Among his many duties working at Scottsdale Stadium during the Arizona Fall League, my friend Chuck Boyer is responsible for the music played throughout the venue after batting practice and when fans are in the stands. Maybe it’s because I love his taste in music, but Chuck always plays Roy Rogers “Happy Trails To You” and the Three Degrees “When Will I See You Again?” as fans leave the park. Both are apropos and both are terrific. They stay in my head for the entire drive home.
Well, those songs come to mind when I think of what could be called Black Friday for baseball players on the brink of a big payday. Back on November 30, clubs had to decide the wisdom of tendering contracts to players eligible for arbitration or players with expiring contracts.
When the music stopped playing at 8PM Eastern Time November 30, some very good players could probably be humming “When Will I See You Again?” They all became free agents. Without a contract in hand, each of those players were free to sign wherever they wished.
But there are a few wrinkles attached to the November 30 date. By that date, each club had to solidify their 40-man roster to avoid losing a player in the Rule 5 Draft. And that means that it is difficult for a non-tendered player to hook on to a new club. Most clubs protect their players on the 40-man for a reason. And keep in mind, the non-tendered players won’t be coming via trade where a potential 40-man roster player can be moved to a new team in a deal.
A non-tendered player must either a) find a team with less than 40 players on their 40-man roster, or b) convince a team that another player should be dropped from the 40-man to fit him in that slot or c) wait until trades are made and a spot on a 40-man becomes available, or d) sign a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training and knock the socks off the front office. Frankly, d above happens often.
And remember, these players will go to arbitration with their new club if they are signed. So the new club will be faced with paying the bill while the old club shows the player the door without much of a parting gift.
These are not bad baseball players. These players are far from having lost all their ability or are so injured or infirm they couldn’t be a boost to many clubs. But in the evaluation of each of their former teams, the player was not worthy of dedicated contract money for the 2019 season. I think smart club executives will find some good players among those listed below.
In most cases, the players not offered a contract had regressed in the 2018 season. It was a common theme in the decision making process.
“HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU”
HT: 6-0 WT: 160 pounds Age: 28
What team wouldn’t want a player with the speed of Billy Hamilton? What team wouldn’t want a player with the defensive capability to play center field with the skill of Billy Hamilton? What team? The Cincinnati Reds, that’s what team. But Hamilton was entering his third year of arbitration eligibility and he was getting expensive. And frankly, his .299 on-base percentage during the past two seasons told a very negative tale. He just didn’t get on base enough to use his blazing 30 plus steals per year speed. In fact, Hamilton’s stolen bases dropped from 59 to 34 from 2017 to 2018. Hamilton left the Reds with a batting average of .245 in six seasons of play. This past year he hit .236. So with a team payroll estimated to have been $104MM in 2018, the Reds chose not to tender Hamilton a contract.
HT: 6-4 WT: 240 pounds Age: 27
Remember when pundits were calling Avisail Garcia “Young Miggy?” I do. He had facial resemblance to Miguel Cabrera and lots of folks felt he would develop the power and overall game similar to that of Cabrera. Well, seven years in to a major league career, Garcia got his walking papers from the almost reconstructed Chicago White Sox. He fell from a .330 batting average in 2017 to .236 this past season. He went from 561 plate appearances to 385. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) changed from a fine 4.6 to 0.3. And so, the White Sox are moving on without Garcia. In a What Have You Done For Me Lately environment when a player reaches arbitration, the team has to exercise their best judgment. The White Sox are coming off a season with an estimated $61.5MM payroll. Cabrera is entering his 3rd year of arbitration, and he didn’t fit what they want to do. What is his value? He hit free agency in 2020 unless a club signs him to a long-term deal.
HT: 6-1 WT: 225 pounds Age: 27
Entering his third year of arbitration eligibility, Schoop was traded to the Brewers in 2018 for infielder Jean Carmona, pitcher Luis Ortiz and infielder Jonathan Villar. It was a fairly steep market price to pay for a former 2017 All-Star second baseman. However, Schoop’s slip was already showing while he was with the Orioles. He fell even further into the abyss with Milwaukee. He hit .246/4/21 for the Brewers after the July trade. His composite 2018 included 21 home runs, down from 32 the previous year. He drove in 105 runs for the Orioles in 2017 and a total of 61 last year. So, adios Jonathan Schoop. The Brewers are moving on without Mr. Schoop as the team prepares for another postseason appearance.
HT: 6-3 WT: 225 pounds Age: 28
In what many have called one of the most lopsided and worst trades in recent major league history, the Arizona Diamondbacks traded No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson, highly rated pitcher Aaron Blair and up and coming outfielder Ender Inciarte to the Atlanta Braves in December, 2018. The return was starting pitcher Shelby Miller and reliever Gabe Speier. Miller was a disaster, even before he required Tommy John surgery. When he returned from a year off in rehab, Miller hurt his arm and elbow once again. Now, the Diamondbacks have nothing to show for the deal. Inciarte and Swanson are regular members of the Braves 25-man roster. Pitching for Arizona in 2016, Miller went 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. Last year, before getting hurt again Miller had a record of 0-4 with a 10.69 ERA and 2.00 WHIP. Well, Miller Time in Arizona has come to an end. But the trade will be discussed for years. Entering his third year of arbitration, Miller will have to prove his worth going forward.
HT: 6-3 WT: 265 pounds Age: 30
Bour doesn’t have the track record in major league service time as many of the players set free this past November. In fact, he has only parts of five years of service and is entering his 2nd year of arbitration. But Bour caught a very bad break in the new ownership Miami Marlins salary dump in 2018. Bour was traded to Philadelphia for pitcher McKenzie Mills. That would be the last team that needed a big power hitter. They also had Rhys Hoskins and signed Carlos Santana during the offseason. They had and have no need for Bour. So now, he hits the open market. In 2017 he hit 25 home runs and drove in 83 for Miami. Last year, in a limited 374 plate appearances for Miami (374) and Philadelphia (54) Bour hit 20 homers. He drove in 59 runs. Isn’t there a club out there that can use a left-handed power hitting first baseman or designated hitter? I think there are several.
HT: 6-2 WT: 202 pounds Age: 33
The Oakland Athletics have so much pitching they just let Mike Fiers become a free agent. Fiers compiled a 12-8 record with a composite 3.56 ERA and 1.180 WHIP pitching for the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics. We’re really not talking the Astros and Yankees here. We’re talking the Tigers and Athletics. I think his numbers were pretty good. At least good enough to pitch in the rotation for the Athletics, who the last time I looked were in the hunt for…wait for it…pitching. True, Fiers is 33, but he is a savvy veteran still only entering his third year of arbitration. He isn’t a big strikeout pitcher and guys do put the ball in play against him, but he’s certainly credible in a big park like the one in Oakland. But now Mike Fiers is free to contract his service with a team in need of pitching that will be willing to accept what he offers.
HT: 6-3 WT: 225 pounds Age: 28
James McCann was a 2nd round pick of the Tigers in 2008. Not too long ago. He is entering his 2nd year of salary arbitration. And I’m a bit surprised the Tigers are moving on from him with two more years of control. McCann has hit .240 in his five seasons with Detroit. Last year he hit .220, a drop from .253 in 2017. He hit eight home runs, down five from the previous year. However, he must have done something right, as McCann’s plate appearances increased from 391 in 2017 to 457 in 2018. It would seem the Tigers will get younger and less expensive with the possibility of playing Grayson Greiner or John Hicks behind the plate. They saw need or room for McCann. But isn’t catching supposed to be a difficult position to fill these days? Wouldn’t some club be interested in trading for a seasoned catcher like McCann with control left? Apparently not.
HT: 6-2 WT: 205 pounds Age: 30
Wasn’t it the Arizona Diamondbacks brass who were so elated with the job being done by Brad Boxberger early last season? Yes, if memory serves me right, Boxberger was viewed by many as a terrific and shrewd acquisition by Arizona for pitcher Curtis Taylor from Tampa Bay in November, 2017. And Boxberger delivered. For a couple months. And then hit a wall. And he couldn’t get over the wall. And the Diamondbacks went from being in the hunt for a 2018 postseason berth to a time of major soul searching about the direction of the club from now moving forward. What do they do with a roster of aging and expensive players who are aging more and getting more expensive. Well, lopping off Boxberger, Chris Owings and Shelby Miller helped lighten the payroll burden for next year. Boxberger went from a 2.25 ERA in April, a 1.13 ERA in May to a 11.37 ERA in September. That says it all, doesn’t it? He saved 24 games in the first half of the season and eight in the second half. That says even more.
HT: 6-3 WT: 230 pounds Age: 27
Matt Davidson went from being a 1st round 2009 draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks to a 2013 trade to the Chicago White Sox to being granted his free agency by the White Sox this past November 30. He is just another in the Diamondbacks long line of failed or very early round draft picks no longer on the club or even in viable conversations. But this time it was the Chicago White Sox who said so long. Davidson has never proven to be a major league quality day in and day out third baseman. And Jose Abreu is still a fixture at first base for the South side White Sox. I would guess they could have used him as a permanent designated hitter, but they have decided to move on. Davidson is not even eligible for arbitration. That won’t happen until 2020, with free agency in 2023. So clubs will gain lots of control with the big right-handed hitter with a .226 career batting average in parts of four seasons. Last year he hit .228/20/62 in his 496 plate appearances. He hit six fewer homers in 53 more plate appearances. He also drove in six less runs.
HT: 6-3 WT: 205 Age: 27
Wilmer Flores was the epitome of a “team player” for the Mets. He played wherever they had a hole to fill. But no, he isn’t Robinson Cano. He was expendable going into his third season of arbitration eligibility for a club under new baseball operations management. Flores has a career .262 batting average in his six Mets seasons. That isn’t too shabby for a player that can give a team position flexibility anywhere in the infield. He hit 11 homers last year, down from his 18 the year before, a career best. But make no mistake-he really is a utility player, and likely not seen as worthy of the money he could make in arbitration. Given a large turnover for the Mets this offseason, resources are probably best spent elsewhere. And Flores is the type of player that just may have to prove himself with a minor league deal.
HT: 5-10 WT: 185 pounds Age: 27
Owings is yet another Arizona Diamondbacks player non-tendered a contract for 2019. Owings is a very versatile player, but the Dbacks have chosen to move on from offering him a contract in his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent in 2020.
A former 1st round draft pick in 2009, Owings is not going to change a franchise. He is, however, a player that can fill in for weeks at a time at several positions as a very solid utility player.
Owings has parts of six years as a major league player. He carries a .250 average into free agency. Without much power, Owings has a total of only 31 career home runs in 2106 plate appearances, all with Arizona.
When the Diamondbacks were suffering tremendous injuries in the outfield, Owings filled in admirably, playing all thee outfield positions well enough to avoid being a liability for the club.
He has done that the past two seasons, in addition to playing second base and third base as needed.
This past year likely sealed the fate of Chris Owings as he hit only .206 for Arizona, a drop in batting average from his .268 the year before in 2017. He dropped from 12 to four home runs. But he still stole 11 bases, only one less than the previous season.
*Update: Chris Owings has found a new home, as he has signed with the Kansas City Royals
Coming next Sunday: my analysis of several big baseball trades and how the Seattle Mariners are changing their entire landscape.
Follow me on Twitter from the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas beginning next Sunday, December 9, the same day the next edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD will post on this site..