Major League Baseball’s arbitration process often results in an enlarged talent market rather than clubs semi-committing to guaranteed salaries for the ensuing season.
Clubs will eye such scenarios in an attempt to add talent.
There are two ways teams players can become available: Trade, either before the tender deadline or after the player is tendered by their current club, and via free agency, after the player is non-tendered.
I’ve identified a handful of those possibilities for the Seattle Mariners, keeping in mind team needs, the club’s preference to avoid taking away playing time from their youth, and to avoid bloated salaries — even of the one-year variety.
The 2020 Mariners, as of season’s end, appear to be shy in two main areas — rotation, and bullpen — but could benefit from a key addition to other areas, too.
The goal isn’t to fill long-term future roles, necessarily, but to find value and potentially flip the proven major-leaguer for future assets.
Below is a small handful of players set for arbitration as of October 18, 2019, who may be trade-available or have a reasonable chance to be non-tendered, or both, and Seattle would benefit from considering the acquisition path.
This isn’t typically how clubs acquire all-stars, but arbitration spans a lot of talented players, some of which have yet to blossom.
Projected salary ranges derived from MLBTradeRumors.com.
Dylan Bundy, RHP — Baltimore Orioles
Projected Salary: $5.5M-$6.5M
Bundy isn’t getting non-tendered at that price range, even by a rebuilding Orioles club, and a trade may not be a sure thing, either. But the former first-rounder is headed into arbitration for the second time and the O’s could be gauging what’s more value, his potential and control years (two), or the plausibility of a breakout first-half of 2020, which likely increases his value over present day.
Bundy’s velocity has dropped about a half-mile per hour three years straight and is down more than 2.5 mph since he debuted in 2012. But his slider remains well above average and his changeup took a step forward this past year, perhaps a sign of things to come.
He’s 27 in November and has made 89 starts the past three seasons. Bundy represents an interesting case for both Baltimore and a club with interest in acquiring him.
At about $6 million, it’s a risk, but just a small one for a club in Seattle’s position, but the payoff could be bigger, and the Mariners need innings from starters. Might as well get some upside, too.
Kevin Gausman, RHP — Cincinnati Reds
Projected Salary: $10M-$11M
I still list Gausman as a starter — as do the Reds looking to next season — but the fastball value must improve, or a relief role is the limit.
On top of the fastball, he also offers a slider, a plus splitter, and occasional curveball. Gausman’s command has lacked his entire big-league career, but we’ve seen flashes in Baltimore and Atlanta.
He’s still sitting 93-96 mph and is durable, generally missing starts due to ineffectiveness. He posted a 3.98 FIP in 2019, 4.29 as a starter, 2.72 as a reliever.
The Reds would be morons to tender Gausman at that projected salary range, suggesting a non-tender scenario and a free-agent result for the former first-round pick.
If the Mariners hire a pitching coach they feel is capable of taking talents like Gausman, 29 in January, and boosting his stock through pitch development or mechanics, the club should be interested, regardless of the role they prefer.
Jon Gray, RHP — Colorado Rockies
Projected Salary: $5M-$6M
Gray is more of an opportunity for the Rockies than a situation where the projected salary doesn’t fit.
The stuff suggests Gray should be a notch or two better than he’s been; 94-98 mph fastball, a power slider that’s one of the better breaking balls in baseball and an average curveball he can backdoor to lefties.
The changeup is underdeveloped and therefore underutilized, which likely explains, at least partially, Gray’s struggles versus left-handed batters (.272/.361/.457).
He’s never logged more than 172 innings in a season but he’ll be 28 next month and could be ripe for a breakout. The Rockies may very well want to benefit from that, but if the club is looking to take advantage of the potential upside and fill other holes, Gray could be available.
It’s not going to cheap, but in no way should two years of Gray, who has posted FIPs right around four the past two seasons in 56 starts, cost elite prospects such as Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez and Logan Gilbert.
It’s highly unlikely Seattle goes down this road, but if Gray is shopped, Jerry Dipoto should inquire, despite the fact the club control rolls only into the start of the Mariners’ projected window. If Gray makes 30 starts and fulfills more of that upside, he’s a booming trade chip or a candidate for an extension beyond his free-agent years, and for a club that lacks projectable starting pitchers.
*Average of 10 Postseason Qualifiers
Alex Colome, RHP — Chicago White Sox
Projected Salary: $10M-$11M
The White Sox have no business tendering Colome, whom they acquired from Seattle for Omar Narvaez last winter and paid over $7 million. Also, it seems highly unlikely a contender would trade for the right-hander and willingly pay him $10 million or more, not after the season he just had.
Colome was ordinary in 2019, posting a 4.08 FIP and 22% strikeout rate in 62 games. He’s still throwing hard, averaging 94.5 mph on his fastball, per PITCHf/x, and the hard cutter remains a plus offering.
He’s probably not closer material, but relievers rebound almost as often as they dive and the 31-year-old Colome is a candidate for the former in 2020.
Seattle needs reliable arms and veterans like Colome offer that.
Keone Kela, RHP — Pittsburgh Pirates
Projected Salary: $3M-$4M
The 26-year-old Kela isn’t going to be non-tendered, but he could be traded if the Pirates go in full sell mode — or even if they don’t.
Kela’s value to a club that doesn’t have a chance at a playoff berth — and that’s what the Pirates 2020 is looking like at the moment — is minimal. It may come down to trading Kela now versus in July when sometimes reliever prices skyrocket.
But at this price, it may motivate the cheap Pirates ownership enough to shed 5% of their payroll and get a decent return without risking the volatility of relief pitchers.
He throws 97 mph with a plus curveball.
Kela was solid in 2019 with a 3.52 FIP and nearly 28% strikeout rate. He tends to walk too many batters to be a true high-leverage option for a contending club, but he’s a quality middle innings reliever with experience, something of which the Mariners have zero after trading Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias in July.
Sam Dyson, RHP — Minnesota Twins
Projected Salary: $6M-$7M
Dyson, unlike Kela, could very well be non-tendered at the projected rate, despite being very good before the trade to Minnesota.
Dyson the free agent probably gets guaranteed dollars, but for a non-contender, he could get late-inning chances that boost his future free-agent value.
He’s closed before — 38 saves for Texas in 2016 and 14 with two clubs in 2017 — suggesting a club like Seattle could sign him with the idea he starts 2020 as the main option in the ninth.
Dyson sat 93-95 in 2019, throwing more cutters than ever (24%) and mixing in useful sliders and changeups.
Kevin Pillar, CF — San Francisco Giants
Projected Salary: $9.5M-$10M
Pillar, 31 in January, has been among the better defensive centerfielders in baseball his entire career, but has been merely playable offensively with a wRC+ of 86 in five seasons.
Pillar made $5.8 million in 2019, batting .259/.287/.432 with 21 homers in 161 games. He’s never walked a lot but he makes a lot of contact, can run some and remains a valuable glove, even if he’s not the plus defender he once was.
The Mariners start the offseason with an outfield group of Mitch Haniger, Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, Mallex Smith, Kyle Lewis, and Domingo Santana. Smith and Santana may end up dealt, which could open a spot for a veteran to solidify the group and avoid the club feeling forced on multiple young players who may need more time in the minors, namely Lewis, Bishop, and Fraley.
A veteran like Pillar, at the right price, makes a ton of sense for Seattle and there’s no chance the Giants tender him anywhere near the projected range, so he’ll be available via the free-agent route.
Maikel Franco, 3B/1B — Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Salary: $6M-$7M
Franco was once a top prospect in Philly, but owns a .249/.302/.431 triple-slash in four full seasons and parts of two others. He earned $5.2 million in 2019 and batted .234/.297/.409 with 17 home runs.
He came up a third baseman and is playable there, but athletically profiles well at first base, where he has limited experience — just 59 innings.
There may be untapped offensive potential here for the 27-year-old Franco, who is two years from free agency, and while it’s not a need position, Seattle could benefit from having such upside, depending largely on how they manage the roster spots of Omar Narvaez, Domingo Santana and Daniel Vogelbach this offseason.
The Phillies may prefer not to pay $6-7 million for a player that hasn’t cracked two wins in any season and was most recently worth -0.5 fWAR. Franco could be traded or non-tendered by the Phillies.
The Oakland Athletics have an intriguing decision on former ace reliever Blake Treinen (5.14 FIP, 22.2% K, 13.9% BB), who is projected at $7.5-8 million in 2020. While non-tendering isn’t going to happen, the A’s could tender and keep or dangle Treinen in trade talks, and see what happens…
The Phillies probably shouldn’t pay Cesar Hernandez (.279/.333/.408, 1.7 fWAR) $11-12 million considering how many holes are apparent on the roster, suggesting trade or even a non-tender scenario…
The Rays’ Tommy Pham was terrific in 2019 (3.3 fWAR, 21 HR) but there’s a chance he’s priced out of Tampa with a projected arbitration salary of $8-9 million. Decent chance for a trade this winter, so look out for contenders in need of quality centerfield play…
Detroit didn’t trade Matt Boyd in July, but could this winter. He’s set to make around $6-7 million in 2020, which isn’t a motivator for the Tigers, but he’s only getting pricier as time passes, and his control years are starting to dissipate. Expect his name in rumors this offseason…
Do the Kansas City Royals sit on Jorge Soler at $10-12 million or trade him while his value is higher than it may ever be again?
Same goes for the Twins and Eddie Rosario, who is set for about $9 million. But Minnesota could choose Rosario as one of a few extension candidates. Any sensible trade including Rosario returns the Twins now-help, perhaps mostly on the mound, to back the club’s 2019 division title…
Mookie Betts is going to be on the block, but the market for him may not be very large, considering his projected 2020 salary ($25-30 million) and pending free agency…
I’m curious to see what the Arizona Diamondbacks do with their arbitration cases this winter. Lefty Robbie Ray ($11M), outfielder David Peralta ($8.75 M) and infielder Jake Lamb ($5M). They cut some salary in the Zack Greinke deal and don’t have a ton on the books before their arbitration-eligibles are taken into consideration, but unless they see a route to 95 wins in 2020, it might make sense to shop all three.
Ray, in particular, is interesting since he’s both the most valuable one-year asset and a pending free agent…
Do the Blue Jays pay Ken Giles $8 million or more in 2020 as a non-contender attempting to build from within?