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Rays non-tender deadline: A look at the 7 arbitration eligible players

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The Rays have some deadline decisions to make.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The next important transaction date for Major League Baseball teams is the non-tender deadline that comes at 8:00 PM tonight.

The Tampa Bay Rays have already made two preliminary moves ahead of the deadline in removing Chaz Roe and Hunter Renfroe from the roster instead of committing to arbitration.

This year is expected to be an unusual offseason, and it’s hard to tell how the arbitration process is going to play out after a 60 game season. Counting stats usually matter the most when comparing players to each other, but nobody was able to receive typical stat totals in 2020.

For everything you need to know about the in’s and out’s of why today is important, check out DRaysBay’s Guide to Arbitration.

As with the guide, we will use the expected arbitration numbers from Matt Swartz’s model that is published at MLBTradeRumors.com when examining the financial decision ahead of the Rays.

Due to the uniqueness of the season and the uncertainty around how arbitration will work coming off the short season Swartz has used three methods to arrive at his projections.

Method 1: Applies model directly with actual statistics from this 60-game season

Method 2: Extrapolates all counting stats to would-be 162-game totals. One home run becomes 2.7 home runs.

Method 3: For non-first-time eligibles, finds the raise they’d get in a 162 game season, then gives them 37% of that raise

The Rays have seven remaining arbitration eligible players on the roster.

Jose Alvarado ($1.0MM/$1.1MM/$1.0MM)

Jose Alvarado has struggled staying healthy and throwing strikes the last year and a half, but the stuff is still electric. As the team’s former closer, he has valuable high leverage experience.

For a player with his upside a salary of around $1MM seems like a gamble the Rays should take. He’s not currently relied upon to be the team’s best reliever — injury kept him from making many appearances for the Rays in the post season — but he absolutely could be a key piece of the 2021 bullpen if everything clicks again.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays
Jose Alvarado (46) reacts after the final out of the seventh inning against the Houston Astros during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Yonny Chirinos ($1.6MM/$1.8MM/$1.6MM)

Yonny Chirinos has been a surprise contributor over his three Major League seasons. Along with Ryan Yarbrough he was brought in as a headliner behind an opener when the Rays needed to jumpstart his career after several injuries ravaged their rotation. Since then, he has provided what you expect out of a starter.

Unfortunately Chirinos underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this summer and will miss all of the 2021 season. With an expected arbitration award around $1.6MM this will be a sunk cost as he would likely repeat that amount coming into 2022 with two years of control remaining.

This situation is much like Alex Cobb who missed almost two full seasons before coming back for his last year of arbitration. MLBTR has listed him as a potential non-tender and this is something I never even considered going into the winter. It’s a paltry sum for a pitcher who has been above average when on the mound. I don’t expect the Rays would non-tender him, but absolutely could look to move him if money really is that tight.

Ji-Man Choi ($1.6MM/$2.1MM/$1.6MM)

Ji-Man Choi has stolen Rays fans’ hearts over the last two years. He’s surprised throughout his Rays career with a good glove, but he struggled a bit at the plate in 2020, hitting .230/.331/.410 and putting up a 103 wRC+ over 145 plate appearances. It’s a line that can be replaced fairly easily at first base, and the Rays have another major league ready 1B in the minors.

Nevertheless, at $1.5-2MM he is a good value. The big question would be do the Rays want to hand over first base to Nate Lowe who has waited for his opportunity. In 245 MLB plate appearances he has hit .251/.322/.447 and put up a 106 wRC+. It’s reasonable to think either one will put up a better line in 2021.

Lowe is cheaper if it really comes down to saving around a million dollars and there probably won’t be much if any drop off. It would hurt the depth more than anything, but Lowe deserves his shot somewhere... even if it’s not with the Rays.

It feels like with 40-man roster space at a premium it might be the time to make the decision and trade the option you don’t go with. Regardless of their decision I don’t expect Choi to be non-tendered.

Tyler Glasnow ($2.8MM/$5.1MM/$3.2MM)

Tyler Glasnow has been one of the better pitchers in the majors since being traded to the Rays in the Chris Archer deal. This will be Glasnow’s second trip through arbitration with two trips remaining as a Super Two eligible player. In 2020 he was awarded $2.05MM, so a raise to the $3MM range seems light. This will all depend how MLB will treat 2020 in arbitration.

Regardless of the amount this is a price the Rays will pay. Glasnow is a necessary part of the rotation and a clubhouse leader as the MLBPA player’s rep for the Rays.

Manuel Margot ($2.8MM/$3.6MM/$2.9MM)

Manuel Margot came over from the San Diego Padres late last offseason in the trade for Emilio Pagan. He hit .269/.327/.352 and put up a 92 wRC+ in 159 plate appearances. He played very good defense and was a very capable replacement for Kevin Kiermaier when he needed a day off in centerfield.

The raise is expected to be relatively small over his $2.475MM salary in 2020. The question is less “will the Rays continue to employ Margot in 2021” and more “will the Rays trade Kiermaier.” The team currently has three roster spots (including Brett Phillips) and something like $15 million dedicated to one position for 2021. Something’s gotta give.

Joey Wendle ($1.6MM/$2.7MM/$1.6MM)

Joey Wendle struggled in 2019 due to injuries, but in 2020 he hit .286/.342/.435 and put up a 116 wRC+. This was a line that was almost identical to his 2018 rookie season where he put up 3.8 fWAR in a full season.

On a healthy roster Wendle has been used in the regular season by the Rays as a utility player, mostly due to Brandon Lowe’s locking down Wendle’s natural position of second base, but when push came to shove, the Rays trusted Wendle to be their starter at third base throughout the World Series.

In other words, if he hits like 2018/2020 he is a starter on any team in baseball, and can play almost anywhere and should somebody be injured.

The Rays have incredible depth right now, so if they are looking to trim payroll they could look to trade Wendle and give the utility infield job to Taylor Walls, with Wander Franco the next man to come up if an injury occurs in the infield.

MLB: World Series-Tampa Bay Rays at Los Angeles Dodgers
Joey Wendle (18) throws to first base for an out during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Yarbrough ($2.2MM/$3.6MM/$2.2MM)

Ryan Yarbrough has the most interesting MLB arbitration case in a long time. Is he a starter or reliever? Finding comparables for him is very difficult.

The truth is he’s more a starter than reliever as he has averaged just under 4.5 innings per appearance. He’s not an innings eater, but that is starter and he should be compared to such as his peers. Yarbrough has put up an impressive 3.94 ERA/3.87 FIP/4.33 xFIP over 344.2 Major League innings. This puts him anywhere from 2% to 9% better than the average major league pitcher.

The Rays will tender a contract to Yarbrough, but how arbiters handle his usage will set some precedent. Arbiters aren’t baseball people, and generally only look at counting and rate stats, so this could get interesting if it goes to trial.