Wednesday was the non-tender deadline for MLB clubs to agree to a contract with arbitration-eligible players. Teams had until 8 pm EST to tender a contract to these players for next season.
Teams had many factors to consider before the deadline to grant players a contract. Arbitration salaries, payroll flexibility next year and overall effectiveness all played into these decisions from MLB executives. In all, clubs non-tendered 57 players by Wednesday’s deadline. Those players immediately became free agents.
Non-tendered hitters may be the most appealing among this group. As the Hot Stove looks to ramp up in the coming weeks, these non-tendered players should become cost-effective solutions to many teams’ holes in 2021.
Here is a brief look at the top 5 non-tendered hitters now on the free agent market following Wednesday’s deadline. Spoiler alert — they’re all hard-hitting, lineup-changing outfielders.
1. OF Eddie Rosario, Age 29
Of all non-tenders, Rosario was seen by many as the biggest surprise transaction. The outfielder produced well at the plate this season, a replication of his outstanding 100+ RBI performance in 2019. Rosario finished on pace for 33 home runs in 2020, further cementing his consistency and solid power at the plate.
So why did the Twins choose non-tender him?
Well, Minnesota’s rationale likely begins with Rosario’s impending salary through arbitration. The outfielder would have earned $7.75 million in a full season last year. That number was likely to increase again for his 2021 salary. Being in his third year of arbitration, Rosario could have commanded anywhere from $10 to 12 million for next season.
Rosario was a central player on 2019’s Bomba Squad and the Twins’ playoff rosters in 2019 and 2020. Still, with his modest .257 average and perennially low walk-rate, Minnesota did not believe Rosario to be worth such a raise. The Twins also own multiple corner outfield prospects, which will help to mitigate the loss of Rosario as a free agent.
And yet, all these qualities which Minnesota judged as too expensive should help Rosario secure a hitter-friendly contract. The left-hander would fit well on clubs looking for outfielders with ample power. His track record in Minnesota also grants him more freedom to field offers that benefit his own career outlook. He’s the best of the top 5 non-tendered hitters here, and will be paid like it this offseason.
Whomever agrees to a contract with Rosario will immediately upgrade the the middle of their lineup. The can expect power and durability from the left fielder, with at least 20 home runs to boot. Depending on his performance, Rosario might even be in line for an extension, given he’ll turn 30 at the end of next season.
2. OF David Dahl, Age 27
Among this list of controllable, young outfielders, executives might see Dahl as owning the most future upside. Drafted in the first round by the Rockies in 2012, Dahl has spent lots of time on the injured list since his 2016 debut. This season’s line did him no favors either; he notched just 17 hits in 99 plate appearances. His performance, then, makes it easier to understand Colorado’s decision to non-tender him.
In the rare moments he’s been free of injury, Dahl has managed to impress. He played in 100 games and was an all-star just one year ago. Dahl also finished above .300 at the plate for the second time in his three seasons of service time. His home in Colorado also helped his batting peripherals in both these seasons
If Dahl can remain healthy in 2021, he would be a valuable addition to any team’s outfield. 2019 proved to be a major step forward for the outfielder, and he should will look for another full season to showcase his major-league talent. His positional versatility could also be of value to teams searching for a fourth outfielder.
This offseason should have provided Dahl his first opportunity for arbitration, so he is an affordable option for cash-strapped teams. When dealing with adversity, a player’s salary is already cheap, and Dahl should prove no exception next season.
Next year will grant him the opportunity to prove he belongs among the top 5 non-tendered hitters this offseason. These non-tendered hitters all have different career trajectories right now, and for Dahl, his is just beginning.
3. OF/DH Adam Duvall, Age 32
With Duvall’s non-tender, the longtime Cincinnati Red will become the second free agent outfielder on the Braves last season. Duvall will navigate the open market alongside Marcell Ozuna, who had a revelatory 18 home runs and .338 performance last season.
The major difference between the two sluggers, which is likely why Duvall was non-tendered, is on-base percentage. The pair were similar in terms of home runs, but Duvall only slashed .237/.301/.532. Compare that to Ozuna (.338/.431/.636), and it becomes evident why one is commanding $20 million in free agency and the other is facing his non-tender.
It hasn’t all been bad for Duvall since his 2018 trade from Cincinnati to Atlanta. As a platoon outfielder behind Ronald Acuna Jr. and Nick Markakis, he has remained a pretty consistent right-handed bench bat. A low average with 10 to 15 home runs per season has kept Duvall in demand thus far. Now, at the age of 32, his outfield defense leaves something to be desired, and teams might look at Duvall as a stopgap replacement.
As an experienced player, the Duvall would still command a salary somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 to 5 million. But don’t get it twisted, Duvall still is one of the top 5 non-tendered hitters this offseason. Even if his salary won’t reflect the title.
Duvall is also appealing as a platoon option or full-time DH going forward. Of course, that role will be contingent upon MLBPA’s negotiations over any rule changes this offseason.
4. DH/OF Kyle Schwarber, Age 28
Most Cubs fans may not realize that Schwarber debuted just five years ago. He was originally drafted as a catcher but converted to the outfield not long after his 2015 debut. Schwarber also became one of the many pieces that on the Cubs’ 2016 World Series-title team. That year Schwarber returned for the postseason after missing seven months of the season with a knee injury. Now, the slugger expects to sign elsewhere.
Many baseball insiders, expected Schwarber to be non-tendered when considering the immediate direction for the franchise. General manager Theo Epstein stepped down over a week ago, and Kris Bryant‘s name is said to be on the trading block. Chicago wants to stay competitive in the NL Central, but cannot hope to keep pace while boasting a lineup of despicable batting lines.
Schwarber seemed to epitomize Chicago’s struggles last season. He struck out 66 times in less than 200 at-bats, but still managed to slug 11 home runs. Schwarber’s defense was below league-average and his line at the plate was a depressing .188/.308/.393. Somehow, the Cubs still managed to win the NL Central title.
The left-hander definitely owns a type of light-tower power few hitters can compete with. Statcast tracked Schwarber’s average home run at 406 feet last season. He averaged more than 31 home runs in the three seasons before 2020 and set a career-high with 38 bombs in 2019.
And yet, such impressive power can come with other disappointing statistics. Career stats for batting average (.230), slugging percentage (.480) and strikeouts (more than 140 three straight seasons) make Schwarber a high-risk player to grant a contact.
Teams looking for a power bat off the bench could easily take a flyer on Schwarber. He’s undoubtedly best against right-handed pitchers (career .239 hitter) but a defensive liability in left field. Schwarber could also make sense as an all-or-nothing DH, but it would likely be on a basement-dwelling team. Moving toward a full-time DH role might not be smart for such a young player, either, which further clouds Schwarber’s list of potential destinations.
5. OF Nomar Mazara, Age 26
The White Sox outfielder did not impress alongside fellow outfielders Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez a year ago. Mazara’s 2020 season also began with him placed on the COVID-19 list, which proved disastrous to his hitting approach all season. The first home home run for Mazara was also his last, and it came in mid-September. In all, it was a forgettable first season in Chicago.
For teams scouring the outfield market, Mazara poses an interesting case. His first four seasons in MLB were remarkably consistent — usually 20 home runs and batting around .260. That’s the type of consistent play clubs usually scour the market for in the offseason. Mazara’s significant step backward in 2020, though, might dissuade teams from fully believing in his prior consistency.
Profiled exclusively as a right fielder, Mazara possesses awesome power when he barrels the ball off the bat. Otherwise, he scouts as a league-average outfielder that doesn’t own many unique qualities that differentiate him on the free agent market. Mazara’s own expectation may be to sign as a starter, but perhaps protection as a bench bat would better fit his skill set.
2021, then, becomes a breakout season for the right fielder. Among the top 5 non-tendered hitters on this list, Mazara is the youngest — he’s 26 years old. He has time to grow into his power and athleticism. For the interim, a team like Cleveland or Pittsburgh gives Mazara consistent at-bats. He need not worry about losing his job as long as he can perform like he’s accustomed to doing.
Mazara is still a young player with lots of potential. He will look to build stock in his future next season with a consistent performance, or at least a season apart from all-star caliber outfielders.
Featured Image Courtesy of Richard Schultz & Getty Images
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