Hidden non-tender gems may be on horizon
Those not offered contracts by Dec. 12 join in free-agent market
The non-tender deadline usually doesn't get much attention. But perhaps it should.
For years, clubs have found gems at a bargain rate through that process. David Ortiz, let go by the Twins in 2002, signed by the Red Sox, legendary not long after, is the most popular non-tender of them all. But others have thrived after being discarded, as well: Ty Wigginton, Jonny Gomes, John Buck, Kelly Johnson, Matt Capps, Russell Martin and Joel Peralta, just to name a few.
By Dec. 12, four days after the conclusion of the Winter Meetings in Dallas, teams must tender contracts to players under their control. Most of the time, they will. But if a club doesn't believe a particular player is worth what he's projected to get via arbitration, it may simply opt against it.
That player then joins the free-agent pool, freeing him up to sign with any team, including the one that let him go.
Last year, Major League Baseball's deadline for this process was on Dec. 2 so that non-tendered players could make themselves available during the always-busy Winter Meetings. The date was moved back this year as part of a way to facilitate the collective-bargaining process. But under the new, five-year Basic Agreement, the non-tender date will be Dec. 2 every offseason beginning in 2012.
In 2010, 52 players were non-tendered. This year, there's no telling how many there will be. But here are some names to keep in mind ...
Tom Gorzelanny, SP, Nationals: Washington may want to keep Gorzelanny, though probably not at his expected price. Coming off a season in which he posted a 4.03 ERA in 30 games (15 starts), Gorzelanny will be arbitration-eligible for a third and final time and would be expected to get a raise from the $2.1 million he made this year. The Nats would ideally like to free up some of that money to address other areas -- a veteran starter, a center-field upgrade, or maybe even Prince Fielder. Washington has some depth in its rotation, and Gorzelanny cleared waivers earlier this season.
Hong-Chih Kuo, RP, Dodgers: It took one calendar year for Kuo to go from being one of baseball's top relievers to pondering retirement. In 2010, Kuo posted a 1.20 ERA, notched a .783 WHIP, pitched 60 innings and held lefties to a .095 batting average. In 2011, the 30-year-old southpaw gave up 27 earned runs in 27 innings, walked 23 batters, continued to battle an anxiety disorder and underwent his fifth elbow surgery. Upon news of the latest procedure in late October -- one that would have him throwing in six to eight weeks -- Kuo's agent told The Los Angeles Times his client does indeed want to pitch in 2012.
Jeff Mathis, C, Angels: Mathis has shared the catching duties in Anaheim the past four years, but his fate with the Angels was practically sealed on Wednesday, when the club chose to upgrade its offense behind the plate by acquiring Chris Iannetta from the Rockies in exchange for pitcher Tyler Chatwood. Mathis is regarded as an excellent defensive catcher, but his offense has never stood out. In a 426-game span through seven Major League seasons, the 28-year-old has hit just .194 with a .257 on-base percentage and 26 homers. Now, in his final arbitration year before free agency, he can be had.
Juan Carlos Oviedo, RP, Marlins: You may know him as Leo Nunez, the lanky right-hander who was the Marlins' closer the past three seasons, contributing a 3.86 ERA, posting a 1.247 WHIP and converting 92 of 113 save opportunites. If an identity-fraud scandal wasn't enough to keep the Marlins from bringing him back, the signing of free-agent closer Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million contract on Thursday means Oviedo won't be returning to South Florida. The question now is whether he'll be able to straighten out his legal issues in the Dominican Republic and make it back to pitch in 2012.
Joe Saunders, SP, D-backs: If Arizona is able to acquire a starter during the Winter Meetings, it could opt to trade Saunders. And considering Saunders' track record and the state of the free-agent market for starting pitchers, general manager Kevin Towers figures to have a fair number of suitors. But the non-tender option could be possible for the 30-year-old left-hander. Entering his final year of arbitration, Saunders would likely get a significant raise from his $5.5 million salary -- maybe up to $9 million -- after posting a 3.69 ERA and throwing 212 innings. What they choose to do with the veteran innings-eater will perhaps be the D-backs' most interesting development in Dallas.
Kevin Slowey, SP, Twins: The Twins have been trying to find a way to move Slowey for a while, and if they can't do so in the next 10 days, there's a good chance he won't be tendered a contract. Slowey, who has a career 4.66 ERA, made two trips to the disabled list and wound up going 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA in 59 1/3 innings this year. Now, after making $2.7 million, Slowey is in his second year of arbitration. Soon, he may be trying to latch on as a reliable back-end starter somewhere else.
Skip Schumaker and/or Ryan Theriot, IF, Cardinals: Middle infield is one of the Cardinals' primary offseason areas of need, and considering neither Schumaker nor Theriot will be everyday players in 2012, it's unlikely that the Redbirds will pay them both arbitration money. Schumaker, heading into his final arbitration year after making $2.7 million in 2011, hit .283 with a .333 on-base percentage while appearing in 117 games, at second base and all three outfield spots, for the World Series champs. Theriot, who made $3.3 million and is also heading into his final arbitration year, batted .271 with a .321 OBP in 132 games, but was replaced by Rafael Furcal as the starting shortstop.
Luke Scott, OF, Orioles: It would have been tough to picture after he had a career season in 2010, but now, after batting .220 with nine homers before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in July, Scott is a possible non-tender candidate for new Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. Scott, 30, hits left-handed, has experience at both outfield corners and was a solid producer from 2007-10, batting .264 while averaging 23 homers and 70 RBIs. Now, he's arbitration-eligible for a final time, is coming off making $6.4 million and represents a dilemma for Baltimore.
Andres Torres, CF, Giants: Torres made $2.2 million, is entering his second season of arbitration, and considering the addition of Melky Cabrera and the Giants' continued search for more offense, doesn't seem to have a role. But because he has had success at a premium position, he could fit elsewhere. Torres showed some promise while playing every day for the first time as a 32-year-old in 2010, sporting a .343 on-base percentage with 16 homers and 26 stolen bases for the eventual World Series champs. But he hit just .221 in 112 games while battling leg injuries this past season.
Chris Volstad, SP, Marlins: As a rookie in 2008, Volstad looked like one of baseball's most promising young pitchers while posting a 2.88 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) in that season's second half. Ever since then, though, he's been nowhere near as sharp, posting a 4.88 ERA despite sporting a clean bill of health the past three years. With the addition of Wade LeBlanc and the continued search for a top-of-the-rotation starter, there no longer seems to be a long-term fit on the Marlins for Volstad, a local product who is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. His health and age could drum up interest. If it doesn't, the Marlins may simply part ways.
Other notables: RP Matt Albers, Red Sox; 1B Daric Barton, A's; C Jesus Flores, Nationals; IF Mike Fontenot, Giants; OF Tony Gwynn Jr., Dodgers; RP Clay Hensley, Marlins; OF Jeremy Hermida, Padres; C Koyie Hill, Cubs; SS Paul Janish, Reds; C George Kottaras, Brewers; RP Jose Mijares, Twins; SP Andrew Miller, Red Sox; RP Peter Moylan, Braves; SP Ross Ohlendorf, Pirates; SP Micah Owings, D-backs; C Ronny Paulino, Mets; C Brayan Pena, Royals; RP Andy Sonnanstine, Rays; IF Ian Stewart, Rockies; IF Wilson Valdez, Phillies.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.