Tuesday night's non-tender deadline created 32 new free agents, as 17 teams released players who had been on their 40-man rosters. There's a fair amount of filler among those cuts, but there were some notable names, as well, including former Cy Young contenders, All-Stars and top prospects.
Atlanta Braves: Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, SPs
Beachy was a Cy Young candidate in 2012 and Medlen led the Braves in wins (15) and ERA+ (121) in 2013. Last March, both underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in their respective careers. A normal 12-month recovery puts both on schedule to return to the mound close to Opening Day, but Atlanta's decision to non-tender both speaks loudly about the team's optimism regarding that.
This doesn't mean, however, that the Braves have written them off. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's David O'Brien, the club tried to work out a deal with the arbitration-eligible Medlen that would have paid him $5.8 million in 2015 (matching his 2014 salary), but it wanted to include a “low-salary” club option for 2016. Medlen objected to the price and refused to sign.
Beachy, meanwhile, made just $1.45 million in 2014 and has two team-controlled seasons remaining. His situation recalls that of the Diamondbacks' Daniel Hudson. He had Tommy John surgery in July of 2012 and June of '13, was non-tendered by Arizona last December and then was re-signed to a split minor/major league contract with a $800,000 option for 2015. Hudson returned to the mound for the D-backs in September, and they exercised his option after the World Series. The Braves may attempt a similar reunion with Beachy. Indeed, per MLB.com's Mark Bowman, Atlanta plans to continue efforts to sign both players, though to do so the Braves will now have to compete with any other teams interested in taking a flier on Beachy or Medlen.
Boston Red Sox: Juan Francisco, 1B/3B
Francisco, who spent 2014 with the Blue Jays before being claimed off waivers by the Red Sox, is a 27-year-old with monster power but a lousy hitter and third baseman. His 34 home runs combined the past two years have been offset by a .224 batting average and 254 strikeouts in 230 games. He has potential but is getting to the point where his lack of production matters more.
Chicago Cubs: Wesley Wright, RP
Over the last four seasons, Wright has posted a 123 ERA+ in 226 relief appearances, but he has been sold once and non-tendered twice over that span, passing from the Astros to the Rays to the Cubs. His peripherals are pedestrian and he doesn't dominate his fellow lefties, but he's a solid middle-relief arm with a five-pitch repertoire (four-seamer, sinker, curve, slider, change). It's clear from his transaction history, however, that no team considers that worth $2 million via arbitration, which is what he is likely to get after making $1.425 million this past season.
The eighth pick in the 2008 draft, Beckham was in the White Sox' starting lineup the next year, but despite brief flashes, he never proved to be anything more than a place filler for Chicago. With his salary having climbed to $4.175 million this past season, the White Sox let the Angels have Beckham in August, and Los Angeles had no interest in paying him close to $5 million to back up David Freese and Howie Kendrick.
New York Yankees: Jose Campos, SP | Slade Heathcott, OF
Campos, who is just 22, was the other player New York acquired in the ill-fated Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda trade with Seattle in 2012 and was considered a prospect with significant upside. Heathcott was the Yankees' top draft pick in 2009 and was rated the game's 63rd best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2013 season. Both now find themselves free agents despite not reaching Triple A, never mind the majors. Campos, who missed most of 2012 due to an elbow injury, had Tommy John surgery in late April of this year. Heathcott, who averaged just 74 games played from 2010-13, appeared in only nine games in 2014 due to a pair of surgeries on his right knee.
That both were non-tendered actually speaks to New York's desire to retain both. Clearly, the team didn't want to devote a 40-man roster space to either, and their injuries make them poor candidates for the Rule 5 draft, which will take place next Thursday. Both would have had to pass through waivers to be outrighted off the roster, however. By non-tendering them, the Yankees can now attempt to re-sign them to minor league deals without exposing them to waivers.
Oakland A's: Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF
Blanks, 28, has more all-around upside as a hitter, but he is a bad outfielder who can't stay healthy. He's played just 260 games in his six seasons and posted a meager .684 OPS in 2013, when he played a career-high 88 games. Like Francisco, his potential makes him tempting, but he's old enough and experienced enough that teams won't wait around forever for him to turn it into consistent production.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gaby Sanchez, 1B
Sanchez, an All-Star in 2011, was designated for assignment when the Pirates acquired Sean Rodriguez from the Rays. With his non-tendering, Pittsburgh has discarded both halves of its first-base platoon from this past season, having previously sold Ike Davis to the Athletics. That all fits with the Pirates' plan to make Pedro Alvarez their everyday first baseman, but the righthanded Sanchez's dismissal is still a surprise, as he would have been a valuable platoon partner for Alvarez, who is a career .196/.267/.321 hitter against lefties.
San Diego Padres: Everth Cabrera, SS
The National League leader in stolen bases in 2012 and an All-Star in 2013, the slick-fielding Cabrera was suspended that season for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. He then hit .232/.272/.300 in 2014, missing most of the second half due to a hamstring injury. While on the disabled list in early September, Cabrera was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana and charged with possession of marijuana and resisting arrest. His arraignment is scheduled for Monday and he faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison.
Texas Rangers: Alexi Ogando, SP/RP
Ogando posted a 139 ERA+ in his first four major league seasons while ping-ponging between the Rangers' bullpen and rotation, and he made the All-Star team in 2011 as a starter. However, he is now 31, and his arm hasn't been right since May 2013, save for a brief respite that September. In 2014, Ogando posted a 6.84 ERA with 15 walks against 22 strikeouts before spraining the UCL in his right elbow and missing the rest of the season. He never had Tommy John surgery, but he hasn't pitched since early June and declined to pitch in winter ball, which did little to quell concerns about his health. Given that he made $2.6 million last year and was heading toward arbitration for a second time, it's no surprise that the Rangers had little desire to gamble on his successful return.
Taken on their own, these moves aren't surprising. Dirks, who was supposed to start in leftfield for the Tigers in 2014, had back surgery in March and missed the entire season save for 40 minor league plate appearances. Mayberry, who turns 31 later this month, hit .233/.297/.398 over the last three years after what looked like a breakout age-27 campaign in 2011. Smoak, the 11th pick in the 2008 draft and the centerpiece of the 2010 trade that sent Cliff Lee from Seattle to Texas, followed up his best season in 2013 by hitting .202/.276/.339 and was arbitration eligible for the second time coming off a $2.8 million salary.
Still, without these three, Toronto has significantly thinned its options in leftfield, first base and designated hitter. It's true that the Blue Jays need to do far better than these three to compete in 2015, even after signing catcher Russell Martin and trading for third baseman Josh Donaldson, and that by non-tendering the trio, they have saved something close to $7 million that can be better used to try to lure leftfielder Melky Cabrera back or to fill another gap. Yet as things stand, the only first baseman other than Edwin Encarnacion on the Jays' 40-man roster is 29-year-old career minor leaguer Matt Hague, and the only outfielders other than Jose Bautista are rookie Dalton Pompey and non-prospect Kevin Pillar. As aggressive as Toronto has been this offseason, it has far more work to do.
UPDATE: The Blue Jays wasted no time in bringing Smoak back, signing him to a one-year, $1 million deal on Wednesday. That represents a savings of roughly $2 million for Toronto versus going to arbitration with Smoak.