Non-tender players can have big impact
Bucs' Alvarez among those available via free agency
A handful of players were sent into the free-agent pool Wednesday, as baseball's deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players passed.
The decision to tender a contract is not always easy, even if a player has undeniable value. If a team and player cannot agree on a deal for the upcoming season -- and the team believes the player might win his arbitration hearing, in which case he would earn the salary he proposed for himself -- then the team often parts ways with the player via the non-tender process.
Non-tendered players have rarely gone on to stardom, but many have provided value to the clubs that subsequently picked them up. Last year, non-tendered first baseman Justin Smoak and pitcher Kris Medlen contributed to the postseason-bound Blue Jays and Royals, respectively. And in previous years, players like Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin were let go via non-tender before playing at an All-Star-caliber level.
So who among this year's crop of non-tenders has the best chance to excel in 2016? Let's take a look:
SP Henderson Alvarez: Rarely does a hurler go from Opening Day starter to non-tendered free agent in the same year, but that is what has happened with Alvarez. The 25-year-old -- a one-time NL All-Star who threw a no-hitter in 2014 -- has a sizable track record of quality performance, posting a 2.98 ERA with a pristine 1.9 BB/9 rate in nearly 290 innings from 2013-14. After undergoing shoulder surgery last July, Alvarez could enter the upcoming campaign amid some health concerns. Regardless, expect a handful of teams to express interest given the upside and the fact that Alvarez -- who has a tick more than four years of service time -- can be controlled through the 2017 campaign.
3B/1B Pedro Alvarez: Trivia time. Across the past four seasons, how many National Leaguers have hit more homers than Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 MLB Draft? Answer: Just one (Giancarlo Stanton). With 111 long balls in that span, Alvarez has clearly established himself as one of baseball's most powerful bats. But with five-plus years of service time, he was slated to make a sizable salary in 2016 -- something Pittsburgh was apparently uncomfortable with given his lifetime .236 average and struggles on defense. But given the value and relative elusiveness of power, the 28-year-old could be destined for a home with an American League club in need of a designated hitter.
1B Chris Carter: Alvarez was not the only big bat to hit free agency Wednesday, as Carter was also non-tendered following a powerful three-year stretch with the Astros. Carter has hit 90 long balls since the outset of 2013, which is the eighth most in that time, but given his low batting averages, struggles in the contact department -- 545 strikeouts from 2013-14, more than all but one player -- and limited defensive value, the 28-year-old was deemed expendable by a club with 1B/DH types in Evan Gattis and youngsters Jon Singleton and A.J. Reed. Still, Carter could sign on somewhere and continue to make opposing pitchers mad with his raw strength.
C Tyler Flowers: Having hit .240/.296/.378 across the past two years, Flowers is hardly an offensive juggernaut. However, the backstop does wield a moderately powerful bat, belting 34 homers since the start of 2013. Plus, he is regarded as one of baseball's best pitch-framers. On the strength of said skills, Flowers could earn a role that affords him enough playing time to reach double-digit long balls for the third time in four years.
RP Neftali Feliz: Feliz was non-tendered by Detroit after struggling last summer. The right-hander finished his short Tigers tenure with a 7.62 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP across 28 appearances after joining them July 11, several days after being released by the Rangers. But given his solid showing down the stretch -- a 3.21 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and a 1.9 BB/9 rate with no homers allowed across his final 14 appearances -- the former closer could still have something left in the tank. After all, Feliz finished last year with an average fastball velocity of 94.6 mph -- a tick higher than the previous year.
Other notable non-tenders who could make a difference: RP Juan Nicasio, 1B Ike Davis, 3B Will Middlebrooks, SP Yusmeiro Petit, RP Greg Holland (expected to miss 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery), RP Steve Cishek, SP Mike Minor