The deadline for MLB teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players comes at 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, December 1, and with it will likely come the most interesting decisions we’ve seen yet during an offseason that’s been extremely quiet to this point. Whether it’s because they believe they can replace an increasingly expensive veteran with a younger, cheaper option or simply because they want to create extra 40-man roster space, plenty of teams use the non-tender deadline as an occasion to cull their rosters, and that will be the case again this year.
Here are 15 players who are candidates to hit the free-agent market on Friday evening:
Matt Adams, 1B/OF, Braves — Adams had a career-best season in 2017, posting an .841 OPS with 20 homers. But while the 29-year-old was a strong contributor in Atlanta after being acquired from the Cardinals on May 20, it doesn’t look like he’s in line to receive much playing time in 2018 with Freddie Freeman locked in at first base and Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis, and Ronald Acuna all seemingly ahead of him on the corner outfield depth chart. He’s likely to earn somewhere between $4-5 million through the arbitration process this winter, and while that would certainly be an acceptable salary if he were going to be an everyday player, it’s an expensive salary for a bench player that doesn’t figure to get many starts. The Braves have virtually no leverage in the trade market right now due to the fact that Adams is widely expected to be non-tendered if he’s not moved before Friday evening, but he should be a relatively attractive commodity if and when he hits free agency.
Sam Dyson, RHP, Giants — For the first couple months after the Giants acquired him for a player to be named later, Dyson looked like a massive steal, displaying impressive consistency while filling in admirably as San Francisco’s closer following an injury to Mark Melancon. He posted a 9.31 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in September, though—an alarming trend for a guy who was exiled from Texas for posting a 10.80 ERA and 2.58 WHIP over his first 17 appearances of 2017. Dyson certainly showed signs of being a shutdown late-inning reliever last season, and the Giants have some extra incentive to keep him since they ultimately gave up prospect Hunter Cole in order to acquire him. But they’ll likely have to pay him somewhere between $4-5 million if they retain him, and due to a couple of factors—that they have cheaper options such as Will Smith, Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearrin, and Kyle Crick who are capable of setting up for Melancon, and that they’re already up against the luxury tax and could end up taking on Giancarlo Stanton’s salary—it might make the most sense for the Giants to let Dyson walk.
Mike Fiers, RHP, Astros — Fiers was a strong contributor in Houston after being acquired just prior to the trade deadline in 2015, but he’s now had two straight below-average seasons, and he failed to earn a spot on Houston’s playoff roster this year. With a strong collection of potential starting pitchers heading into 2018—Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock, Collin McHugh, Joe Musgrove, Francis Martes, and Forrest Whitley among them—there’s no need for the Astros to pay Fiers a salary that is likely to approach $6 million.
Justin Grimm, RHP, Cubs — Grimm is finally out of options next spring after being the Iowa-to-Chicago shuttle’s most frequent passenger over the past two seasons. Unfortunately for the 29-year-old reliever, that might not be a good thing, as the Cubs may decide that his chances of sticking on the big-league roster all season aren’t good enough to justify paying him a salary somewhere in the $2.5 million range. The Cubs are expected to perform a large-scale bullpen rebuild this offseason, and after posting a 5.53 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over 50 appearances in 2017, Grimm is a prime candidate to fall victim to the shakeup.
Ryan Goins, INF, Blue Jays — Goins, 29, has some decent value since he can play multiple positions and is a steady defender at shortstop. Since he’s just a .228/.275/.335 career hitter, though, he’s somewhat replaceable. Goins is rather affordable, as he’s likely to earn a salary somewhere in the $2 million range if Toronto tenders him, but since they acquired shortstop Gift Ngoepe from the Pirates earlier this month and may also get contributions from young shortstops Lourdes Gurriel and Richard Urena in 2018, the Blue Jays are in good position to let Goins walk and hand the backup shortstop job to a cheaper, younger player.
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, Rays — Hechavarria arguably became the most high-profile in-season trade acquisition in Rays history (not that that’s saying much) when he was acquired from the Marlins in June, and he performed solidly after arriving in Tampa, posting a .701 OPS with seven homers while playing strong defense. But with the Rays possibly getting set to blow things up start from the ground up again, they might be motivated to non-tender Hechavarria and avoid paying him a salary somewhere around $5 million. That’s especially the case considering that their top position player prospect, Willy Adames, is a shortstop and should be big-league ready next season after spending all of 2017 in Triple-A. If the Rays are trying to compete next season, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense to let Hechavarria go and hand the shortstop job to a rookie with no big-league experience, but if they’re trying to save as much money as possible and get younger in 2018, then perhaps they’ll pocket the savings and roll with Adames at short.
Brock Holt, INF/OF, Red Sox — Holt’s ability to get on base while playing every position except pitcher and catcher is exceptionally valuable when he’s healthy, as evidenced by his selection to the 2015 AL All-Star team. His struggles with a concussion and vertigo over the past two seasons have derailed his career, though, and he posted a career-worst .200/.305/.243 slash line in 2017 while playing in just 64 games. While the Red Sox will need someone to fill in for Dustin Pedroia for the first two months of the season as the veteran second baseman recovers from knee surgery, they’ve built up enough infield depth with guys like Tzu-Wei Lin, Marco Hernandez, and Deven Marrero that Holt might still be at risk. The one thing Holt does have going for him is that he won’t be very expensive, as he’s likely to earn a salary between $2-3 million if Boston tenders him.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Brewers — Jeffress had a successful run as the Brewers’ closer in 2016, posting a 2.22 ERA with 27 saves over 47 appearances, but he was dealt to the Rangers at the deadline and regressed significantly in Texas. Jeffress, who had a 5.39 ERA and 1.67 WHIP over 39 appearances with the Rangers in 2017, was re-acquired by the Brewers at the deadline but didn’t really recapture his previous form, pitching to a 3.65 ERA and 1.58 WHIP over 22 games. There’s still a decent chance that the Brewers can fix Jeffress if given more time to tweak his mechanics, but that chance might not be great enough to justify paying him nearly $3 million through the arbitration process this winter. Milwaukee had plenty of success finding good, cheap relievers in unlikely places last season, signing Jared Hughes in April after he was released by the Pirates and converting starting prospect Josh Hader into a dominant lefty reliever. Thus, they can pretty safely justify letting Jeffress walk without fear that their bullpen will be substantially weaker next season.
Tom Koehler, RHP, Blue Jays — Though he mostly pitched out of the bullpen after being acquired from the Marlins in late August, Koehler was impressive in a Blue Jays uniform, posting a 2.65 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over 17 innings. If Toronto didn’t plan on bringing him back in 2018, they probably would have removed him from the 40-man roster by now, but some uncertainty still remains about whether they’ll be willing to pay him a salary in the $6 million range when his ceiling is likely as a fifth starter and he may end up as a reliever.
Bruce Rondon, RHP, Tigers — Considering that he was sent home a week early for a lack of effort in 2015 and has failed to stick as Detroit’s closer despite years of hype, it’s almost surprising that the 26-year-old Rondon has remained with the Tigers as long as he has. He’s just one year removed from an encouraging 2016 campaign during which he posted a 2.97 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 37 appearances, but everything went wrong for Rondon in 2017. He had a disastrous 10.91 ERA and 1.98 WHIP over 21 appearances, and he was demoted to Triple-A on two different occasions—after he was sent down on August 14, he didn’t return to the big leagues. He’s set to earn a salary just over $1 million through the arbitration process this offseason, but that’s still too much for a pitcher who will be out of options next season and has shown a total lack of consistency since he first arrived in the majors back in 2013.
Hector Rondon, RHP, Cubs — Much like Grimm, Rondon is a long-standing member of Chicago’s bullpen who is likely to be let go as they make room for new blood this offseason. The 29-year-old has experienced plenty of success with the Cubs, serving as their closer from 2014-16, but he’s struggled since having his ninth-inning duties taken away, posting a 7.71 ERA in 14 innings following the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman last year and then posting a 4.24 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 2017. The Cubs will almost certainly opt against paying Rondon a salary that is likely to exceed $6 million, but his previous success in the late innings should enable him to earn a decent contract as a free agent this offseason.
Cameron Rupp, C, Phillies — Rupp has been a steady contributor as the Phillies’ primary catcher for the past two seasons, playing solid defense while hitting a combined 30 homers over 750 plate appearances. But with highly-touted prospect Jorge Alfaro appearing to cement himself as Philadelphia’s catcher of the future and Andrew Knapp proving himself as a dependable backup, Rupp is expendable. He’s set to earn a salary somewhere around $2 million if Philadelphia tenders him a contract, so by non-tendering him the Phillies can guarantee themselves a cheaper (and arguably better) catching duo in 2018.
Matt Szczur, OF, Padres — Padres GM A.J. Preller seemingly finds the non-tender deadline to be the most convenient time at which to churn his roster, as San Diego has non-tendered nine players over the past two years. The 28-year-old Szczur was unspectacular in 104 games after being acquired by San Diego in early May, hitting .227/.358/.364 with three homers, and at some point the Padres are going to have to trim some outfield depth, as they have eight outfielders with big-league experience on their 40-man roster (plus Wil Myers, who has been rumored to be a candidate to move back to the outfield next season). He’s likely to earn less than $1 million if he’s tendered a contract, but that will make Szczur the most expensive outfielder on the Padres’ roster, so he seems like the most logical candidate to be let go.
Drew Smyly, LHP, Mariners — If anything, it’s a surprise that Smyly hasn’t already been released by the Mariners in order to create 40-man roster space. The 28-year-old left-hander is set to hit free agency for the first time next offseason, and it’s highly possible that he’ll miss the entire 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. The Mariners have some incentive to try and get any value they can out of Smyly, as he still hasn’t thrown a pitch for them after being acquired from the Rays last offseason, but ultimately it’s difficult to justify paying him a salary approaching $7 million in hopes that he might make six or seven starts near the end of next season. Unless Seattle is trying to work out an extension with Smyly, there’s really no reason for them to pay him in 2018.
Stephen Vogt, C, Brewers — The writing looks to be on the wall for Vogt, as the Brewers now have five catchers on their 40-man roster and almost certainly won’t keep all of them. Though the former All-Star performed well with Milwaukee, posting a .789 OPS with eight homers in 129 plate appearances after being acquired on a waiver claim in late June, he’s behind Manny Pina on the depth chart, and since he’s likely to earn a salary in the neighborhood of $5 million through the arbitration process, he’ll be an expensive backup catcher. Milwaukee has two younger, cheaper potential backups in Jett Bandy and Andrew Susac, so it makes quite a bit of financial success for them to let him walk. While Vogt is widely regarded as a below-average defensive catcher, his offensive ability should still make him attractive to teams looking to add catching depth this offseason.