The deadline for tendering contracts to players on the 40 man roster who are not currently under contract is tomorrow — Wednesday, December 2, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. Central time. Players who are not tendered contracts by that date become free agents.
The so-called “non-tender deadline” results in a second group of players hitting the free agent market, along with those whose contracts expired after the 2020 season and who have at least the six years accrued service time* necessary to qualify for free agency. The players who are non-tendered are usually (though not always) players who are due to potentially receive more in arbitration than their club is willing to pay.
* There are also generally a few players who have less than six years service time, but whose contacts provide that they will become free agents when their existing contracts expire. Those are older players who sign with a U.S. team from overseas — that was the case with Chris Martin and Tony Barnette, for example, with the Rangers. Yoenis Cespedes, to use another example, signed a four year deal when he came to the U.S. in 2012, which allowed him to become a free agent after 2015.
The Rangers have four players on the 40 man roster who are currently arbitration-eligible: Joey Gallo, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Rafael Montero and Danny Santana. Gallo, IKF, and Montero will be tendered contracts, barring something extraordinary.
Santana, entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, would seem to be likely to be non-tendered. He underwent elbow surgery that he will not be ready to return from until at least a month or two into the 2021 season, and given his poor 2020 season, his generally spotty track record, and his lack of control beyond 2021, I suspect the Rangers feel they can allocate the roughly $4 million he would be looking at through arbitration in a more productive manner.
That said, it isn’t just Santana who the Rangers could non-tender tomorrow. Players who are not arbitration-eligible are also sometimes non-tendered — the Rangers non-tendered Ian Gibaut and Wei-Chieh Huang last December, for example. In 2018, the Rangers non-tendered Matt Bush, Ricky Rodriguez, Adrian Sampson and Zac Curtis, all of whom were pre-arbitration players.
The reason for non-tendering pre-arbitration players, rather than waiving them, is to avoid risking another team claiming that player on waivers. It has become common in recent years for teams to claim a player on waivers in the offseason for the purpose of trying to run that player through waivers again, sometimes the very next day. If the player then clears waivers, he can be outrighted to the minors,* thus continuing to be that team’s property while no longer being on the 40 man roster.
* A player who has never been outrighted and has less than five years of service time cannot reject an outright assignment, and thus has no choice in the matter. A player who has been outrighted before, or who has at least five years of service time, has the option of accepting or rejecting an outright assignment. The players who end up on the waiver wire multiple times in an offseason because times are trying to sneak them through waivers and outright them generally will be in the former category.
So, for example, last year, the Rangers wanted to keep Gibaut and Huang in the system, but didn’t want to use a 40 man roster spot on them, and didn’t want to risk either being claimed by another team. So they non-tendered the players in order to be able to re-sign them to a minor league deal. The risk is that the player ends up signing with another team, of course, but I believe that there are generally discussions with the player and his agent prior to a non-tender decision about the parameters of what the minor league deal would look like. For a player, I suspect it is preferable to lock in a minor league deal with a particular team, rather than to bounce around on the waiver wire until some random club succeeds in outrighting you.
The Rangers’ 40 man roster currently stands at 39, and thus I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few players non-tendered tomorrow, and then re-signed later this month. Art Warren and Jimmy Herget could be candidates to be non-tendered — Warren was a waiver claim earlier in the offseason, while Herget was claimed last offseason on waivers. Warren would seem more likely to be non-tendered than Herget, who has been talked about by the beat guys as being seen as a potential contributor to the 2021 bullpen. Outfielder Adolis Garcia and catcher Aramis Garcia are both possible non-tender candidates, as well, though Adolis would seem more likely to go than Aramis.
The one fairly big name that I am not expecting to see non-tendered, but that I also wouldn’t be shocked to see get non-tendered, is Brock Burke. Burke missed all of 2020 due to shoulder surgery, and the last report was that he was doing a throwing program in Instructionals. He was seen as a potential major league rotation option for 2020 prior to his injury, but he could be someone who the Rangers look to cut a deal with, non-tendering him and then signing him to a (relatively speaking) lucrative minor league deal to allow him to stay in the organization and keep rehabbing, while not occupying a 40 man roster spot.