Today is the MLB Non-Tender Deadline: Who Might Become a Free Agent, Cubs Bubble Decisions, More

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Today is the MLB Non-Tender Deadline: Who Might Become a Free Agent, Cubs Bubble Decisions, More

Chicago Cubs

Among the many offseason dates and deadlines, the Non-Tender Deadline is a big one. By 7pm CT today, teams must offer – or not – contracts for 2023 to the player under team control who aren’t already signed for next year. That means players who have less than six full seasons of service time (at which point they would’ve become a free agent), and who didn’t sign extensions or free agent deals, are all on the keeping or chopping block today.

In practical effect, the vast majority of such players will be tendered a contract today. Only players who are on the bubble of a team’s roster decisions, and/or players who project to make far more in arbitration than they are worth to their current team, will be cut – aka, ‘non-tendered.’

That will, of course, change the free agent landscape a decent bit, which is part of the reason we haven’t yet seen a flurry of signings or trades – every year, the Non-Tender Deadline seems to be a dividing line between “trickle of activity” and “OK, finally, let’s do this thing.” Sure, some moves bear no relationship to whoever might be non-tendered today (for example, the trade we saw the Cubs make earlier this week), but the cascading effects mean that it can take only one Cody Bellinger to hold up a lot of other possible moves out there. And Bellinger isn’t even a superstar anymore!

Speaking of which, Bellinger is among a number of “big name” guys who’ve struggled the last couple years, and thus are seriously at risk for a non-tender. Their arbitration price tags – which more or less always climb no matter what – have outpace their productivity. Others in that group who could become of plausible (complementary?) interest to the Cubs: first baseman Luke Voit, first baseman Dominic Smith, catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Brian Anderson, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, righty Alex Reyes, righty Adrian Houser, righty Brad Keller, righty Emilio Pagan, and many more. You’re not going to find a superstar among the non-tendered today, because obviously. But useful and/or interesting players? Absolutely.

Bellinger is at the top of that list for me, for reasons we’ve discussed. The Dodgers certainly haven’t made it clear publicly that they intend to tender Bellinger, who could make over $18 million in his final year of arbitration. My guess is they’ve been working those phones, hoping a team would trade for him before they have to make a decision today.

Meanwhile, for the Cubs, the possible non-tenders today are less about projected arbitration price tags, and more about simple roster math. At 38 players, the Cubs still have a very crowded 40-man roster, with many additions needed from here.

The bubble guys to keep an eye on today (either for a last-minute trade or a non-tender) include righty Mark Leiter Jr., lefty Brailyn Marquez (whom I mention only because we know zero about whether he can actually still physical pitch), righty Ethan Roberts, righty Manny Rodriguez, righty Michael Rucker, righty Erich Uelmen, righty Rowan Wick, utility man Zach McKinstry, first baseman Alfonso Rivas, and outfielder Rafael Ortega.

Think including some of those names is crazy? Maybe so – I think most are tendered today – but several of them are going to have to be moved off the 40-man roster at some point this offseason, unless the Cubs are going to make virtually no additions in free agency (that’s not going to happen). This is what a roster crunch looks like. Hard decisions on days like today.

An important logistical note today for some of those bubble decisions: as Bryan has explained, players who are non-tendered can be re-signed by their teams right away (on a different contract – say, a pricey minor league deal, for example), and could theoretically go back on the 40-man roster whenever. But players who were let go before the non-tender deadline cannot go back on the 40-man until May 15. So, then, for the guys you know are going to get bounced BUT you still really like, holding them on the 40-man until the Non-Tender Deadline – today – can provide a little more flexibility down the road. Hopefully that means if we see a guy non-tendered today, the Cubs already have a plan in place for a re-signing.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.