Today at 8:00 eastern is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2019 contracts to players under team control. The Blue Jays have 10 arbitration-eligible players, and I’ve broken down the two likeliest non-tender candidates in Yangervis Solarte and Devon Travis. At the beginning of the offseason I didn’t see any of the others as candidates, but a closer look now is in order.
Let’s dispatch at the outset with the slam dunks: Ken Giles, Randal Grichuk, Aaron Sanchez , Marcus Stroman and Ryan Tepera will be tendered contracts. All are organizational assets who clearly would have positive trade value in the event the Jays were looking to move on from any of them.
If I had to pick, the next most likely non-tender candidate of the remaining would be Brandon Drury, based on his essentially replacement level career production (0.7 fWAR / 0.9 bWAR in 1,124 plate appearances, 92 wRC+). Even then, his modest projected arbitration salary of $1.4-million as a Super Two and the fact that he’s just 26 would more than justify tendering him for 2019. The kicker of course is that he was half the return for J.A. Happ, and it would be utter malpractice to acquire a player as a centrepiece for the trade deadline’s top rental starting pitcher and then non-tender him.
Joe Biagini had a miserable 2018, even after the starting experiment ended and he was back in the bullpen. I have been surprised at how many (see e.g.) are basically writing him off as a one year wonder and more than ready to move on. And realistically, that ultimately may be the case, and beyond that it’s likely that 2019 is a make or break year for Biagini’s future with the Jays.
But the stuff hasn’t declined, and we’ve seen before that it can take time for pitchers to figure out it out after being bounced around. With a very modest $1-million MLBTR projected salary (after he qualified as a Super Two by literally a day), I don’t see why the Jays wouldn’t see if he can reclaim his 2016 form. In some ways, it reminds of the situation with dominant Dominic Leone, who had a great debut in 2014 before two lost years which allowed the Jays to pluck him off waivers before he rebounded. At the very least, Biagini is the exact type of player the Jays should be taking flyers on in 2019.
Estimated likelihood of tender: 95%
Last but certainly not least is Kevin Pillar. I include him here only because of some isolated chatter of him as a non-tender possibility. Frankly, I really don’t see it — at the end of the day, this is a guy who’s been worth at least 2.0 fWAR and 2.5 bWAR in each of his four full seasons. Granted that’s backwards looking, but even if as seems likely he’s slipped defensively and isn’t the same guy he was in 2015-16, he’s still competent in CF. His offensive limitations are infamous, but while he’s firmly a below average hitter, he’s not a back hole and adds value on the basepaths and stays healthy.
All that to say, at the very least he forecasts as at least a fringe average/second division regular in the near term. Over the past three years, there are about 50 outfielders who have produced just 5 WAR. Even at a projected salary of $5-million or so, I can’t believe there aren’t teams out there — hello, Cleveland? — who wouldn’t be quite happy to have Kevin Pillar in 2019.
There are good arguments to be made that being completely clear eyed, the Jays are best advised to move on from Pillar this winter. But I fail to see how that extends to non-tendering him.
Estimated likelihood of tender: 95%+
Finally, there’s one more group of players if we’re considering longshot non-tender candidates. It’s quite rare for teams to non-tender pre-arbitration players, with the usual route to go through outright waivers. But occasionally it happens, as with Chris Colabello two years ago. If there’s no interest from other teams (and the player can elect free agency if he clears outright waivers anyway), a non-tender can be a convenient way to clear 40-man spots ahead of the Winter Meetings and the Rule 5 Draft.
Are there any non-tender candidates lurking here? There are 25 pre-arb players on the 40-man, but of those only six are “bubble” players who are in some danger of losing roster spots this offseason. Four of those — Danny Barnes, Jonathan Davis, Dalton Pompey and Dwight Smith Jr. — can be retained if they clear outright waivers, so it’s non-sensical to non-tender them.
That leaves two in Oliver Drake and Sam Gaviglio. Drake was just claimed on waivers (for the second time in four months at that), so again it doesn’t follow to turn around and non-tender him. Gaviglio on the other hand could fit the mold. If the Jays don’t see him as part of the pitching mix going forward and have put out feelers without interest, they could non-tender him since he’d almost certainly elect free agency if he clears waivers anyway. On the other hand, there’s not an obvious need for roster spots in the near term, and if there were such a need they can do a DFA later. Which is why pre-arb players are rarely non-tendered.
Estimated likelihood of Gaviglio non-tender: 5%
The Blue Jays should tender 2019 contracts to:
Drury and Biagini only
Biagini and Pillar pnly
Drury and Pillar only
388 votes total