To Tender or to Non-Tender


September 22, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman JustinSmoak (17) is congratulated by third baseman

Kyle Seager

(15) after hitting a two run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again: Nat King Cole on the radio, people getting killed fighting over the last PS4 at Walmart, Cyber Monday tech ‘deals’ galore, and mistletoe awkwardly situated in the workplace. But for the baseball world, which is all we care about, there are two important events in the coming weeks. First and foremost tonight at midnight eastern (or 9pm Pacific) is the deadline to tender arbitration eligible players. (And second, the MLB Winter Meetings are only a week away.)

Typically a player is under ‘team control’ for seven years. After the first two or three years (depending on jumps between the majors and minors), they become arbitration eligible. What that means is the player and the organization sit down in a room together. The player says: “I am worth X dollars.” The organization says: “you are worth Y dollars.” If they cannot agree, they go to a judge who then determines the fair market value of the player based on cases made by both parties. The number decided there becomes the player’s salary for the coming season.

A player’s first year in arbitration is usually relatively inexpensive, but once they get into their second, third, and fourth years of arbitration the gap in the value and the pay can make organizations wary. That is why the tendering of players exists; and non-tendering as well.

If a team like the Mariners chooses to non-tender a player, they are removing them from the 40-man roster and saying “we don’t want to arbitrate with you.” It can either be because of injury concerns, because of a surplus at a given position, or because the team just doesn’t want to fork over so much money for someone who may A) cost too much and B) be superfluous.

When a player is officially non-tendered, they become a free agent. That is why today becomes an important day in the offseason because it can potentially bolster a thin free agent market with non-tendered players. And when a non-tendered player signs with a new team, that new team has control of them through the rest of their arbitration years (the same number they would have had if they were tendered by their original teams).

Confused? It sounds like a lot, but when it comes down to it the players and organization are often not on the same page when it comes to value. Also, the deadline allows for players and organizations to avoid arbitration entirely by agreeing on a salary before midnight.

The Mariners have two players who can be tendered/non-tendered by midnight tonight: outfielder Michael Saunders and first baseman Justin Smoak.

Because neither of these two guys has a high projected value right now, it is near certain the Mariners will tender them and either go to arbitration or agree on a contract for next season. Smoak and Saunders both had down seasons last year (Saunders due to injury) so there is not a lot for them out there on the market, making it is wise for both the M’s and these players to keep them in Seattle.

Moreover, the non-tendered list is something the Mariners need to be keeping an eye on. The sort of players that get exposed to free agency due to a non-tender could provide affordable depth for the Mariners.

The first name that comes to mind is John Axford of the St. Louis Cardinals, a guy discussed at length on MLBTR. He is a perfect non-tender candidate because the former closer projects to earn roughly $5 million in 2014. The Cardinals could feel that’s too much to pay a reliever in arbitration when A) he will no longer be closing and B) the Cardinals have a wealth of bullpen depth.

Axford is the sort of non-tendered player the M’s ought to look at in free agency. As a proven righty, Axford could be a great solidifying addition to the bullpen for that $5 million price tag. With the money the M’s have to spend and the depth issues present in the ‘Pen, that kind of signing would be a wise one.

There will be a number of non-tendered players today, and that will substantially expand the free agent market. Don’t expect Smoak or Saunders to be on that list, but do look out for potential names that could fit well in Seattle. Go to MLBTR Tenders/Non-Tenders to keep up to date on non-tendered players.

Also, as an aside, is featuring an article today on the history of the FanSided Network. If you didn’t already know, Sodo Mojo is one of over 260 FanSided Newtork blogs that reach professional and collegiate sports. Check out the article, it really is a fun and fascinating read to see how two brothers from KC developed a thriving sports blog network.

Keep your eye out for Mariner free agent signings, they have to be looming out there somewhere. But until then comment with your thoughts on arbitration, tendering, and potential candidates for the Mariners to bring on board.

Happy December!