Last night gave us the latest set of free agent transactions, as teams reached the deadline to tender 2012 contracts to players -- or not, particularly in the case of a few veteran players eligible for arbitration. The decision to tender or not was also responsible for several deadline deals, notably the Pirates’ acquisition of Casey McGehee from the Brewers for Jose Veras, but also the Rays’ addition of swingman Burke Badenhop from the Marlins for minor-league catcher Jake Jefferies.
By this mechanism of roster manipulation, teams forgo the opportunity to go to arbitration with a player, skipping the almost automatic pay raise that involves, while retaining the latitude to sign him should they choose to do so. A total of 29 players were non-tendered by 20 different teams, and included some modest surprises as well as some long overdue severances.
The biggest surprises, at least as far as the people you’ve heard of? By that standard, perhaps the three most significant players who just became free agents are Diamondbacks starter Joe Saunders and Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo -- both former All-Stars -- as well as Orioles DH Luke Scott. Scott and Kuo both spent considerable chunks of 2011 on the DL, which helps explain their availability.
Scott will be trying to come back from shoulder surgery (and LASIK), a combination that with his age (34 next season) made him an expensive risk to run. At the same time, he averaged 25 homers per year from 2008-10, and his kind of power is sure to earn him an offer, perhaps one crafted to reward him for being healthy enough and productive enough to be a star DH again.
Kuo has lost so much time to injury on his career that perhaps the only relief he got was that his 2011 problems didn’t involve elbow issues, which have shelved him three times. Instead, he had to fend off back woes before spending a good chunk of the year with anxiety-related issues.
More pragmatically, Saunders’ job security probably evaporated as a result of the Diamondbacks’ deal last week to land Trevor Cahill from the Athletics. The D-backs understandably decided to forgo seeing the arbitrator give him a raise beyond $5.5 million, but his chances of landing a deal for that kind of money on the market are pretty good. A finesse lefty in a hitters’ park, Saunders posted a 4.42 ERA in Phoenix against his 3.14 ERA on the road (including 12 quality starts in 18 road turns). As a result, he might consider his newfound freedom a blessing, because his four consecutive seasons with 30 or more starts will make him attractive as somebody’s innings-eater. However, he’s a fly-ball guy whose lack of plus stuff involves cutting things fairly fine around home plate, an approach that won’t work well everywhere.
The rest of the pool of new free agents includes a number of still-valuable guys similarly let go for essentially economic reasons balanced against their basic limitations: Cardinals infielder Ryan Theriot and Giants infielder Jeff Keppinger can still help teams, but they don’t play short especially well and they don’t have power, which is why they’re here. Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs can be a platoon asset and a fine fourth outfielder, but a bad 2011 made paying him more than $2 million an expensive proposition. A pair of Florida swingmen -- Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine and the Marlins’ Clay Hensley -- have their uses, but Hensley’s better out of the pen.
A full list of this winter’s non-tenders:
Florida Marlins (1): Swingman Clay Hensley
Los Angeles Dodgers (1): Lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo
St. Louis Cardinals (1): Middle infielder Ryan Theriot
Tampa Bay Rays (1): Swingman Andrew Sonnanstine
Texas Rangers (1): Right-hander Fabio Castillo
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.