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2022 non-tender deadline: other possibilities

Rule 55(f) is dead. Long live Rule 9(c)(6).

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles James A. Pittman-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday, November 30th is the amended deadline for MLB teams to tender 2022 contracts to players under team control. The Toronto Blue Jays have a large class of 12 arbitration eligibles this year, but almost all are slam dunks to be tendered so we’ll look into the few cases for whom that’s perhaps not the case leading into the deadline.

Other profiles: Trent Thornton

In my offseason lookahead a month ago, I contemplated whether Ross Stripling should be listed as a non-tender candidate given a projected salary north of $4-million and overall middling results recently (4.80 ERA in 2021, 5.14 in 150.2 innings since 2020). I ultimately didn’t given that the Jays were far from swimming in pitching depth and even with a couple additions he still was in line for significant innings as the 5th or 6th option. But given some pushback, I intended to at least explore the case leading up to the tender deadline.

Ensuing developments in the market have undermined any point in doing that. Aside from the fact that Stripling was actually quite effective for a significant stretch last year (4.02 ERA in 85 innings between his two IL stints; 3.68 ERA in the narrower two-and-half-month stretching starting on Victoria Day) with much sharper looking stuff, the inflated price of pitching on the market makes tendering him a complete no-brainer.

I would have put the odds at around 90% then, with the small remainder largely representing the possibility of larger structural issues impacting the market and killing the market for mid-tier players like Stripling. The last couple years there were rumours going into the winter of an apocalypse of non-tenders and weird stuff like quality veterans cut free (and then signing for more as free agents).

With the financial impacts of the pandemic—just a year ago owners were crying poor and claiming seas of red ink—and the potential for labour issues causing further disruption, I was expecting more of that. Instead, teams are handing out massive contracts like it’s 2000 and every player is signing for more than expected. I can’t fathom a scenario where Stripling would be non-tendered in that context.

That’s basically it among the dozen arbitration-eligibles, with the other 10 being slam-dunk tenders, but that’s not completely the end. Every year, there’s a handful of players of pre-arb players that get non-tendered, such as Jason Adam two years ago.

Unlike with arbitration eligible players, in this cases the considerations aren’t really financial, since they can be renewed at or near the minimum and thus can’t be replaced with more cost effective players. Instead, the consideration was Major League Rule 55, pertaining to minor league free agency. Or what used to be MLR 55(f), in 2021 MLB reorganized them and it is now MLR 9(c)(6).

If a player would have been eligible for minor league free agency, then from the period starting five days after the World Series a player cannot be sent outright to the minors unless he’s signed a contract for the following season. Since players tendered contracts cannot be unilaterally renewed until March, that can create a scenario where a player is somewhat “frozen” on the 40-man roster over the winter. They can still be released outright if the 40-man spot is really needed, but that would come with some termination pay.

While in the grand scheme the financial considerations are really peanuts for teams, there’s little sense throwing money away, so in such cases it can be cleaner to just move on if there’s a good chance the spot would be needed. In some cases, teams likely approach players to sign a contract before the tender deadline so they have this winter flexibility (with a split salary that could otherwise only be imposed through renewal), and if they refuse/decline then they get non-tendered.

There’s only a couple of Blue Jays in this boat this year, at least on the roster fringes where it’s relevant. The most obvious is Breyvic Valera, who is also out-of-options. Right now he’s nominally a back-up infielder if the season started tomorrow, but one figures on the Jays adding a starting infielder to push Santiago Espinal to the primary infield reserve (with Kevin Smith and presumably some minor league signings as further depth), it’s not obvious there’s a future role for him given his inability to hit for any MLB impact. Do they just move on now to open up a 40-man spot? The answer will be not most of the time, but this would be among the likelier candidates for this type of maneuver.

The other would be the only 2015 draftee left in the organization, Tayler Saucedo. If they were going to do something with him, I imagine it would have happened before the end of the five day window after the World Series.


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