The Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals have come and gone, with three weeks remaining to grab free agents before the Christmas holiday.
There were 186 free agents that hit the market after the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series, and a month later, there still are about 175 free agents still unemployed.
The two highest-paid free agents are the ones who accepted their $18.9 million qualifying offers: Kevin Gausman of the San Francisco Giants and Marcus Stroman of the New York Mets.
No team has spent more than the Atlanta Braves, who dished out $27.25 million for veteran pitchers Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly and Josh Tomlin.
And starter Mike Minor of the Kansas City Royals, once he passes his physical, is the only free agent who received a multi-year deal.
There has been just $86.5 million spent so far in the 35 days since the start of free agency, and the deep freeze will only get worse after the 8 p.m. ET Wednesday deadline for teams to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players on their 40-man roster.
The non-tendered players will immediately become free agents.
Considering that teams lost $3 billion in the pandemic, according to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, with revenues expected to plummet again if fan attendance is severely limited 2021, owners will lower their payrolls again.
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Teams like the Cleveland Indians already are in full cost-cutting mode. They are shopping All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor after refusing to pick up the $10 million option on three-time All-Star closer Brad Hand.
You don’t resign a year early and walk away from $10 million like Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein or step down as chairman of the San Diego Padres like Ron Fowler if you don’t know that painful cutbacks are coming. The Dodgers just laid off about 60 employees and the Philadelphia Phillies dismissed about 80 people alone in the last week.
There were 53 players who were non-tendered a year ago, including Gausman, Blake Treinen and Taijuan Walker.
What further complicates teams’ decisions is that MLB and the players union still have not reached an agreement on a formula on how statistics during the shortened 60-game season will be viewed by arbitrators. The union wants the 2020 stats multiplied by 2.7, while MLB believes it shouldn’t be that simple.
Here are the biggest names teams are discussing whether to submit contract offers by Wednesday night (arbitration salary projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors):
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs: Crazy, huh? Who would have ever believed a year ago that Bryant, the 2016 National League MVP and three-time All-Star, would be under consideration to be non-tendered? After the worst season of his career (.206 average, .293 OBP, .351 SLG with four home runs and 11 RBI), playing just 34 of the 60 games with five different injuries, the Cubs are intent on trading him before opening day. It’s highly unlikely they’ll non-tender him, even with a projected salary of $18.6 million, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.
Kris Bryant had the worst season of his career last year with the Cubs. (Photo: Brad Mills, USA TODAY Sports)
Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees: He’s a two-time All-Star catcher who hit 34 homers with 77 RBI a year ago. But last season, he hit just .147 with 64 strikeouts in 156 at-bats and was benched in five of the Yankees’ seven playoff games. Do they really want to give him about a $1 million raise from his $5 million salary of last year? Owner Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees lost more than any team last year, an amount the New York Post reported is close to $220 million.
Eddie Rosario, Minnesota Twins: Rosario has hit 96 homers the past four years, but he’s also going to cost $9.6 million to $12 million. Considering the Twins have two former first-round outfielders in Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, who also hit left-handed, Rosario is expendable. The low-budget Twins could spend the savings on a one-year contract for a right-handed-hitting left fielder while acquiring pitching depth.
Steven Matz, New York Mets: Matz is coming off his worst season in a career that has been little more than mediocre. He was 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA last season, and has just a 31-41 career record with a 4.35 ERA. But he also made 30 starts apiece in 2018 and 2019. If this was the old Mets, they’d probably cut him loose. But with owner Steve Cohen and his $14.5 billion at the helm, what’s a gamble of just over $5 million?
Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs: Schwarber’s value is enhanced if there’s a universal DH, but with the Cubs looking to shake things up and trim the payroll, Schwarber is a strong non-tender candidate. They could tender him a contract and attempt to trade him like Bryant, but with a .230 career batting average, while hitting just .188 last season, his value has shrunk.
Archie Bradley, Cincinnati Reds: Bradley was the Reds’ biggest acquisition at the trade deadline. He made $4.1 million last year, but now could be earning $5.7 million as the Reds’ setup man in 2021.
Tommy Pham, San Diego Padres: Pham is an ideal middle-of-the-order hitter and a fiery competitor, but he missed half of the season with a broken hamate bone and had a slash line of just .211/.312/.312. He also suffered a 12-inch stab wound in his lower back while retrieving his car at a San Diego club during the offseason, and hopes to be recovered by spring training. It will cost about $8 million to keep him.
Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox: They love his talent and believe he could be a front-line starter, but injuries limited the 27-year-old to nine starts and 42 1/3 innings the past two seasons. It's expected they will cut him loose instead of gamble for about $4.5 million.
Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies: Gray has been a huge disappointment for the Rockies since being selected third in the 2013 draft, one spot behindBryant. Gray has gone 45-37 with a 4.59 ERA. He’s projected to earn $5.9 million to $6.5 million in arbitration.
Austin Hedges, Cleveland Indians: Cleveland landed Hedges in the Mike Clevinger trade, but after picking up starting catcher Roberto Perez’s $5.5 million option, it seems a little silly to invest another $3 million in Hedges to be a defensive backup. Remember, they unloaded Hand to save $10 million, so it’s difficult envisioning spending nearly $9 million on light-hitting catchers.
Jesus Aguilar, Miami Marlins: The Marlins love Aguilar’s clubhouse leadership, and a universal DH increases his value. But Aguilar could command as much as $6 million for a team with one of the lowest payrolls.
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers, who plan to cut payroll again this winter, have no real need to keep Knebel and his projected $5.125 million salary. They already have closer Josh Hader and rookie of the year winner Devin Williams as a premium 1-2 bullpen punch. Knebel has pitched only 13 1/3 innings since 2018.
Nomar Mazara, Chicago White Sox: He was a former top Texas Rangers prospect whom the White Sox provided an everyday opportunity. He flopped. There’s no chance he gets tendered at a projected close to $6 million salary.
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox: He’s expected to earn as much as $5.7 million in arbitration. It’s a fair deal if he’s the closer. If the Red Sox decide he doesn’t fit that role, he could be non-tendered.
Travis Shaw, Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays plan to spend this winter, but there are more prudent ways than risking $4.5 million to $5.4 million on Shaw. He hit just .239 with six homers, 17 RBI and a .717 OPS last season. This should be the second consecutive winter he is non-tendered.
Maikel Franco, Kansas City Royals: Franco did everything the Royals desired last winter as their everyday third baseman, but they’re not about to risk $5 million and potentially as much as $8 million in arbitration for a guy who has a career .737 OPS.
Johan Camargo, Atlanta Braves: Camargo has been disappointing since his 2018 breakout season, and with Austin Riley at third base, they may not want to risk about $2 million on a bench player.
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