December 12th is the deadline for teams to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players on their 40-man rosters. With that in mind, here is the first of two articles focusing on some potential non-tender candidates and the possible fallout for 2012.
Juan Carlos Oviedo RP, Marlins
Who is Juan Carlos Oviedo? Well, you may remember him better as Leo Nunez, his assumed name after being signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent back in 2000. The Marlins' closer is currently working through some complicated legal issues in his native Dominican Republic after coming clean in September to faking his identity. He posted a 4.06 ERA and a career-high fly ball rate this season and is poised to make about $6 million in his final year of arbitration, so there's a good chance he would have been a non-tender candidate regardless of his identity situation. The Marlins are hopeful he'll be able to secure a visa in time to pitch in the United States next season, but with a wealth of options available in free agency, fantasy owners should expect a new closer in South Florida for 2012.
Kevin Slowey SP, Twins
This is basically a foregone conclusion. Slowey has proven to be a decent back-end starter in the past, but struggled through injuries this season while going 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 34/5 K/BB ratio over eight starts and six relief appearances. The 27-year-old right-hander stands to make around $3 million in arbitration, so the only question is whether the Twins will be able to find a trade partner before the December 12 deadline. Slowey doesn't miss many bats and is considered an extreme fly ball pitcher, but the control specialist would make plenty of sense as a low-cost gamble in a cozy home environment like San Diego or Seattle.
Luke Scott OF/1B, Orioles
Another easy call. Scott attempted to play through a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder this season and his production predictably took a pretty severe nosedive. The 33-year-old batted just .220/.301/.402 with nine homers and a .703 OPS over 236 plate appearances before finally going under the knife in late-July. He figures to make around $6 million in his final year of arbitration, so it would be stunning if he wasn't non-tendered. The Orioles could still try to bring him back at a lesser salary, but I wouldn't be surprised if a team like the Rays or Athletics came calling. That might not be a good thing for fantasy owners, though, as Scott has been pretty mediocre on the road over the past four seasons.
Joe Saunders SP, Diamondbacks
This is a case where someone just gets too expensive relative to their production. Saunders pitched well on the surface for the Diamondbacks this season, going 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over a career-high 33 starts and 212 innings. However, he also averaged a career-low 4.58 K/9 while benefitting from a low batting average on balls in play and a strand rate above the league average. The 30-year-old left-hander could make between $8-9 million in his final year of arbitration, so the Diamondbacks would be better served to spend that money in other areas. It's not all bad news for Saunders, though. He might get some sucker to give him a multi-year contract in a weak market for starting pitching.
Angel Pagan OF, Mets
The 2011 season began with an official changing of the guard for the Mets, as Carlos Beltran moved over to right field and endorsed Pagan as his successor in center. However, Pagan didn't endear himself to the new front office with his lackluster play in the field and underwhelming results at the plate. Though bad luck and injuries likely contributed, the 30-year-old batted .262/.322/.372 with a .694 OPS over 532 plate appearances this season. He could make around $5 million in his final year of arbitration, which puts his status for next season in doubt. The Mets will likely shop him over the next month, but given the underwhelming alternatives in free agency (David DeJesus, Cody Ross, Rick Ankiel and Coco Crisp, among others), my best guess is that they keep him and hope for a rebound in his contract year. The Nationals, Rangers, Giants and Athletics are potential fits if he's made available.
Casey McGehee 3B, Brewers
After hitting .291 with an .823 OPS from 2009-2010, McGehee batted just .223/.280/.346 with a .626 OPS over 600 plate appearances this season. While the 29-year-old went from an asset to a liability against left-handed pitching, he also hit more groundballs and chased more pitches outside the strike zone, a dangerous trend which began in 2010. He is only due around $3 million through the arbitration process, so the Brewers could bring him back if they aren't quite sold on Taylor Green or someone else, but they may also be able to find a trade partner between now and December 12. For what it's worth, many teams figure to be in the market for a third baseman this offseason, including the the Mariners, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Tigers.