5 Non-Tendered MLB Players Who Could Be Diamonds in the Rough in 2014
Major League Baseball's non-tender deadline day is always an interesting experience for fans, media and analysts.
On one hand, the majority of players on the bubble of major league rosters are flawed. Whether due to injury, dips in performance or salary concerns, All-Star caliber players rarely are left dangling in the hours leading up to the tender deadline.
Yet, solid contributors do slip through the cracks. Last winter, Brian Wilson, Mark Reynolds and Nate Schierholtz all were released into the open market during this process.
With many of the tenders and non-tenders in the books, here is a look at five players who could be diamonds in the rough on the open market.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com or Fangraphs.com
According to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, Daniel Bard has been non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs just months after the team acquired his rights from the Boston Red Sox.
Years after bursting on the scene as a potentially dominant power arm, the 28-year-old pitcher is a free agent and available to any team willing to take a chance on his talent.
Yes, despite his awful results from 2012 and 2013 (6.27 ERA in 60.1 IP), there is talent in Bard. In fact, from 2009-11, there was enough ability to post the eighth-best K/9 rate (9.73) of any reliever in baseball. That figure placed him above the likes of Luke Gregerson, Edward Mujica and Ryan Madson. During those years, that was select company among reliable bullpen arms.
After a failed experiment as a starter in Boston, Bard can represent a reclamation project for any front office willing to take the chance on the next phase of his career.
As Bleacher Report's Adam Wells pointed out on Twitter, Tommy Hanson's rejection by the Los Angeles Angels is bitter simply because of their desperation for starting pitching. If the team believed there was any upside left in his once-promising arm, Hanson wouldn't be out of a job right now.
Yet, perspective is needed for the former young Atlanta Braves star. Rarely does the Major League Baseball free-agent market feature a 27-year-old starter with such an outstanding run of success when he is between 22 and 24 years old.
Just three years ago, Hanson was a star in the making. Through his first 77 career starts for the Braves while he was between 22 and 24 years old, Hanson's 120 ERA+ was better than all but 19 starters over the last 30 years.
Some names below Hanson on that list of young, dominant arms were Mat Latos, Mark Mulder, CC Sabathia, Dwight Gooden, John Smoltz and Javier Vazquez.
If a pitching guru can convince a front office to take a chance on resurrecting that Tommy Hanson, a diamond in the rough could emerge.
From his offseason job as a cell phone salesman to the 2011 Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award, relief pitcher John Axford is far from conventional.
That's why it shouldn't have come as a big surprise when he pitched well down the stretch for the National League champs in St. Louis. In fact, his performance, although not dominant enough to justify what St. Louis would have had to pay him in arbitration, could be worthy of a two-year deal on the open market, per Charlie Wilmoth of MLB Trade Rumors.
As Wilmoth accurately points out, that type of contract is rare for non-tendered players, but Axford, in many ways, is an outlier.
Issues with his command and control in Milwaukee ultimately led to Francisco Rodriguez usurping Axford as the Brewers closer, but many teams may attempt to sign the 30-year-old strikeout artist.
With a career mark of 10.8 K/9, any team in need of bullpen help should make a call to investigate what it would take to bring Axford aboard.
When healthy, Andrew Bailey has proven to be one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.
However, due to lingering issues of his health, including a shoulder injury that ended his 2013 season in Boston, the Red Sox have chosen not to tender a contract to the 29-year-old reliever, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.
Although his injuries can cloud any evaluation process of Bailey, don't forget what kind of pitcher he has been for Oakland and Boston since 2009. Since Bailey debuted as a 25-year-old closer with the 2009 Athletics, few relievers in baseball have matched his adjusted ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In fact, over that span, only 10 relievers in the majors have posted a better ERA+ while profiling as command artists like Bailey. Among the pitchers below him on that list: Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria and J.J. Putz.
If Bailey headed into the open market with a clean bill of health, his production would garner a lucrative long-term deal.
Now, he'll have to settle for becoming one of the non-tender diamond-in-the-rough candidates.
According to Red Sox bench coach Tony Lovullo, Ryan Kalish once had the potential to be one of the most dominant players in baseball.
Lovullo told WEEI.com's Alex Speier in the winter of 2011 that the organization's patience with Kalish would pay off in a big way.
He’s going to be an impact big leaguer for many years, and has the potential to be a 10-year All-Star. I said it and I stand by it. I believe in Ryan Kalish because of his heart and his head. He has the mind of a champion. He goes out there and competes on a different level than anybody I’ve ever managed.
As the former manager of the PawSox, Lovullo had a first-hand look at an all-around rising star. Two years later, the Red Sox have non-tendered the oft-injured outfielder.
Due to his injuries and medical setbacks, including a cervical fusion in August per ESPN Boston, the 25-year-old outfielder is far from the sure thing he looked like in 2010 and 2011.
Still, despite his injury concerns and non-tender status, Kalish is still young enough to find his way. Even if his ceiling is significantly lower than what Lovullo expected two years ago, a smart front office can find a contributor for a small sum.
Agree? Disagree? Which non-tendered players will become contributors in 2014?