It’s non-tender day across Major League Baseball, a day when a handful of players from each club worry they might get dumped but in most cases survive to live another day.
How’s this all work? Well, players who are eligible for salary arbitration - those with more than three years but fewer than six years of big league service time - must be tendered a contract by 8 p.m. today. All that means is that teams must declare their intention to sign those players to 2020 contracts. They don’t have to actually settle on salary figures just yet.
Sometimes, the two sides do agree to terms, as the Nationals and Wilmer Difo did Sunday. More often than not, that negotiation is pushed back to later in the winter, with the next deadline for avoiding arbitration Jan. 10.
This is mostly procedural stuff. If, however, there are any players a club doesn’t believe are worth the guaranteed salary increase coming their way, they can choose not to tender them a contract today, thus making them free agents.
And this year, the Nats do have to consider that possibility with a few guys.
The Nationals entered the offseason with eight arbitration-eligible players: Difo, Roenis Elías, Koda Glover, Javy Guerra, Joe Ross, Hunter Strickland, Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner. Difo is already a done deal, agreeing to a $1 million salary. And there’s no question about Turner’s future with the club; he’ll return and get a nice bump in salary (up to perhaps $7.5 million, according to MLBTradeRumors.com’s projection).
The others are less of a sure thing, to varying degrees.
Ross figures to be back, especially when taking into account how well he pitched down the stretch this season once he returned to full-time starting duties. The right-hander is projected to make $1.4 million.
Elías and Strickland pose a bit more of a question, given their struggles after joining the Nationals at the July 31 trade deadline. Elias strained his hamstring in his team debut and was never the same. Strickland got off to a good start (2.70 ERA in his first 10 appearances) but imploded after that (9.00 ERA in his final 14 appearances, then two disastrous postseason performances.
Both relievers are projected to make $1.9 million, so it’s possible the Nats would decide one or both aren’t worth the expense. Then again, general manager Mike Rizzo made a point to acquire both guys because they were under club control beyond 2019 (unlike Daniel Hudson). Rizzo doesn’t like to give up on players that quickly, so it would be out of character to non-tender them now.
Taylor remains something of an enigma, a guy who can’t consistently produce in the regular season but has a knack for coming up big in October. With Gerardo Parra headed to Japan, the Nationals have a need for a fourth outfielder, and Taylor certainly fits that bill. Are they willing to commit the $3.25 million he’s projected to earn? That’s the question they now face.
Guerra has already cheated death once with this franchise. The right-hander was one of the roster victims of the July 31 bullpen overhaul, getting designated for assignment that afternoon. But he was back only three days later after Elías suffered his injury, then wound up sticking with the club all the way through the postseason. He’s projected to earn $1.3 million, which may be a bit pricey for a jack-of-all-trades reliever but certainly not excessive if the Nationals want to keep him.
Which brings us to Glover, probably the player on this list most in danger of losing his job today. The hard-throwing reliever has endured through all kinds of misfortune since making his major league debut in 2016. He has thrown a total of only 48 1/3 innings of professional baseball over the last three seasons, none in 2019, due to injuries.
And though he hasn’t spent much time on the active roster, all that time on the injured list has counted as big league service time, making him arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. Glover’s raise would be modest - $700,000, by MLBTradeRumors.com’s projection - but the Nationals may have reached a point where they’ve decided it’s just not worth it to wait around and hope he stays healthy and realizes his potential.
Update: The Nationals have officially announced the Difo signing, along with Strickland, who also agreed to terms on a one-year contract. So there are six remaining players left to either be tendered or non-tendered by 8 p.m.