Teams had to decide whether or not to tender their pre-free agency players with contracts Monday night. The non-tendered players become free agents, keeping their service time and years of team control, but switching locations once someone signs them up.
This is essentially a new injection of talent into the free agent pool. While the abilities of many non-tendered players are not quite at the level of those who managed to reach free agency on their own, there are some worth looking into who could be intriguing pickups for multiple teams.
Hong-Chih Kuo: Kuo is a reliever -- and a nasty one, at that -- but constant injuries derailed his 2011 season. The Dodgers non-tendered him mostly due to those constant injuries and the fact he was heading into his final year of arbitration. If they want to re-sign him, they can do so cheaper than if he had to go through arb, since they can negotiate with him and walk away if they are unsatisfied.
Kuo has struck out nearly 11 batters per nine since 2008, the season that immediately followed an elbow surgery. He also has a sub-3.00 ERA in that stretch, and has been one of the most dominant lefties in the game for years. Those are all reasons for a new team to take a chance on him, but whoever signs him also has to be aware that he is coming off of yet another elbow surgery (his fifth), dealt with back trouble, and lost all semblance of control on the mound as he struggled with anxiety issues in 2011. The ceiling for an awesome performance is there, but his floor is very low, thanks to physical problems.
Luke Scott: This outfielder had a huge 2010 campaign for the Orioles, smacking 29 homers and hitting .284/.368/.535 overall. He was never bad before that, but had rarely been great at the plate, either. The 2011 season reversed that trend, as he was both awful and injury-plagued: Scott's OPS+ dropped from 144 to 92, and he dealt with a groin strain, leg soreness, back spasms, a knee contusion, off-season LASIK surgery, and a partially torn labrum. The labrum was the worst of these, as it occurred in June, costing him three days, and then eventually turned into a trip to the 60-day DL in late July.
If healthy, Scott is useful, especially to an AL team who could use him as the DH. He can play the field, but he's just not very good at it. Then again, an NL team could be well-served signing up someone like the 34-year-old Scott on a one-year deal for a few million, rather than do something like commit $30 million to the 33-year-old Michael Cuddyer over three years. The losers of that Cuddyer sweepstakes should take note: Scott has averaged 1.8 rWAR from 2006 through 2011, and Cuddyer 1.6 in the same stretch. Subtract an injury-plagued campaign from the average of both players, and it's still 2.2 to 1.8 in Scott's favor.
Joe Saunders: Look, I know it's easy to tease Joe Saunders. As Grant Brisbee pointed out earlier, the whole win percentage thing makes him such a 1990s kind of pitcher, where kids and Murray Chass might want his baseball card because of his win percentage. But the desire to make sure everyone knows Saunders isn't as good as his win percentage and win totals make him appear to be has also diminished the value of what he actually can do.
Saunders has averaged 32 starts and 200 innings a year since he became a full-time starting pitcher in 2008. He owns a 104 ERA+ in that stretch, and sits at 103 for his career. His career FIP is 4.65, yes, but after a point, reality starts to mean more than what should have been. Matt Cain is an example of a pitcher who FIP can't figure out. Ricky Nolasco is an example in the other direction. Saunders is neither of those pitchers in terms of quality, but at a low cost, in front of a defense that can handle the many fieldable balls he will put in play, Saunders will out-pitch his FIP once again.
He won't do it on his own, but if he can do it with an assist from the other eight guys on the field for 200 innings, then he has earned his paycheck, assuming that paycheck isn't the $7-8 million he would have received in arbitration.
The Others: Rich Hill is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but has converted to relief since the last time he was available on the market. He threw just 12 innings for Boston before his elbow gave out, but struck out 11.3 per nine in that stretch, without allowing a run.
Jeff Keppinger isn't great at anything in particular, but he generally hits well enough for a utility infielder, and does just enough on defense to keep that trend alive. You could do a lot worse than Keppinger in terms of a bench infielder, and the Giants mostly non-tendered him because they already have Mike Fontenot.