With clubs cutting payroll anywhere possible due to losses incurred by the pandemic, it wasn’t surprising to see an extensive list of players who weren’t tendered contracts by their teams on last Wednesday’s deadline. The Mariners, of course, tendered contracts to all their players, as the only decisions they had to make were of the no-brain variety, including tendering contracts to three arbitration-eligible players: primary catcher Tom Murphy, bounceback candidate Mitch Haniger, and freshly-minted Gold Glover J.P. Crawford.
However, many other teams found themselves in the position of being unwilling to fork over the cash required to keep certain mid-to-lower-tier players, setting up a buyer’s market for their services. Teams aren’t generally in the business of letting superstars walk out their door over a few dollars, but this year’s list boasts some notable names in addition to the typical bounceback or change-of-scenery types. Here are the non-tender targets* each LL staffer will be asking our deities of choice for this holiday season:
(*Note that we’re also including players who weren’t technically non-tendered, but whose options weren’t picked up by their clubs, which is functionally the same as not being tendered a contract, at least for our purposes here)
Anders: 2B Kolten Wong
I’m running it back here with a common theme and asking for Kolten Wong. As I wrote before in my Tommy La Stella piece, second base is an easy hole to identify for the team and luckily there are a few free agents who can fill that. I won’t go too deep on Wong and steal the thunder away from Michael Ajeto who already wrote about the former Cardinal. However, when looking at the two positions the team needs to upgrade the most (second base and left field) it’s worth noting that most of the M’s internal second base options (Shed Long, Dylan Moore, Tim Lopes) can also play left field, but not all of the left field options (Taylor Trammell, Jose Marmolejos, Braden Bishop) can also play second. To me, that makes second base more of a priority given the sheer volume of options in left. That said, I can see the rationale to signing an outfielder to a short deal should the team fail to acquire a second baseman externally.
To get more into Wong specifically, he posted 3.7 fWAR in 2019 with a pretty well-rounded skillset. Although he went from a 108 wRC+ that year to a 92 wRC+ in 2020, Jerry loves his bounce-back candidates. Heading into his age-30 season, he should at least have another few productive years in him. And in the interim he shores up a position that the M’s have had trouble finding a long-term answer for.
John: OF Eddie Rosario
I agree with Ders on Wong, as I centered him in my pitch for the Mariners offseason plan, at least based on what limitations the club is imposing upon itself, not what would actually be most useful. I argued recently the M’s absolutely need to grab at least one of the newly available bats to give their club a baseline shot at their goal of contending, so I’ll pick one. OF Eddie Rosario was the talk of the non-tender deadline, as a 29-year-old corner outfielder coming off a strong short season. His track record is solid since becoming a full time player, with a 111 wRC+ and .281/.317/.493 line over the past four seasons (2002 plate appearances) and around 2.4-2.5 fWAR per full season. I don’t buy the small sample growth of Rosario’s walk rate per se, but he is a capable lefty hitter who strikes out sparingly and still gets to his power. Rosario can commiserate with Kyle Seager as a lefty with pop and bat-to-ball skills, a profile that has tended to succeed at T-Mobile Park (née Safeco Field) no matter the offensive environment.
All of MLB passed on Rosario at around $9-10 million, which was a disappointing missed chance to add talent by the M’s for nothing more than money, yet unless there’s something more underlying in Rosario’s profile that the public doesn’t know, he’s an ideal stopgap for Seattle. I’m a huge proponent of Seattle getting an extension done with Jarred Kelenic and moving him up to the bigs for Opening Day 2021, but even with their alternate site reps and Arizona Fall League stints, Kelenic (and Taylor Trammell, and Julio Rodríguez) have a combined 0 games played above Double-A. I’m all for calling players up when they’re ready, but giving the cream of their crop a chance to have to prove it by beating out a proven big leaguer at some point this year instead of waiting an arbitrary month of Phillip Ervin is a great way to help the M’s top prospects hit the ground running when they finally make it. The worst that can happen in bringing on Rosario is that he plays poorly, in which case Seattle’s depth at OF will have had time to make their case in Tacoma to rise up. If he’s good, it’s an extra bulwark against regression from Kyle Lewis, Dylan Moore, and Ty France, or injuries and inconsistency from Mitch Haniger. Likely a one year, prove-it deal would do for Rosario, though if Seattle gets a second year, they’ll create extra depth and options going forward. When the major obstacle is that you might have too many decent players at one position at some point in the future, I think it’s a non-issue to be dealt with at that point. Get the decent players first, worry about the rest later.
Also, how long has it been since we’ve seen a Mariners left fielder who could make this throw?
Kate: RHRP Keynan Middleton
Gift-giving is my superpower, which unfortunately means most gifts I receive fall short of my own high standards. Over the years, I have learned to be both achingly specific and shoot low in my requests, and that is why I would like the Mariners to sign RHRP Keynan Middleton to a two-year, $1.75M contract with a team option. Hansel Robles might be the former Angels reliever attracting more attention, but I like the upside of the 27-year-old Middleton, who is yet to eclipse 100 innings in his MLB career despite pitching in at least parts of four different MLB seasons. As is contractually obligated for an Angels pitcher, Middleton has spent time on the injured list, eventually going under the knife for TJ surgery in the late spring of 2018. Middleton struggled upon his return, especially with command, and the Angels optioned him to the Alternate Training Site in August of the 2020 season before non-tendering him at the deadline. As someone with experience closing, Middleton’s dollar figure in arbitration was a little higher than LA wanted to pay, but there might have been another reason behind the Halos cutting him loose, as fan opinion on Middleton had soured after he made some comments on Twitter seemingly throwing some shade at the lackluster Angels fanbase. This of course makes him an excellent target to sign with the Mariners and go full heel turn against LA, reviving a rivalry that has gone dormant as both clubs have fallen down a hole of suck over the past two seasons. Middleton has the stuff to back up his talk, too, with a fastball that averaged 97+ in 2020 along with two swing-and-miss secondaries in his slider and changeup. One thing the Mariners have shown they can do developmentally is maximize reliever output, especially on reclamation projects from clubs with un-ideal pitching development. Because of his age, limited mileage on his arm, and velocity, Middleton will probably be a popular target for clubs, but if the Mariners make a competitive offer, the combination of the chance to come home (Middleton is an Oregon native with “PNW born” in his Instagram bio), develop further as a pitcher, and stick it to his former club to boot should make Seattle an attractive landing spot.
Come on home to the PNW, Keynan. I’ll even pay for the dye job to wash the Angels Red away and get some sweet Northwest Green on those locks.
Connor: OF David Dahl
Regardless of whether you feel the M’s need another second baseman, the outfield situation cannot be ignored much longer—yes, even though Jarred Kelenic is pounding on the door. While one should expect Kyle Lewis to put up another strong season, Haniger’s extended absence combined with some scary strikeout and batted ball trends in 2019 could spell disaster, and the next-most experienced outfielder on the 40-man is… Phillip Ervin. Not quite ideal. John touched on Rosario, and he would be a nice addition, but I’m going to throw David Dahl’s hat into the ring. After putting up three seasons of ~110 wRC+ play with the Rockies, to say he fell off hard in 2020 feels like an understatement. A double-digit ISO, a big dip in average exit velocity, and a depressed walk rate all combined to deliver a wRC+ of… ten. Not what you want to see from your 26-year-old former first rounder. Add in a long list of injuries, including a rib stress fracture that ended up costing him all of 2017, and Dahl finds himself a young free agent.
It’s understandable that after reading the above paragraph, you’d run away screaming from the idea of bringing Dahl aboard. There are some points in his favor, though, namely the obvious that 2020 was a matter of small sample size. In fact, Dahl didn’t even crack 100 plate appearances last year, so it’s possible that he was just in a three-week slump that was magnified by the shortened season. A lefty swinger, he would also help balance a lineup that has been skewed pretty heavily towards righty bats. While Colorado has often deployed him in center, especially in 2020, he’s been better in a corner, and could easily slide into left field. His baserunning is pretty strong, he isn’t a Lindian embarrassment against southpaws, and would likely come at a lower price in both dollars and years than Rosario. At worst, he’d be a placeholder to be DFA’d upon Kelenic’s arrival. At best? He’s a solid contributor who could be flipped at the trade deadline. Jerry Dipoto loves his former first-rounders, and Dahl is one who carries near-zero risk and medium-to-high reward. Go grab him!
Tim: RHP Archie Bradley
The answer is Archie Bradley. The Mariners say they want to upgrade their bullpen. Well, Archie Bradley’s 2.59 FIP is better than every Mariners pitcher (minimum 0 IP!) other than Carl Edwards Jr. Of course that was an outlier (and just 18.1 IP, thank you ‘Rona) but his career 3.18 FIP as a reliever would rank sixth among Mariner relievers since 2017. Moreover, Bradley’s 3.65 xFIP as a reliever would be 5th best among Mariners relievers with at least 20 IP. At 28 years old, Bradley is one of the younger free agent options available, and his service time means he has just one year of club control remaining—but a reliever with this sort of track record could justifiably get a multi-year deal if he wanted it.
As much as I would fervently advocate the Mariners should be looking for players like Dahl or Joc Pederson or Jose Quintana—lower end, but still proven, starters and position players—I accept based on the team’s messaging these are unlikely at best. In the bin where they want to shop, Archie Bradley makes a ton of sense and would represent the deep end of the kiddie pool where the Mariners intend to be wading. Also, he pooped himself during a game once. And if all else fails, the Mariners can use him as a pinch-hitter.
Matthew: Carlos Rodón
You know how there are just some things that you cannot quit? Biting your nails, smoking, texting that person whose number you should absolutely delete forever? My toxic habit is still believing that Carlos Rodón can be good. During his short and rocky MLB career, the only thing Rodón has been good at is getting injured. That is basically how a 27-year-old former first round pick gets non-tendered.
The most we’ve ever seen from the tantalizing lefty was a 28-start season in 2016, in which he was exactly league average by ERA+. In those 165 innings, he racked up 168 strikeouts with an FIP slightly lower than his ERA. While his injuries are definitely the scary kind, especially for a pitcher (wrist, shoulder, elbow that required Tommy John), he still has ace-quality stuff buried in there somewhere. His undeniable talent, which unfortunately will always carry the “when healthy” caveat, is what made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 and big leaguer less than a year later. Chicago thought highly enough to even make him the Opening Day starter as recently as 2019.
Carlos Rodón matched a career high with 11 strikeouts tonight (fourth time). pic.twitter.com/ZrWxuse2jc— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) August 5, 2017
We all know that being a first rounder with an up-and-down past is the surest way to Jerry Dipoto’s heart, and if the GM wants to pull up from 35 feet and let it fly, I hope he’s shooting in Rodón’s direction. If the White Sox castoff can find this slider again, I’ll happily watch him be the 2021 Mariners’ verison of Nick Margevicius.