Non-tender deadline adds free agents to pool
One year ago, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall were among the players non-tendered by their clubs. Come October, they were hitting huge home runs for the World Series champs (in fact, Duvall had been non-tendered by the Braves, only to wind up back up with them in a midseason trade). Kyle Schwarber was non-tendered by the Cubs last winter, only to become an All-Star for the Nationals and a huge trade acquisition for the Red Sox.
Point is, the non-tender list is always worth keeping an eye on.
At a time when free agents were flying off the shelves in advance of the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement on Wednesday night, more than 30 new free-agent faces arrived to the open market upon Tuesday night’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.
On the surface, this year’s non-tender group isn’t quite as enticing as some of the names from a year ago, but one never knows who might emerge. Here are 11 names to ponder.
Matthew Boyd, LHP: A pitcher who not long ago (the first half of 2019, to be precise) was viewed as a frontline rotation piece in Detroit ultimately became expendable. The Tigers, in the midst of stocking their rotation with healthier options, were unwilling to pay Boyd’s likely arbitration price tag while he rehabs from an injury. And that injury -- a left elbow strain that required flexor tendon surgery in September -- could give other teams pause, as well. But if the 30-year-old Boyd can build up his arm strength in time for Spring Training, there’s a lot to like about a guy who recently refined his changeup and had a 3.44 ERA and only six homers allowed in 70 2/3 innings in 13 starts prior to getting hurt this year.
Richard Rodríguez, RHP: From key Trade Deadline acquisition in July to non-tender in November. It can happen that fast, particularly in the relief world. Even though Rodríguez had a successful stint as Pirates closer that led to the Braves landing him in time for the final playoff push, there were iffy peripherals attached to that success that did indeed come to the forefront in Atlanta. For the season, Rodríguez averaged 93.1 mph with his fastball, induced only a 31% groundball rate and struck out only 16.7% of opposing batters. His 4% walk rate, however, was elite, and he has a 3.00 ERA over the last four seasons. So Rodríguez still has value.
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B/DH: This portly power hitter was an All-Star for the Mariners in 2019, when he slashed .238/.375/.505 with 21 home runs in the first half, but has since bounced around to Toronto and then Milwaukee. The Brewers non-tendered him because they have another lefty swinger in Rowdy Tellez to take those at-bats, and that leaves the 28-year-old Vogelbach looking for a new home for his above-average hard-hit (48.7%) and walk (16.6%) rates. Vogelbach endears himself to fans with his softball shape and high-energy, fun-loving style. His game-winning, pinch-hit grand slam on Sept. 5 was one of the highlights of Milwaukee’s season.
Tim Locastro, OF: Locastro is worth keeping an eye on if you can keep up with him. He’s one of the fastest players in MLB, with a sprint speed of 30.7 feet per second. And he’s been with three teams this year, having been traded from the D-backs to the Yankees in July, then claimed by the Red Sox off waivers in early November. He struggled mightily at the plate in 2021 (.180/.263/.252), and his season ended abruptly shortly after the trade to New York when he suffered a torn ACL. That injury is particularly worrisome for a player whose profile is so speed-dependent. But in 2020, we got a very small glimpse of what Locastro can bring to a ballclub if he can get on base (he had a .290/.395/.464 slash in 82 plate appearances in the shortened season), and it was enticing. Locastro has swiped 31 bags in 34 chances in his career.
José Castillo and Matt Strahm, LHPs, and Trey Wingenter, RHP: These three relievers were all non-tendered by the Padres, and all of them are interesting bounceback candidates if their health cooperates. Castillo and Wingenter both haven’t pitched in the big leagues since 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. But in 2018, Castillo (who only pitched two-thirds of an inning in ’19) had a 0.91 WHIP and 34.7% strikeout rate in 38 1/3 innings. In 2019, Wingenter had a 5.65 ERA but struck out 33% of opposing batters with a .196 expected opponent average that was among the best in the league. Strahm, meanwhile, was limited to just 6 2/3 innings this past season because of knee issues but prior to that was an important ‘pen piece for the Padres. He had a combined 3.66 ERA and 4.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2018-20.
Jason Adam, RHP: Back in May, with Triple-A Iowa, Adam jumped to catch a ball during batting practice and landed awkwardly, suffering a terrible left ankle injury that doctors told him would cost him the remainder of the season. But he threw from his knees while still in a walking boot to urge the recovery process along and made it back in time to post some impressive numbers in a very small sample in September for the Cubs. The 30-year-old Adam worked three scoreless innings and struck out six of the 10 batters he faced. He’s struck out 40 batters in his last 24 1/3 innings in the big leagues and had a combined 3.06 ERA and 150 ERA+ for the Royals and Cubs in 2019-20.
Andrew Vasquez, LHP: Though the 28-year-old Vasquez was not eligible for arbitration, the Dodgers removed him from their 40-man roster without placing him on waivers. He wasn’t with L.A. long, having been acquired from the Twins on Aug. 31. Vasquez has only 6 2/3 big league innings to his name, but he’s included here for the same reason the Dodgers acquired him. At Triple-A St. Paul last year, he struck out an eye-catching 37.4% of batters faced while generating a 61.8% groundball rate. He limited fellow lefties to a .074 average and .130 slugging percentage. Vasquez has had command issues, but those are some numbers to dream on with left-handed relief help always in demand.
Chad Kuhl, RHP: Non-tendered by the Pirates and three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Kuhl could be in position to deliver a new team cost-effective rotation innings. That’s not to be taken lightly given the explosive costs in the starting pitching market this winter. Kuhl made 14 of his 28 appearances as a starter in 2021 and didn’t fare particularly well, with a 4.82 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 5.31 Fielding Independent Pitching mark in 80 1/3 total innings. But his slider, which is his primary pitch, generated an expected opponent average of .219 and expected opponent slugging percentage of .374. He’s 29 with above-average fastball velocity (94.3-mph average) and above-average curveball spin and a respectable 22% career strikeout rate, so he might be worth a gamble.
Yohel Pozo, C: Yes, Pozo was non-tendered, but he’s been through far worse. One year ago, he and his family were living in a car in a Walmart parking lot after his Minor League contract had expired and the family funds had been sapped by hospital stays when his young son had a pediatric stroke. Pozo was taken by the Rangers in the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 draft and had a remarkable .337/.352/.622 slash at Triple-A Round Rock. He reached the big leagues and hit .284 in 74 at-bats. Catching help has been moving in this market of late, and the 24-year-old Pozo presents an interesting option.