MLB’s deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players and those who have yet to reach arbitration eligibility passed at midnight ET Tuesday night. Those who didn’t receive offers from their respective teams are now free agents, available to sign with any team. (Here is a complete list of the 2015 non-tenders, courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.)
Obviously, each of the players who weren’t offered contracts were non-tendered for one reason or another. They could be coming off injury or poor performance. Above all, these major leaguers are problematic because their teams did not want to pay the salaries that were likely to be paid through the arbitration process. Some of them could be re-signed, albeit for lower paychecks than they were set to receive.
Of the 32 players that were not tendered contracts by Tuesday’s deadline (15 position players, 17 pitchers), here are the 10 best available players who should draw the strongest interest on the open market and could fill definite roles for the right major league team.
Kris Medlen, SP
Based on past performance, the right-hander appears to be the best available player among the 2015 non-tenders. Medlen, 29, is two years removed from a season during which he went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 starts (and 50 appearances overall).
Of course, there’s a reason the Braves didn’t tender him a contract. He’s coming off his second Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last March. Additionally, Medlen was eligible for arbitration and projected to make nearly $6 million, a salary Atlanta didn’t want to pay to someone who might not be ready to pitch this season. But the Braves are likely interested in bringing him back at a lower price, as would several other clubs seeking low-cost starting pitching options.
Everth Cabrera, SS
Cabrera certainly comes with some baggage, having been suspended 50 games for PED use and his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic in 2013. He was also arrested on suspicion of DUI this past September while on the disabled list, for which he still faces charges. The 28-year-old also had a terrible season, batting .232 with a .572 OPS and 86 strikeouts in 391 plate appearances.
But Cabrera also led the NL with 44 stolen bases in 2012 and followed that up with 33 the next season. That, along with many teams needing a starting shortstop, might compel some big-market clubs to overlook his poor hitting and lackluster defense. The Mets, Dodgers and Yankees will surely be interested. The A’s also have a need at the position.
Brandon Beachy, SP
Here’s another promising pitcher whose success was cut short by injury. Beachy, 28, had a 2.00 ERA through 13 starts in 2012 when he suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery. As with Medlen, it was the second such procedure of his career. Beachy also underwent surgery last March, so his timetable is similar. He could be ready to pitch as soon as May, but there’s also a possibility that he won’t be available this season.
Beachy is probably a lower-cost option than Medlen, since he was projected to make $1.5 million through arbitration this year. The Braves could re-sign him, and other teams will show interest, but his effectiveness will certainly be in question.
Justin Smoak, 1B
The Mariners finally gave up on Smoak, viewed as one of their top young players, after five disappointing seasons. The Blue Jays picked him up, but ultimately decided there was no place for him on their roster. Smoak, 28, could be re-signed in hopes of being Toronto’s left-handed DH, but have Dioner Navarro for that role unless he’s traded.
Another team could give him a try, hoping he can still develop into the impact hitter so many thought he would be as a 2008 first-round draft pick out of South Carolina. Smoak has shown some power, cranking 20 home runs last year while slugging .412. He can also get on-base, though has never hit for a high average. Getting away from Seattle and Safeco Field could be what he needs.
Alexi Ogando, P
With the Rangers’ need for pitching, non-tendering Ogando is curious. But he hasn’t been able to shoulder the workload of a starting pitcher and as a reliever last season, he didn’t pitch well at all, compiling a 6.84 ERA with 33 hits allowed in 25 innings.
Ogando has suffered diminished velocity, dropping from 97 mph to 94 mph over the past three years, but still averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings last season. The problem has been his control, with a walk rate of more than five per nine innings, something no team wants — especially from a reliever. But Ogando’s past effectiveness will likely intrigue any team wanting to take a chance on bullpen help.
Eric Young Jr., OF
Mets GM Sandy Alderson may have non-tendered Young to save manager Terry Collins from himself, as he often insisted on batting the outfielder at the top of the order to utilize his speed. But Young can’t hit or get on base enough to become a true threat on the basepaths. He stole 30 bases last season, but imagine how much higher that total could have been if Young batted higher than .229 or had a better on-base percentage than .299.
However, Young still plays outstanding defense, saving nine runs more than the average left fielder, according to FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating. That, along with his speed, could make him a valuable reserve. We saw how useful such a player could be during the postseason, especially with the Royals’ success.
Gordon Beckham, IF
Beckham has shown that he’s not capable of being a starting second baseman in the majors. With a projected arbitration salary of $5 million, the Angels weren’t going to pay for that. But his 26-game stint with the Angels last season demonstrated that the 28-year-old could still have some value as a right-handed bat off the bench. He batted .268 with a .756 OPS in 61 plate appearances, playing both second and third base. He even made six appearances at shortstop, which could add to his suitability as a utility player.
Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF
Considering his performance with the A’s, it’s a bit surprising that Blanks was designated for assignment before ultimately being non-tendered. In 56 plate appearances for Oakland, the 28-year-old compiled a slash average of .333/.446/.489 with two home runs, seven RBI and eight walks. That looks like just the sort of player the A’s covet. But after picking up Ike Davis, signing Billy Butler and needing a place to play Stephen Vogt, Blanks apparently got squeezed out.
With the ability to play first base and the outfield (in addition to DH), he should get a look from any team in need of a right-handed bat that can hit for some power and get on base. Could any of the teams that lost out on Torii Hunter in free agency (Orioles, Rangers, Mariners, Royals) pursue Blanks as a less expensive alternative? What about the Reds? How would he work as a bench option for the Giants?
Gaby Sanchez, 1B:
The offseason thus far has demonstrated how highly right-handed hitting is valued in the current market. Unfortunately for Sanchez, 31, he doesn’t hit for enough power, nor does he hit well enough against left-handed pitching to take advantage of that interest.
In 148 plate appearances versus southpaws, Sanchez batted .256 with a .746 OPS. He did show some extra-base power, however, slugging .456 with 14 doubles and three home runs. That may be enough to intrigue some teams looking for a right-handed platoon bat at first base or some bench depth. The Marlins, Reds and Giants come to mind.
Juan Francisco, IF:
Is this a blatant attempt to suck up to TOC’s managing editor, Joe Lucia? Hmm… could be. (ed: thank you, it’s appreciated) A .220 average and .291 on-base percentage last season, along with a poor glove at third base (he was credited with -7 Defensive Runs Saved last season) likely prevent Francisco from being a MLB starter at the position.
But he compiled an .810 OPS versus right-handed pitching with 16 doubles, 15 home runs, 24 walks and 39 RBI in 271 plate appearances. Francisco has power, with 16 homers, a .456 slugging percentage and .237 ISO (Isolated Power). That bat should find a place on several MLB rosters. He could be a good fit with the Padres, Astros, Yankees, Diamondbacks or Braves.