Why MLB's non-tender deadline means more than usual in 2020

Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

Salary arbitration in baseball is inherently boring. It's a technical process that amounts to two sides yelling over whether a player should get something like a 5% raise or a 7.5% raise. It takes up a lot of time for both agents and clubs, and the arbitrators are not baseball experts, so cases have to be argued with mostly just stats you'd find on the back of a baseball card rather than the deeper and more nuanced discussions you'd typically find in this space.

So when I was employed in a front office, I normally did everything I could to avoid working on arbitration cases, and as a writer, I essentially ignored the whole thing. But this year is different. I've already done rankings and assessments of every free agent and looked at what all 30 teams (AL and NL) should be doing this offseason. The next, hopefully last, big hurdle before the offseason really gets going is the Dec. 2 non-tender deadline. This is when clubs either release a player or agree to continue in the arbitration process with him.

Because league revenues and the free-agent market in general are down so much this year, arbitration salaries of solid players are closer than ever to free-agent prices, meaning that more players in their team-control years, which typically are heavily valued, instead will become free agents. And since we really don't know how down the market is, the tendering process will provide some clues. Some legitimately good players present tough decisions for their teams in a way they wouldn't have in a normal economic situation.