As the MLB off-season rolls forward, so do the key dates for teams to trim the bottom of their roster in preparation for a new year. Monday signals the latest of these important dates as teams face the deadline to tender contracts to players that are eligible for arbitration or renewable deals.
Prime non-tender candidates are usually arbitration-eligible players that are slated to earn a salary increase that outweighs their production. The Toronto Blue Jays already parted ways with a pair of players that would have likely been non-tender targets in Devon Travis and Ryan Tepera, leaving them with six arbitration-eligible players.
Here is a look at a few of the likeliest candidates to not receive a contract offer and become free agents on Monday. The team may choose all of them, or more, or none. How much space they’ll decide to make depends on how active they plan on being in the Rule 5 draft, and whether they’re willing to pay the moderate arbitration increases.
Note: Players with less than three years of MLB service time are eligible to have their contracts renewed at the league minimum, while players with more than three but less than six years of service time can file for arbitration. These moves happen later in the off-season, but teams have until Monday to officially tender any kind of contract or lose the player to free agency. WAR values via Fangraphs unless otherwise noted; arbitration estimates via Spotrac.
Derek Law - RP
2019 stats: 58 games, 4.90 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 23.5 K%, 14.0 BB%, 0.0 WAR
Estimated 2020 salary: $1.3M (arbitration)
The Law Dog took over as something resembling the interim closer when Ken Giles went on the injured list late in 2019, compiling five saves out of the Blue Jays pen. He performed up to roughly replacement level in the role, with his inflated walk rate (9th worst among qualified relievers) undercutting any of the positive takeaways. If the 29-year-old were still in a spot to be renewed for the minimum, there’s a good chance he would be a low-risk to bring back into the fold next season, but paying a replacement level reliever any more than the absolute lowest amount possible doesn’t fit the M.O. of this front office.
Luke Maile - C
2019 stats: 45 games, .151/.205/.235, 14 wRC+, -0.3 WAR
Estimated 2020 salary: $800,000 (arbitration)
Where have you gone, Lukey Barrels? The surprise 2018 team leader in WAR for hitters had an abysmal 2019 campaign, posting some of the least inspiring numbers in all of baseball. That’s not anything that should come as a surprise given Maile’s low-ceiling offensive profile, and not anything shocking for a career backup catcher, but the writing on the wall was put there by the pair of impressive seasons from the other catchers on the depth chart. Danny Jansen earned a Gold Glove nomination in his rookie season behind the plate, while Reese McGuire ran with the opportunity that appeared when Maile hit the injured list. Jansen still profiles as the starter going forward, and McGuire’s excellent receiving skills and left-handed hitting make him the perfect candidate to pencil in to the backup role. Similar to Law, it seems unlikely that the front office is going to pay a third catcher anything more than the absolute minimum, even if the difference is only a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Breyvic Valera - IF
2019 stats: 17 games (with Toronto and NYY), .234/.308/.383, 84 wRC+, 0.2 WAR
Estimated 2020 salary: $563,500 (minimum)
Did you miss the start of the Breyvic Valera era in Toronto? It was only six games at the absolute tail end of the season, so no blame from me if you did. A late-September waiver claim from New York, Valera’s absolute pie-in-the-sky dream scenario is Ross Atkins finding his own version of Gio Urshela to get back at the Yankees. There are things to like if you squint: he is cheap, has six years of control, played shortstop and hit well at Triple-A. Working against him is that the 27-year-old is out of minor league options going forward, so he’ll need the team to cut bait with someone else to find his way into an already pretty crowded infield for all of next season. He’s played for five different franchises in the last two seasons and the Jays have next to nothing in the pot here, so if they have someone in mind to add, there’s a good chance they open up Valera’s roster spot for a new signing or a Rule 5 selection.
Anthony Bass - RP
2019 stats: 44 games (with Mariners), 3.65 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 22.8 K%, 9.0 BB%, 0.6 WAR
Estimated 2020 salary: $1.7M (arbitration)
A late-October waiver claim well after the regular season ended, the Blue Jays have very little skin in the game with the roster spot occupied by Bass. A 32-year-old journeyman in his sixth organization since breaking into the league in 2011, he posted his best extended run in years last season with the Mariners after being cut by the Reds in May. His numbers in four months with Seattle are appetizing, but the previous eight years mostly profile a pitcher unable to earn a full time major league spot. There’s an easy case to be made that the Jays want to see him with their own eyes in spring before making a decision and it is a reasonable assumption that they wouldn’t have bothered claiming him if they didn’t intend to make him a part of the 2020 roster. Just the same, the Mariners had him for that great stretch and were still happy to give him away for free. He could be someone they’re dreaming on to be next season’s Daniel Hudson or David Phelps, but it’s just as easily a no-loss wash to claim him and non-tender him a month later.
Brandon Drury - 3B / 2B / 1B / RF
2019 stats: 120 games, .218/.262/.380, 15 HR, 66 wRC+, -0.6
Estimated 2020 salary: $2.5M (arbitration)
Drury struggled mightily in his first full season with the Blue Jays, making it back-to-back tough years since being traded away from Arizona in 2018. He has defensive versatility — he probably shouldn’t play the outfield or shortstop but otherwise is capable — and occasional pop but those positives have been buried under extended waves of dreadful slumps at the plate. This front office made an investment in him by choosing him as part of the return in the JA Happ trade, but they could decide they’ve seen enough evidence over his more than 1,500 replacement level plate appearances that the production isn’t worth the price tag. There are enough internal options to cover the miscellaneous bench roles that Drury fills for the Jays next season and they may even be able to bank that another team will non-tender a player they like more.
Relievers over the age of 26 live a life of never being more than a few weeks away from being designated for assignment, and that remains true at this deadline. Sam Gaviglio, Jordan Romano, Jason Adam, or even Thomas Pannone all make the minimum and probably wouldn’t garner much more than a slight raise of the eyebrows in reaction if they were cut. Matt Shoemaker is the only other player besides Giles that is arbitration eligible, but a reunion is something that both Shoemaker and the team spoke about being interested in. Richard Urena and Anthony Alford are both holdovers from the previous regime that are also out of minor league options, but cutting ties with them this far out from having to make a decision one way or the other would be unnecessary.
The deadline is 8pm ET on Monday evening. Teams submit arbitration numbers on January 10 for eligible players that are tendered, but have until their assigned arbitration date to work out a new deal. The Rule 5 draft is December 12 at the end of the Winter Meetings.
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