Wednesday, December 2nd is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2021 contracts to players under team control. The Blue Jays have a small class of arbitration eligibles this year, with Teoscar Hernandez a complete lock and Ross Stripling a virtual guarantee to be tendered a contract, so we’ll look at the cases of others for whom that’s not the case leading into the deadline.
Typically, non-tender candidates are limited to arbitration eligible players, since that process results in players getting salaries materially above the minimum. However, there is a subset of pre-arb players who are non-tender candidates, specifically fringe players on the roster bubble who are subject to the provisions/strictures of Major League Rule 55(f).
In many cases, if a roster spot is needed later in the winter, players can be simply sent outright to Triple-A so there’s no need to consider non-tendering at this point. However, since minor league free agency occurs five days after the World Series, there are restrictions on outrighting 40-man players who would have been eligible (otherwise teams could game the rules to prevent free agency for a year).
For a team to be allowed to sent a player outright, a player must first have agreed to a contract for the next season. Since teams cannot renew contracts until March 1st, if a player refuses he is effectively stuck to the 40-man roster through the winter — he can still be released outright, but is then owed some termination pay. This messiness can be avoided via non-tendering.
Two players who fit that group for the Blue Jays are Derek Fisher and Breyvic Valera, who further bear the burden of being out-of-options in 2021.
Background: Acquired in July 2019 trade with Houston; career -0.1 WAR and 78 wRC+ in 458 plate appearances.
2020 production: 121 wRC+ in just 39 PA; no balls taken to the face though a few clanked off gloves.
2021 projection: 91 wRC+ by Steamer; ZiPS more optimistic with .228/.320/.444 for a 105 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR in 398 PA (though often need a grain of salt when it comes to bit players)
Fisher was been discussed ab nauseum, so there’s little point rehashing his merits. What it comes down to is pretty simple — if they’re going to give him one more shot, even just a look in spring training with no guarantees, then he’ll be tendered. Even if they don’t have him in the major league picture, but want to try and sneak him through waivers before the season (when Rule 55f is no longer an issue) to have one more shot at seeing if something clicks, they’ll tender him. Again, this is setting aside the wisdom or value of doing so.
So if he is tendered a 2021 contract, expect him to stick around through the winter until spring training, if and when that gets underway. But if they’re ready to move on, this is a logical point to do it. The reality is with the 40-man full, and additions likely, there’s limited opportunities to free up spots (about a half dozen) and Fisher is one of those.
Could the addition of Josh Palacios be a clue or writing on the wall? With Jonathan Davis already in the fold, that’s now other two outfielders in the depth category at least for 2021. If Fisher remained seriously in the mix, that strikes me as somewhat superfluous and a stretch. Moreover, some of the Sportsnet reports have seemed to hint at various points it’s likely the Jays move on this winter.
Background: Claimed on waivers in September 2019, lost to San Diego in February and then reclaimed in July; 62 wRC+ and -0.1 WAR in 138 PA across bits of three seasons.
2020 production: Placed on restricted list July 21st apparently due to issues reporting from Venezuela and did not play.
2021 projection: 83 wRC+ by Steamer; ZiPS sees .268/.328/.390 for a 95 wRC+ and 1.2 WAR in 483 PA (again, grain of salt)
Technically speaking, Valera is not even occupying a 40-man spot right now as he remains on the restricted list, so the Jays can tender him a contract to maintain rights to his services without even tying up a spot. However, my understanding of the Major League Rules (specifically MLR 16) is that he can apply for reinstatement at any point and it would be granted as a matter of course, in which case he would then need a 40-man spot.
Even if that doesn’t end up being this winter, one would expect him to want to resume his career in 2021 and for him to reapply at some point. If the reason for claiming him again in July was for deep depth knowing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was unavailable at third base and Brandon Drury going on the IL for “undisclosed” reasons, then that necessity has passed so it would make sense to just non-tender him.
On the other hand, they have now claimed him on waivers twice, so maybe there’s more there in terms of interest and potential, and they’re happy to keep him for now and make a move when the time comes, even if there’s potentially a small cost attached there wouldn’t be now.
There are two other 40-man players subject to Rule 55(f) provisions this winter in Jonathan Davis and Sean Reid-Foley. Both retain the flexibility of being optionable in 2021, and while neither is an absolute lock to stay on the 40-man especially if spots come at a premium later, both have shown enough that I can’t see either being non-tendered at this point. But I mentioned both for completeness.
Will the Jays fail to tender a 2021 contract to at least one of the pre-arb players listed above?
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