The non-tender deadline passed at midnight, with the Nationals declining to offer left-handed relief specialist Doug Slaten arbitration. While the club can still re-sign Slaten - teams often will non-tender a player, then bring him back on a minor league deal at a lesser price, frequently with a spring training invite - it appears the Nationals and Slaten will sever ties. The Nats will look for a more reliable arm against left-handed hitters and Slaten will seek a team that has more of an opportunity.
The same process played out among the other 29 major league teams at varying points Monday, and it’s worth a look at the other players who were non-tendered, since there might be a fit between a newly minted free agent and the Nationals.
As expected, the Rockies non-tendered outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, and the Nats may have some interest in the veteran, especially if general manager Mike Rizzo comes up empty in his search for a center fielder, shifts right fielder Jayson Werth into that spot and needs someone to replace Werth. The Rockies and Nationals talked last week at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, and while it’s unknown if Spilborgh’s name came up, he might be on their radar. He’s a career .272 hitter who slumped to .210 last season.
Lefty Jose Mijares was non-tendered by the Twins, and he might fit in the Nationals’ bullpen as a replacement for Slaten. The 27-year-old MIjares appeared in 58 games last year, working only 49 innings and posting an 0-2 record. His ERA has risen from 2.34 to 3.31 to 4.59 over the past three seasons, but MIjares held left-handed hitters to a .253 average in 2010 (22-for-87) and they’ve hit only .212 against him over his career. However, there seems to be some mutual interest in Mijares returning to Minnesota.
While the Nationals failed to sign free agent Mark Buehrle last week, they could make a run at southpaw Joe Saunders, who was cut loose by the Diamondbacks after going 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA in a career-best 212 innings. The 30-year-old Saunders was born in Falls Church, went to high school at Springfield and college at VPI. He’s not Buehrle, but Washington could do worse for a short-term placeholder.
Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson have expressed a desire to bolster the bench, so guys like Jeff Keppinger and Ryan Theriot could also be of interest. The 31-year-old Keppinger, a proverbial late bloomer, hit .277 with six homers and 35 RBIs for the Astros and Giants last year, but was non-tendered by San Francisco. He’s five years younger than Mark DeRosa, another free agent who interests the Nationals, and plays mostly infield (while DeRosa can also man the corners in the outfield). But DeRosa has multiple suitors, so Keppinger could be a fallback option. Alex Cora won’t return as the backup infielder, so that could create a match with Theriot, a 32-year-old who hit .271 with one homer and 47 RBIs but was non-tendered by the Cardinals. Theriot also has some outfield experience and was a stolen base threat during his days as a Cubs regular, swiping 20 or more bases for four straight seasons between 2007-10, though he only had four steals in 2011. Brooks Conrad, non-tendered by the Braves, could draw interest as a pinch-hitter and backup infielder. The 31-year-old can run into a fastball, but is well-liked in the Atlanta clubhouse and might opt to re-sign at a lesser price with the Braves.