As four teams prepare for the League Championship Series, the other 26 have gotten a head start on their offseason programs. Free agency begins five days after the World Series concludes, and while we know which players are headed for the open market, there will be more joining the fray on Dec. 2, the date by which teams must tender contracts to players under club control on non-guaranteed deals.
Each year, some notable names are non-tendered, thrusting more talent into the free-agent market. Usually, it’s because the salary they are likely to receive via arbitration potentially outweighs their production. Last year, that group of players included Billy Hamilton, Jonathan Schoop, Avisaíl García, James McCann and Mike Fiers. Who could find themselves in that situation this winter? Here’s a look at 12 potential non-tender candidates (listed alphabetically):
1) Greg Bird, 1B, Yankees
The oft-injured first baseman agreed to a $1.2 million deal last year, the first of his three arbitration-eligible seasons. Bird played in only 10 games for the Yankees this season, and given the arbitration raises due to James Paxton, Tommy Kahnle, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Chad Green this coming offseason, the Yankees could decide they’ve seen enough of the 26-year-old who has topped the 48-game mark only once and never played more than 82 games in a season.
2) Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox
Bradley Jr. posted solid offensive seasons in 2015-16 (118 OPS+), but that number has plummeted to 90 over the past three years since he became arbitration-eligible. Bradley Jr. earned $8.55 million in '19, and with a fourth-year arbitration number that should exceed $10 million, the Red Sox, who are openly trying to reduce their payroll, could decide to go in a different direction. Alternatively, the club could find a trade partner and swap him for a player on a lower salary to achieve cost savings.
3) Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies
There were 129 players in the Majors with 20 or more home runs in 2019 -- Franco was not among them. The 27-year-old fell short of that mark for the first time in his four full seasons, as he posted a .705 OPS and 80 OPS+ in 123 games. Franco earned $5.2 million in '19 after avoiding arbitration, and with two years of club control remaining, the Phillies could opt to go in another direction at third base with potential targets Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas all headed for free agency.
4) Kevin Gausman, RHP, Reds
Gausman avoided arbitration last winter, agreeing to a $9.35 million deal with the Braves. Now heading into his fourth year of arbitration-eligibility, the 28-year-old, who was claimed off waivers by Cincinnati in August, is coming off a platform season that saw him post a 5.72 ERA despite a 3.98 FIP and a career-best 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Gausman pitched out of the bullpen in 15 of his 16 appearances with the Reds, who may not want to pay him an eight-figure salary.
5) César Hernández, 2B, Phillies
The Phillies and Hernandez settled on a $7.75 million deal in 2019 to avoid arbitration. Now entering his fourth year of arbitration, Hernandez’s salary could reach eight figures (MLB Trade Rumors predicts $11.8 million), a hefty price for a player with below-average offense the past two seasons (93 OPS+). Philadelphia could move Scott Kingery to second to fill the void if they part ways with the 29-year-old.
6) Joe Panik, 2B, Mets
Panik didn’t earn much of a raise in his second year of arbitration, earning $3.85 million in 2019 after making $3.45 million in '18. Panik was released by the Giants in early August, but caught on with the Mets two days later. He was better offensively in 39 games with New York -- .738 OPS, 98 OPS+ -- but given the Mets’ contractual obligation to Robinson Canó, giving Panik a raise to be a bench player might not be in their plans.
7) Kevin Pillar, OF, Giants
Traded from the Blue Jays to the Giants one week into the season, the 30-year-old Pillar posted a 93 OPS+ -- his highest mark since 2015 -- with an underwhelming .293 on-base percentage. While Pillar remains a good outfielder, he’s no longer the elite defender he was earlier in his career. Pillar earned $5.8 million in '19, but heading into his third and final year of arbitration-eligibility, it remains to be seen whether the Giants will find his potential price tag too high for their liking.
8) Addison Russell, 2B/SS, Cubs
Russell avoided arbitration with a $3.4 million deal with the Cubs last winter, though the deal -- which came in the midst of his 40-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy -- included bonuses for roster time incentives. Unfortunately for Russell, his second chance resulted in a poor season, as he posted a 79 OPS+ (.699 OPS) in 82 games. The 25-year-old has two years of arbitration-eligibility remaining, but he might have worn out his welcome in Chicago.
9) Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Astros
Since he was an All-Star and won the American League ERA title in 2016, Sanchez has regressed in each of the three following seasons, including a career-worst 5.89 ERA in his platform season with Toronto and Houston. The 27-year-old avoided arbitration last year, agreeing to a $3.9 million deal with the Blue Jays, who traded him to the Astros on July 31. Sanchez started four games for the Astros, so depending on what the coaching staff saw in the right-hander, the club could bring him back with a raise in his final year of arbitration-eligibility, or decide to move on.
10) Blake Treinen, RHP, Athletics
Treinen earned $6.4 million in his second year of arbitration-eligibility, winning his case against the Athletics last offseason. Treinen was fresh off of an incredible season that saw him post a 0.78 ERA, 38 saves and 0.834 WHIP, but the 2019 season was not as kind to the right-hander. Treinen, 31, had a 4.91 ERA and a 1.619 WHIP, both career worsts. Oakland could decide to cut ties with him rather than give him a raise.
11) Jonathan Villar, 2B, Orioles
Villar earned $4.825 million in 2019 after settling with the Orioles last offseason, then delivered a solid platform season -- 109 OPS+, 40 stolen bases and 111 runs -- for Baltimore. That ought to earn the 28-year-old a sizable raise in his final year of arbitration-eligibility. And while the Orioles have $37 million committed to Chris Davis and Alex Cobb, nobody else on the roster has a guaranteed contract. Paying Villar for his final year of control might be antithetical to the club’s rebuilding plan.
12) Mike Zunino, C, Rays
The Rays traded for Zunino last November, but the 28-year-old had a dreadful offensive season -- .544 OPS, 44 OPS+ in 90 games -- during his first year with Tampa Bay. Zunino had the third highest salary on the Rays’ roster this season, having agreed to a $4.4 million deal in his second year of arbitration-eligibility. Given his production, or lack thereof, it’s difficult to see the cost-conscious Rays paying $5 million for Zunino.