October 30, 2012
Painting the Black
Evaluating the Non-Tender Class of '11
Expect to hear about the non-tender deadline a lot over the next four weeks. Teams must determine by November 30th which arbitration-eligible players to tender contracts to. The players deemed unworthy will experience one of the sport’s oddest existences. Although the players are technically free agents, their market worth is limited. Teams have no incentive to offer this subset of players more than a one-year deal since they retain the players’ rights through their arbitration years regardless. Non-tendered players are almost by definition undeserving of a raise, so they usually take pay cuts on the open market.
Despite the odd existence, the pool of non-tendered players intrigues fans and media alike. Many of these players have a marketable skill or two that could prove useful in the right situation. Everyone likes finding the diamond in the trash. But dumpster diving correctly usually means finding more slime than treasure. That never seems to stop us, so we hunt on, with our hearts full of hope and our pockets full of hand sanitizer.
As we approach a new non-tender season, let’s reflect on how last year’s class turned out.
Catchers (MLB stats only)
In a fast-moving market for backup catchers, Paulino slipped through the cracks. The Orioles wisely signed Paulino to a minor-league deal, giving them an alternative to Taylor Teagarden’s no-hit, all-glove approach to the position. Despite solid catch-and-throw skills and the ability to hit left-handed pitching, Paulino never figured into the Orioles’ plans. He started fewer games than Teagarden and about as many times as Luis Exposito. Expect Paulino to hit the open market again, this time looking for a better fit.
Tampa Bay’s paucity of big-league catching options led Gimenez to make 31 starts. Until September, Gimenez had recorded more catcher interferences than extra-base hits. But he went on a mini-tear in September, collecting 13 of his 26 hits and smacking four of his five extra-base hits. The hot streak coincided with a mechanical tweak, though Gimenez still resembles organizational depth more than backup material.
Keppinger is one of five non-tendered players to suit up for the Rays last season. There were only 29 non-tendered players in all, meaning more than one-sixth of the class spent time in St. Petersburg. Keppinger is the best of the bunch. He took advantage of an expanded role caused by Evan Longoria’s injury. Keppinger is a contact-heavy hitter best used in a platoon. Add in a sprinkle of defensive flexibility, and Keppinger makes for a good utility infielder. Yet some team is probably going to sign Keppinger to start at third base based on the strength of his 2012 season.
The Pirates loved Ciriaco when they acquired him in the Chris Snyder trade of 2010. Not only did Ciriaco have the defensive chops to handle shortstop, but his bat control and speed meant he could contribute offensively. Pittsburgh soon found out about Ciriaco’s utter lack of plate discipline and sent him packing. Ciriaco’s unwillingness to walk necessitates that he must hit for a good average in order to provide value. Boston toyed with Ciriaco in a super-utility role last season. That seems to be his best-case scenario heading forward.
Non-tendered by the Mets and later re-signed, Baxter gained popularity with his diving grab during Johan Santana’s no-hitter. He earned keep with a demonstrated ability to hit right-handed pitching (.288/.386/.450). An inability to hit left-handed pitching limits Baxter’s ceiling to that of a platoon outfielder, but the Mets will take it.
Scott signed with the Rays to become their designated hitter after missing most of the 2011 season due to a torn labrum. Tampa Bay knew there were risks involved, and even sat Scott on Opening Day to limit his playing time in the early going. Scott still managed a hot April. He cooled down and battled through a frosty 0-for-36 streak before finishing strong. Injuries, along with left-handed pitchers, plagued Scott throughout the year. The Rays have a $6 million club option on Scott for the 2013 season, meaning he may hit the market again.
Like Baxter, Saunders was non-tendered then re-signed. He pitched like himself with the Diamondbacks before landing in Baltimore after a late August trade. Once the playoffs rolled around, Saunders became the Orioles’ choice to start the wild card play-in game. He made another postseason start thereafter and allowed one run over 5 1/3 innings in each. Saunders is eligible for free agency, but there has been talk about him re-signing with the O’s.
In 2012, Mijares held left-handed batters to a .211/.269/.317 line, pushing his career OPS against same-handed batters down to .600. At the time of his non-tendering, Mijares appeared to be the perfect change-of-usage type. The Royals snatched Mijares up, made him into a left-handed specialist, and watched him flourish. They then, almost inexplicably, let him go on waivers for nothing. Mijares has to be happy about the series of events, as he’ll soon own a World Series ring.
Three of the five relievers without a big-league appearance in 2012 failed to pitch at any level. Sonnanstine and Kuo signed minor-league deals before being released, and Cortes had a deal with the Nationals voided after he failed a physical. No other position had one player miss the entire season, let alone three, making the relief corps unique in that regard.