Major League Baseball’s free-agent pool became deeper Friday night with roughly 60 big leaguers not being tendered a 2024 contract by their respective clubs.
Most were facing arbitration, and their teams didn’t want to pay salary hikes for players who were injured, coming off down years or were out of minor-league options next season.
Many of these players are on the big-league fringes – former prospects splitting time between Triple A and the majors or veterans losing grip of their careers.
Still, it’s possible some make an All-Star team in the future, because that’s how the uncertain world of MLB player evaluation works. What is one team’s non-tender castoff is another club’s diamond in the rough.
Most interesting non-tendered players
Here are the 10 most intriguing players to lose their jobs in the last week.
RHP Brandon Woodruff
He’s the non-tender headliner. Woodruff, 30, is a legit ace. In a different situation, he’d be one of the top five free agents in this class. But Woodruff, who has a career 3.10 ERA, had shoulder surgery in October and is expected to miss all of 2024. He would have made $12 million or more in arbitration and would have been a free agent heading into 2025. The Milwaukee Brewers had little choice but to non-tender one of the most popular players in recent franchise history. A shrewd organization with deeper pockets will swoop in, offer him a multi-year deal, and not worry about a lost 2024.
RHP Dakota Hudson
A former first-rounder, Hudson, 29, had success early in his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. But he blew out his elbow in 2020, had surgery and missed most of the 2021 season. He has pitched in parts of two uneven seasons since, and he didn’t fare well enough to remain on a Cardinals roster desperate for rotation help. Hudson pitches to contact and so he doesn’t strike out many, a perceived negative in today’s game. But teams will have interest, hoping he can rekindle the success he had in 2018-20.
INF/OF Nick Senzel
That Senzel was non-tendered by the Cincinnati Reds is surprising only because of previous hype. Senzel, 28, was the second overall pick in 2016 and was a Baseball America top 10 prospect in 2017, 2018 and 2019. He debuted with the Reds that year and had 12 homers, 14 stolen bases and a .742 OPS in 104 big-league games. Partially because of injuries, Senzel has never been able to recreate that production, though he had some good moments in 2023. The Reds’ talented youth movement squeezed Senzel, 28, off the roster and the Reds couldn’t find any takers on the trade market. But his defensive flexibility and flashes of a speed-power combo will land him another job and maybe more consistent playing time.
RHP Spencer Turnbull
Turnbull’s situation is odd, but the bottom line is starting pitching is thin and he’ll garner interest on the open market, despite an injury-riddled 2023 in which he posted a 7.26 ERA in seven starts for the Detroit Tigers. It was reported Monday that Turnbull, 31, has been granted a full year of service time for last season. That means he can’t be optioned to the minors without consent, and he can become a free agent after the 2024 season. That’s fortuitous for Turnbull, though it makes him a little less desirable this offseason, since teams won’t have two years of contractual control or the transactional flexibility to move him up and down.
1B/DH Rowdy Tellez
Most teams don’t like to pay exorbitantly for raw power these days, but all clubs seek it. Tellez, 28, is a flawed ballplayer, but he hits jacks from the left side. After 35 homers in 2022, he hit only 13 in a 2023 season marred by forearm and finger injuries and the Brewers decided to let him go. It would be surprising if the massive Tellez (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) doesn’t land a big-league deal elsewhere, because you can’t teach power, and he could be a first baseman/designated hitter option for plenty of teams.
1B/DH Dominic Smith
Technically, Smith was cut by the Washington Nationals a few days before the non-tender deadline to make room on the 40-man for minor-league additions, but the result is the same. Smith, also 28, is the anti-Tellez. He’s an excellent first baseman, has occasionally hit for average and has been hyped most of his career after being a first-round pick in 2013. But he has not demonstrated the requisite power expected of a first baseman. Smith hit 12 homers in 586 plate appearances in 2023 – and that was a career high. Half of his 2023 homers, however, came in September, providing a glimmer of hope that maybe the power is finally emerging.
RHP Adam Cimber
This is the perfect guy to grab off the non-tender list. Cimber, 33, has been an effective reliever for much of his career and was tied for the MLB lead in appearances in 2022. But a shoulder injury cost him most of the 2023 season and he pitched to a 7.40 ERA in 20 games, so the Toronto Blue Jays, who have one of the best bullpens in baseball, non-tendered him. Assuming Cimber is healthy, the funky sidearmer would be a good add for any bullpen.
OF Austin Meadows
Meadows, 28, would be higher on my list if this were simply about baseball. A former first-round pick and 2019 All Star, Meadows has played only 42 games in the past two years, primarily because of anxiety issues. He has a powerful left-handed stick – he homered 33 times in 2019 and 27 in 2021 – but there is a question as to whether he wants to continue his big-league career. If he does, and teams are convinced that his anxiety is manageable, Meadows would be a good flier for a team looking for outfield depth.
LHP Kolby Allard
Another classic non-tender guy with upside. The left-hander was the 14th pick in the 2015 draft and made his big-league debut at age 20 in 2018. He’s never made more than 17 starts in a season and has a 6.10 ERA in parts of six big-league seasons. Allard, 26, had a disastrous 2023 that ended in July due to nerve inflammation in his throwing shoulder. Given his pedigree and the need for left-handed starters, he’ll have suitors assuming his shoulder has improved.
INF Kevin Smith
When you get non-tendered by Oakland, chances are your MLB aspirations are fading. Smith, though, is an interesting case. He’s only 27, a versatile defender and was a Baseball America Top 100 prospect (91st in 2019). He was an important piece in the Matt Chapman trade to Toronto in 2022. Although he’s had success in the minors, Smith has been completely overmatched at the plate as a big leaguer, walking 15 times with 104 strikeouts in 333 plate appearances. He’s probably looking at a minor-league deal, but he’s worth a stash for a low-budget team.