The deadline for non-tendering players was last night, meaning that this morning there is a whole new wave of free agents to check into. The Red Sox non-tendered just one player, Rich Hill, but other teams around the league didn't offer contracts to quite a few players -- many of them intriguing.
Some of these non-tenders could help the Red Sox out in their quest to finish filling out their 25-man roster.
Hong-Chih Kuo, RP: The Red Sox could use another reliever or two, with Jonathan Papelbon a Phillie and Daniel Bard potentially a starter in 2011. Enter Kuo, who has a history of arm troubles, but an even more extensive history of being fantastic at his job. In his career, he has a 3.73 ERA out of the pen, with 10.6 strikeouts per nine and a 2.7 K/BB ratio. Since 2008 (following elbow surgery to remove bone chips), he has a 2.92 ERA, 10.8 punch outs per nine, and a 3.2 K/BB. He missed time in 2011 due to a back strain and anxiety (and had another surgery on his left elbow), but if he's available on the cheap thanks to being non-tendered, then the Red Sox should take a look. There is a high chance Kuo gives them nothing, but there is also an opportunity to acquire a shutdown reliever for pennies on the dollar.
Clay Hensley, RP: In 2010, Hensley broke out with the Marlins, punching out 9.2 batters per nine as a reliever to go along with a 193 ERA+. In 2011, Hensley broke, fracturing his shoulder in May, then spraining his other shoulder in July. The injuries helped contribute to a down year, where Hensley's strikeouts dropped considerably, his walks rose, and his ERA skyrocketed. He is a bounce back candidate if he is healthy, though, meaning the Red Sox should check in on him.
Rich Hill, RP: The Red Sox just non-tendered him, but if Hill doesn't find work immediately, Boston should be attempting to re-acquire him for the minors. The current Franklin Morales/Andrew Miller/Felix Doubront situation, in which all three left-handers lack options, makes rostering Hill at present difficult. But if a trade involving one of the three occurs and a spot opens back up for a lefty, Hill should be first on the call list given the success of his transition to the bullpen combined with his live arm. (Note: Kuo is also a lefty, but is not a LOOGY; Hill has more in common with the current lefties than he does a healthy Kuo, who has the stuff to be a shutdown closer.)
Joe Saunders, SP: Don't take this as agreement with the idea to chase Saunders, now that he's non-tendered. Instead, consider this approval to chase Saunders if other more intriguing starting pitcher options available don't work out. Even then, the price better be right, as Saunders was set to make considerable money via arbitration -- if you're looking for a reason why he was non-tendered, other than pedestrian peripherals (1.7 K/BB the last three years, 4.8 strikeouts per nine), then money is it. Saunders being paid as better-than-replacement-level fifth starter isn't a crime, but anything more than that makes me cringe.
Ryan Spilborghs, OF: Spilborghs has hit .273/.357/.443 in his career against left-handers, but also has hit just .239/.313/.366 outside of Coors. If he can't get a guaranteed contract anywhere, he is worth an invite to spring training to see what he can do, but expecting that is probably too much. Chances are good he will find a gig somewhere well before that, as the Red Sox aren't the only team who could use another outfielder off of the bench.
And that's about it, as far as the Red Sox are concerned. There are plenty of backup infielders available, but there is no shortage of those in Boston at present. Relief is where it's at, and with any luck, Boston will find a jewel among this scrap heap, in the same way they rescued Matt Albers from non-tendering last year.