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Non-tender deadline tonight offers intrigue

Big Papi, Dodgers' Turner among those let go before breaking out
MLB.com @feinsand

Tonight's 8 ET deadline for clubs to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players might not unleash any major surprises. Or it could be a turning point for a franchise that rolls the dice on a player after another team has decided to let him go.

That's exactly what happened 15 years ago when the Twins decided not to offer a contract to David Ortiz, non-tendering the first baseman/designated hitter instead of paying him a higher salary in arbitration.

Tonight's 8 ET deadline for clubs to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players might not unleash any major surprises. Or it could be a turning point for a franchise that rolls the dice on a player after another team has decided to let him go.

That's exactly what happened 15 years ago when the Twins decided not to offer a contract to David Ortiz, non-tendering the first baseman/designated hitter instead of paying him a higher salary in arbitration.

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The Red Sox signed Ortiz a month later and the rest is history. Ortiz went from unwanted player in Minnesota to a key cog on three World Series championship teams and a possible Hall of Famer.

These non-tender decisions often come down to dollars and cents, as clubs must decide whether a player is worth the raise he's likely to get if he winds up in salary arbitration. Any arbitration-eligible player tendered a contract must either agree to terms with the team on a salary for the following season or go through an arbitration hearing.

If a team "non-tenders" a player, that player becomes a free agent and can immediately sign with any of the 30 clubs. All players on the 40-man roster with fewer than six years of Major League service time must be tendered contracts by Friday's 8 p.m. ET deadline, though players with fewer than three years of service time are almost always tendered since clubs aren't required to pay them more than the league minimum.

A team often non-tenders a player if it feels the projected raise he'll receive in arbitration will be more than it is willing to pay, while others can be non-tendered based on health issues, such as a pitcher recovering from arm surgery.

Greg Holland may be one of the most sought-after free agents this winter, but two years ago, he was non-tendered by the Royals, who let him go as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Mike Minor, another free agent who pitched well for Kansas City this season, was non-tendered by the Braves that same day as he was rehabbing his shoulder following surgery.

Drew Smyly figures to fall into that same category on Friday. Smyly didn't throw a pitch for the Mariners last season as an elbow injury led to Tommy John surgery, sidelining him until at least July or August 2018. Having earned $6.85 million in '17, Smyly -- who would become a free agent next offseason -- will likely be non-tendered, leaving him to find a team with which to finish off his rehab before coming back.

Matt Adams performed well for the Braves in 100 games last season, hitting 20 home runs with an .841 OPS while filling in for Freddie Freeman. But Freeman's presence leaves Adams as a man without a position, making him a prime non-tender candidate if Atlanta is unable to trade him by the deadline.

Video: Jim Duquette talks about Matt Adams in 2018

The Rays may have an interesting decision to make as infielders Adeiny Hechavarria and Brad Miller are both potential non-tender candidates.

Tampa Bay loved what it saw from Hechavarria after acquiring him last summer, but with No. 2 prospect Willy Adames racing through the organization, bringing the incumbent shortstop back with a raise in arbitration isn't a no-brainer.

Then there's Miller, who was unable to follow up his breakout 2016 season (30 home runs, .786 OPS), hitting only nine homers while posting a .664 OPS a year later. After missing 42 games during the season, Miller underwent core muscle surgery in October, leaving him hopeful that he'll bounce back in '18. Miller will make more than $4 million next season, which is significant for small-market Tampa Bay.

A team can also roll the dice and tender a contract to a player that it doesn't want to lose but might want to trade. That could be a possibility for Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, who has performed at a high level over the last three years but lost his starting job to Austin Barnes in the postseason. The Dodgers might deem him too pricey to be their backup catcher, but tender him a contract knowing they could find a taker on the trade market.

Video: SD@LAD: Grandal crushes a three-run homer to right

Many notable players have been non-tendered by their teams over the years, only to have great success in the ensuing seasons. Russell Martin was cut loose by the Dodgers in December 2010 following a pair of subpar campaigns, but the catcher rejuvenated his career with the Yankees and Pirates before landing a big-money deal with the Blue Jays three years ago.

Speaking of the Blue Jays, they benefited by a bizarre non-tender situation that same winter. After losing Edwin Encarnacion to the Athletics on waivers, Toronto was able to sign the first baseman/DH after Oakland non-tendered him.

Justin Turner was non-tendered by the Mets after the 2013 season before signing with the Dodgers and becoming a top-10 MVP finisher the past two seasons. The Dodgers non-tendered Jayson Werth after he missed the entire 2006 season following wrist surgery. He went on to join the Phillies in 2007, blossoming in Philadelphia before signing a nine-figure contract with the Nationals before the '11 campaign.

Last year's notable non-tenders included Welington Castillo (D-backs), Tyson Ross (Padres) and Chris Carter (Brewers). For Carter, who hit a National League-high 41 homers in 2016, it marked the second straight winter in which he was non-tendered, having been cut loose by the Astros a year earlier.

Once Friday's deadline passes, the free-agent market should be a little more crowded, though we won't know for some time whether any of the moves will have a Big Papi-like impact.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.