Before we discuss the top candidates to be “non-tendered” by their respective teams this upcoming off season, I believe it is necessary to provide readers with a brief overview of the non-tender process. When a club “non-tenders” a player, they are essentially declining that player a contract for the upcoming season. Each year the MLB sets a date in early December by which each team must decide whether they want to keep arbitration eligible players and reach an agreement through the arbitration process, or if they would rather let that player test the free agent market if they deem that the arbitration figure that player is set to earn is not worth their on-field production.
Weighing a player’s on field value versus his projected arbitration figure is not the only reason that a team would choose to non-tender a player as this move is often executed simply to clear space on the 40 man roster.
In order to paint a clearer picture of how teams make these decisions, it is necessary that we have at least a cursory understanding of how the arbitration process works in the MLB. The bare basics are that when a player has reached between three to six years service time, they become arbitration eligible, which means players and agents can negotiate a pay raise with their current team based on their production relative to similar players who have also gone through this process. Arbitration players do not make nearly as much as they would on the open market, but the wage bump from their pre-arbitration years (in which most players make roughly the league minimum) and their arbitration earnings are substantial.
Generally, teams try to avoid the arbitration process by reaching a deal with the player beforehand, but when a player and team cannot agree on a salary, they must resort to the arbitration process. In this process, a player and agent decide upon a filing number that is usually much greater than the player can reasonably expect to earn while the team will put forth a lowball offer. Both sides must defend their filing number in front of a panel of arbitrators, who decide upon a figure between those two numbers. For obvious reasons, this process is a little awkward as it forces a player’s team to claim that the player at hand is not worth as much as he thinks he is.
Players generally get three arbitration years (with the exception of Super 2 players who get four, we can get to that later), with their arbitration figures increasing based on their performance each season. MLBtraderumors has developed an arbitration breakdown model that predicts arbitration salaries with solid accuracy.
Despite the inherent awkwardness of these hearings, settlements are usually reached fairly amicably. With that said, the arbitration system has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years as figures are oftentimes based upon antiquated statistics such as home runs, batting average, and RBIs for hitters and wins and saves for pitchers, even though all of these statistics fall short of representing a player’s true value.
Additionally, the Collective Bargaining Agreement states that “the length and consistency of (his) career contribution” matters when reach an arbitration figures. In total, a player’s production in his most recent season, his career contributions, his earnings relative to similar players, as well as more intangible factors such as his leadership or public appeal are also included in the arbiters calculus. Without a more scientific system, there is tons of room for debate between players and teams in arbitration hearings, making many people skeptical of the inexactitudes of the system as whole.
Despite the clear flaws of the arbitration system, it has served as a mechanism through which players can achieve dramatic raises that are at least somewhat related to their on field value prior to that player reaching free agency.
Now that we have a better idea of some of the nuances of the arbitration system, let’s take a closer look at the players that may get non-tendered this offseason before they even have an opportunity for a pay boost through arbitration.
1. Matt Harvey – Starting Pitcher (New York Mets)
Arbitration Year: Third
Previous Arbitration Figure: 5.125 million
It is no secret that since helping the Mets reach the World Series back in 2015, Harvey’s career has taken a sharp downward turn. Part of this downslide we can’t completely pin on the Mets’ right hander, as a key reason for his fall from being one of the best pitchers in the National League has stemmed from unfortunate and untimely injuries. In his five year career, the pitcher formerly known as the Dark Knight has suffered a torn UCL, thoracic outlet syndrome, and a stress fracture in his scapula. While these repeated arm injuries have severely diminished Harvey’s stuff, off field issues have also played a large role in his downfall. The most notable of these incidents occurred earlier this season when Harvey failed to show up to the field on a game day and was suspected to have been out partying the night before.
Despite his personal struggles and uninspiring performances over the last two years, there are surely some in the Mets camp that believe they should hang on to the 28 year old right hander in hopes he can regain some of his old form, but those believers seem to be diminishing by the day. Estimated to collect near 7.0 million next year in his final year of arbitration, perhaps the Mets should let Harvey be someone else’s problem by non-tendering him.
I would never advocate for this move if there was even a sliver of hope that Harvey’s on-field production could justify his poor reputation as a teammate, but with a K% that hasn’t been above 18.9% since 2015 and a 2017 walk rate that is over double his previous career high, there is not a ton of room for optimism. Every one of Harvey’s pitches has declined in both velocity and movement this season which coincides with career-lows in both O-Swing% and Contact%.
The Mets need to make some bold moves to put 2017 behind them and non-tendering their former ace would be a great start.
2. Freddy Galvis – Shortstop (Philadelphia Phillies)
Arbitration Year: Third
Previous Arbitration Figure: 4.35 million
As I have stated before, the arbitration process praises counting numbers such as HRs and SBs, which is a large reason why with 20 home runs and 17 stolen bases that Galvis put up in 2016 earned him 4.35 million in the arbitration process last season despite a wRC+ that was 27% below league average. Galvis has done nothing to improve his offensive profile this year, walking just 6.6% of the time while hitting primarily out of the leadoff spot. To his credit, he has served as a serviceable placeholder while top prospect J.P. Crawford climbed the ranks of the Phillies system, but with Crawford getting the call up to the bigs this week, it seems as if Galvis days in Philly are numbered.
As the Phillies enter the 2017 and 2018 offseasons, they have made it clear that they want to shed as many dollars from their payroll as they can in order to offer mega-contracts to the players in the upcoming loaded free agent classes. With just 3.350 million dollar committed to next year’s roster, general manager Matt Klentak has made is apparent that he does not want to commit any excess money until the Phillies title window has opened again. Unfortunately for Galvis, this probably means that he will be non-tendered and will have to try his luck on the free agent market this winter.
3. Shelby Miller – Starting Pitcher (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Arbitration Year: Third
Previous Arbitration Figure: 4.70 million
The trade that sent Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks from the Braves after the 2015 season was so objectively lopsided that it almost single handedly provided justification for overhauling the entire D’backs front office apparatus at the end of the season. We can’t blame Miller solely for the albatross that deal has become, but his dreadful pitching since joining the D’backs certainly hasn’t helped matters. Before suffering a season-ending UCL tear that required Tommy John Surgery in late April, the flame throwing right hander had posted a 5.78 ERA with the D’Backs and an even more concerning BB/9 of 4.0 across two seasons.
Entering his third year of arbitration, Miller can expect to earn around the same as Matt Harvey if he is retained by Arizona, but with a young pitching staff that ranks 2nd in the National League in ERA, I can’t envision general manager Mike Hazen won’t take this opportunity to save a few books. As currently constructed, the D’backs rotations includes Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zach Godley, Taijuan Walker, and Patrick Corbin, with minor league pitcher of the year Jon Duplantier waiting in the wings. Even if the D’backs were to convert Miller into a reliever like they wisely did with Archie Bradley this season, a 7 million dollar price tag for a guy who has limited bullpen experience and is coming off an injury seems like a risk not worth taking.
4. Wily Peralta – Starting Pitcher (Milwaukee Brewers)
Arbitration Year: Two
Previous Arbitration Figure: 4.275 million
It is hard to believe that Wily Peralta has been the opening day starter for the Brew Crew the past two seasons. Man, how far they have come. With a rotation that now includes breakout arms such as Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson, as well as inning eater Zach Davies and a barrage of young hurlers waiting in the ranks, it is hard to imagine David Stearns spending multiple millions of dollars on a starter who hasn’t posted over 0.9 WAR since 2014.
Peralta could perhaps be retained as a reclamation project in the bullpen, but since being demoted to the pen this season, he has an abysmal 11.94 ERA. The small market Brewers could probably find more value per dollar in the relief market without having to deal with this messy arbitration process.
5. Brad Miller – Second Base / First Base (Tampa Bay Rays)
Arbitration Year: Two
Previous Arbitration Figure: 3.56 million
After belting a surprising 30 HRs last season for the Rays, Miller has taken a step back in huge way in 2017. While Miller’s 17.4% walk rate is the kind of number that might make the on-base percentage minded Rays brass eyes pop, there are no other numbers that inspire much hope.
Miller currently has a wRC+ of just 80 (20% below league average), and has below average marks for both his baserunning and defense. With an ISO% that has dropped 110 points between this year and last, it appears that Miller’s 2016 power surge was either an aberration or he is currently dealing with an injury.
Once praised for his versatility in the field, Miller has played only second base this season and has produced -4 DRS there. With top prospect Willy Adames set to take over at either second base or shortstop for the Rays in the near future, it is easy to see why the Ray’s front office might be compelled to save the roughly 5 million that Miller would earn in arbitration by non-tendering Miller at year’s end.
- Jordy Mercer – Shortstop (Pittsburgh Pirates)
- Drew Hutchison – Starting Pitcher (Pittsburgh Pirates)
- Brandon Maurer – Relief Pitcher (Kansas City Royals)
- Leonys Martin – Centerfielder (Chicago Cubs)
- Johnny Giavotella – Second Base (Baltimore Orioles)