November 30 is the deadline for teams to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players on their 40-man roster. With that in mind, here is the first of two articles focusing on some potential non-tender candidates and the possible fallout for 2013.
Jair Jurrjens SP, Braves
Jurrjens was floated in some pretty significant trade rumors last offseason, but it would now be a surprise if he wasn't non-tendered. The 26-year-old right-hander had an ugly 6.89 ERA and 19/18 K/BB ratio over just 48 1/3 innings with the Braves this season and ended up making more starts with Triple-A Gwinnett than he did with the big club. His persistent knee issues have likely contributed, but Jurrjens' velocity has dropped sharply since 2010 and he's no longer the ground ball pitcher he was in 2008. Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com reported earlier this week that Jurrjens was drawing trade interest, but it's highly unlikely that someone will be willing to pay him the roughly $5-6 million he's due to make in arbitration this winter. However, plenty of teams will be willing to take the gamble once he's a free agent.
John Lannan SP, Nationals
The Nationals paid Lannan $5 million this season, yet because Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler were healthy and effective for most of the year, the southpaw primarily functioned as expensive depth at the Triple-A level. He made a couple of spot starts with the big club during the summer and finally grabbed a rotation spot after Strasburg was shut down in September. The 28-year-old ended up posting a 4.13 ERA and 17/14 K/BB ratio in 32 2/3 innings over six starts in the majors this season, not far off from his career norms. Jackson is currently a free agent, so there will be an opening in the rotation in 2013, but all indications are that the Nats will non-tender Lannan and look for a starter elsewhere. There isn't a ton of upside with Lannan since he isn't going to strike out a lot of guys and doesn't have elite control, but his 53 percent career ground ball rate is 11th-highest (min. 700 IP) since he first broke into the majors in 2007. Someone will likely pay him to be their fifth starter next year.
Kyle Blanks OF/1B, Padres
Blanks was once considered one the top power hitting prospects in the game, but a string of injuries and circumstance have him on the brink of being non-tendered. The 26-year-old appeared in just 33 games in 2010 prior to undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery and got off to a late start in 2011 before batting just .229/.300/.406 with seven homers, 51 strikeouts and a .706 OPS in 190 plate appearances. Just when it looked like he would open 2012 at full health, he suffered a shoulder injury during spring training and eventually required season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum. Blanks isn't going to make much in his first go-around in arbitration, certainly less than $1 million, but the Padres might not see him as a fit any longer with Yonder Alonso at first base and Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Will Venable and Chris Denorfia in their outfield. My guess is he'll draw some trade interest. The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder would look really good on a team like the Astros, who could give him a shot out of the DH spot or at first base.
UPDATE: The Padres and Blanks avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $605,000 contract. There's still a chance he could be traded, but since he has options remaining, the Padres could have him open the 2013 season in the minors.
Andres Torres OF, Mets
This is the second straight year that I have mentioned Torres as a potential non-tender candidate. Of course, the Mets ended up acquiring him from the Giants in the Angel Pagan deal last December and paid him $2.7 million this season to hit just .230/.327/.337 with three homers, 35 RBI, 13 stolen bases and a .664 OPS in 132 games. The 34-year-old still plays a quality center field, but his modest production on offense isn't enough to justify bringing him back for around $3 million next year, especially for a team with limited wiggle room from a payroll perspective. Torres is a switch-hitter with speed and the ability to play all three outfield positions, so he can still be a useful piece somewhere, but his days as a starting player are likely behind him.
Luke Hochevar SP, Royals
Is there a more frustrating pitcher in the game than Hochevar? The former No. 1 overall pick pulled in some believers after an encouraging second half in 2011, but he was a complete disaster this season, posting a 5.73 ERA in 32 starts while allowing a major-league high 118 earned runs in 185 1/3 innings. The 29-year-old right-hander now has a 5.39 career ERA, which as Rany Jazayerli pointed out last month, is the second-highest ERA in MLB history (min. 120 starts) behind former Royals right-hander Kyle Davies. Hochevar was paid $3.51 million this season and figures to make between $4-5 million in arbitration this winter, so this may be the right time to turn the page. Of course, there's still a lot of uncertainty in the Royals' rotation, even after the recent acquisitions of Ervin Santana and Chris Volstad, so it's possible Hochevar will be tendered a contract and eventually released if the club ends up nabbing another starter or two this offseason. Remember, all one-year arbitration contracts are non-guaranteed.
UPDATE: The Royals designated Chris Volstad for assignment after re-signing Jeremy Guthrie to a three-year, $25 million contract. As of now, it looks like Hochevar will stick around past the Friday deadline.
Mark Reynolds 1B, Orioles
It was a pretty easy call for the Orioles to decline Reynolds' $11 million club option last month, but they still have to decide whether to tender him a contract for 2013 or let him walk as a free agent. That's no sure thing after he batted just .221 with a career-low .429 slugging percentage this season. On the bright side, Reynolds finished on a high note by smacking 15 of his 23 homers over the final two months of the season. He also appeared to find a comfort level at first base after the Orioles moved him there in May. Still, the Orioles may decide they are better off using Chris Davis at first base and applying the money saved on Reynolds (possibly around $9 million) to upgrade in left field. This year's crop of free agent first baseman is pretty underwhelming, so Reynolds could end up landing a multi-year deal from a team in search of some pop from the right side of the plate. The Indians could be an interesting fit.