In the aftermath of a pandemic-impacted 2020 season, many industry insiders expected the number of non-tenders to be even greater, but a slew of pre-tender deals -- one-year agreements between a player and club prior to the tender deadline -- kept the number right around last year’s figure.
“I don’t think anyone had a great grasp of what we were going to see around the industry, and what we saw were very constructive conversations between teams and players trying to get to the right answers,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “We ended up having a lot of pre-tender deals around the industry. That’s really not a bad thing for the industry, in my opinion.
“We always talk about it: The arbitration system is designed to produce settlements, and I think the earlier in the offseason those settlements occur, it benefits everyone. It allows players to exhale and know where they are going to be, and it allows clubs to maybe more specifically plan the rest of the offseason.”
Most of the big names that had been rumored as potential non-tender candidates -- Kris Bryant, Gary Sánchez and Tommy Pham, for example -- remained with their clubs, having been tendered contracts for 2021.
But just as Kevin Gausman, Taijuan Walker, Cesar Hernandez and Blake Treinen were among the players to make a notable impact after being scooped up following their respective non-tenders in 2019, a number of the players cut loose Wednesday will surely influence the 2021 season once they catch on with new teams.
Here’s a look at eight players who could shake up this winter’s free-agent market:
Kyle Schwarber, OF/DH: The biggest name -- and in many eyes, the biggest surprise -- among the non-tenders, Schwarber was non-tendered by the Cubs. Chicago chose to cut the slugger loose rather than pay him in his final year of arbitration, sending Schwarber -- one of the team’s 2016 World Series heroes -- to the open market entering his age-28 season. Schwarber had a subpar offensive season in 2020 (.701 OPS in 59 games, albeit with 11 home runs), but he had career highs with 38 homers and an .871 OPS in 2019. Plenty of teams will likely try to add Schwarber to their lineup, though American League clubs could be more interested if the DH doesn’t return to the National League for 2021. The Cubs say they’d still be interested in bringing Schwarber back, too.
Adam Duvall, OF: Another surprising non-tender, Duvall put together a nice offensive season (16 homers, .833 OPS in 57 games) during the shortened 2020 season. The Braves opted not to keep Duvall in his third arbitration-eligible year, in which he would have earned a raise from this year’s $3.25 million salary. Whichever team signs Duvall -- and given his power, there should be several interested clubs -- will not only have him in 2021, but also in 2022 if they choose to retain him, as he will have a fourth year of arbitration-eligibility.
Eddie Rosario, OF: The Twins non-tendered Rosario on Wednesday after he was placed on outright waivers and the 29-year-old went unclaimed. Based on his $7.75 million salary in 2020, Rosario might have flirted with the $10 million mark in his third year of arbitration this winter, but his undisciplined, free-swinging approach and poor on-base skills prompted the Twins to let him go rather than pay that price. Rosario should have suitors, but his declining defense could force him to wait until January to find a new home.
Nomar Mazara, OF: One of two non-tenders by the White Sox (lefty Carlos Rodón was the other), Mazara’s one season on the South Side was a huge disappointment; he hit just one home run with a paltry .589 OPS in 42 games. But Mazara doesn’t turn 26 until April, and after averaging 20 homers in 134 games in each of his first four seasons with the Rangers, there should be a number of teams willing to give him a chance as he enters his prime years. Mazara’s $5.5 million salary in 2020 would have had him lined up for a raise in 2021, a figure Chicago wasn’t comfortable with after his subpar season.
David Dahl, OF: Another big surprise on Wednesday, the Rockies cut ties with Dahl despite his three years of club control. Dahl, who turns 27 in April, had a $2.475 million salary in 2020 after avoiding arbitration in his first year of eligibility, but he suffered through yet another injury-riddled season, appearing in just 24 games. Dahl was an All-Star in 2019, though even in that season, he played in only 100 games – a career-high for the outfielder. He’s played just 264 games since making his debut in July 2016, causing the Rockies to let him go rather than giving him a raise.
Archie Bradley, RHP: One of the more consistent relievers in the NL over the past four seasons, Bradley was non-tendered by the Reds just three months after Cincinnati traded for him. Some believed the Reds might trade Raisel Iglesias and his $9.125 million salary this offseason, handing the closer’s job to Bradley; instead, Bradley (who had a $4.1 million salary in 2020) was sent packing rather than coming back in his third year of arbitration-eligibility. Bradley has a 2.95 ERA since 2017 and has excelled in a variety of late-inning roles, putting the 28-year-old among the top tier of relievers available on the free-agent market.
Maikel Franco, 3B: This marks the second straight year in which Franco has been non-tendered, having been let go by the Phillies last December. Franco signed a one-year, $2.95 million deal with the Royals in January and delivered everything Kansas City could have hoped for. He played in all 60 games, hit eight homers with a .778 OPS and was a positive clubhouse presence during a difficult season. His salary in his fourth year of arbitration projected to be more than the Royals wanted to pay, sending him back to free agency once again. The third-base market isn’t deep, so Franco should garner interest from teams in need at the hot corner.
Travis Shaw, INF: Like Franco, this is the second time in 12 months that Shaw has been non-tendered. A terrible 2019 season prompted the Brewers to let him go last year, but Shaw signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Blue Jays, hoping for a bounce-back season. He was better -- a .717 OPS and six homers in 50 games compared to a .551 OPS and seven home runs in 86 games the prior year -- but not good enough for Toronto to bring him back in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility. Shaw turns 31 in April, but he did top the 30-homer mark in both 2017 and ’18, so he should get another shot at that bounce-back season given the aforementioned state of the third-base market.