestered in Triple-A until needed.
Middle relievers are not especially coveted once they start to cost something, and some teams simply don’t want to pay for them. Here are those non-specialist relievers:
The Marlins’ decision to non-tender Webb appears to be purely financial. He posted a 2.91 ERA and 3.60 FIP in 80.1 innings last season. He’s been the reliable sort of middle reliever who limits walks and fly balls. Teams are understandably enamored with strikeout relievers, so Webb could be a cost-effective addition for a team needing middle relief.
Boggs was a good reliever as recently as 2012, when he featured a 96 mph fastball and solid peripherals to go with a 2.21 ERA. But 2013 saw him develop problems with his control, which led to a high walk rate. His velocity also declined as the season wore on, hinting at an injury. He’s a bit of a low budget reclamation project.
Matt Daley is potentially interesting. The soft-tossing righty has been bouncing around the majors since 2009, but he’s spent most of his time in the minors. His game rests on command and control, but his career numbers indicate that it can come and go. A budget-conscious team like the Rays could give him a chance to compete for a job.
Formerly ranked prospects can present high upside. Sometimes latent talent is just awaiting the right teacher to find a way to tap into it (see Jose Bautista). The players who fit this description include:
Peguero peaked as a Giants prospect at High-A in 2010. He doesn’t appear to have enough power to carry his poor plate discipline. If some club can teach him to be more discerning at the plate, he could mature into a high average hitter with passable secondary skills. He’s entering his age 26 season.
Kalish is coming off a lost season. Prior to suffering from shoulder issues that have derailed his career, Kalish was well-regarded due to solid plate discipline and decent power. In retrospect, his minor league numbers look more like a good fourth outfielder than a starter. You know, the kind who could eventually mature into a starting role with good fortune, like David Murphy.
Coghlan won the Rookie of the Year award in 2009 and immediately stopped playing well. He was supposed to succeed with above average contact skills and plate discipline, but those traits appear to have vanished. A minor league contract is in his future. Gamel has a similar future, although his profile was more power-centric.
There are additional players who were not covered in this article. One or two may sign major league deals, but most are destined for minor league work.
After reviewing all of the noteworthy non-tendered players, Jones and Williams stand out as the best. There are others who smell interesting for a variety of reasons and several should contribute positively to their new ball clubs. Many hover around replacement level quality, so it’s not surprising that teams cut bait with them once they started to cost some money.