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Preparing for this week’s non-tender deadline

The Red Sox have decisions to make on six players.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

There is another key deadline for teams to abide by this week that will once again affect the 40-man roster. This one involves major-league players, though, rather than those in the minors like the Rule 5 protection deadline earlier this winter. This time around, it’s the non-tender deadline, which comes on Wednesday at 7:00 PM ET. This is the last day teams will be able to tender a contract to their arbitration-eligible players, with players who are not tendered deals joining an already-crowded group of free agents. Players who are tendered deals don’t have to agree to terms yet, but they will be around for 2021.

One of the myriad of reasons things have moved so slow this winter has presumably been so teams could wait for this deadline to pass, as it is expected to be busier than usual (or less busy, I suppose, depending on how you want to look at it), which will flood the market a bit. With the pandemic leading to teams spending even less than previous years on free agents and just players in general, the expectation is that those projected for deals that would have made them easy tenders in the past could be non-tendered and hit free agency this year.

As for the Red Sox specifically, they have already taken care of a few of their arbitration decisions with players like José Peraza, Ryan Weber and Dylan Covey having already been taken off the roster. With those decisions made, there are now six more arbitration-eligible players on the roster for whom the Red Sox need to decide their future. For today, we’re going to look at all six of these players and try to make the case for and against tendering each of them a contract. We’ll also include the salary projections that come from MLB Trade Rumors.

Before we get started, though, just a quick note on those salaries. MLB Trade Rumors is consistently the best outlet at projecting arbitration salaries, but things are obviously a bit different this year given the shortened season. That throws a wrench into a process based almost entirely on precedent. So this year MLB Trade Rumors included three projections, and we’ll include all three here. The first simply deals with the 60-game numbers. The second extrapolates all numbers to 162 games. And the third, which only applies to those not in their first year of arbitration-eligibility, takes the raise they would get from the second projection and gives them 37 percent of that. The link above can give more information on the methodology. We’ll go in order of projected salary.

Eduardo Rodriguez ($8.3M/$8.3M/$8.3M)

Why they will

Rodriguez is obviously a unique case for arbitration after missing the entire 2020 season. The lefty was infected with COVID last summer and ended up fighting myocarditis, a heart complication that resulted from the virus. That’s not an insignificant salary that is being projected, but if he is healthy Rodriguez is easily the best starting pitcher currently on the roster who is expected to be ready for the start of the year. By all accounts, he is progressing well as he works his way back up after the summer he went through. The Red Sox need pitching, and jettisoning one of their best would be counterintuitive.

Why they won’t

It’s not as simple as reading a few November reports about his recovery going well and accepting a normal 2021 as absolute truth. Rodriguez is coming back from a heart condition that can be very serious and have ramifications on his ability to work himself in the way required of a professional athlete. As of now there’s no major reason to worry, but that concern always has to be in the back of your head. What if the stuff is still there but the stamina isn’t? Do you turn him to a reliever? Are you willing to risk that for an $8.3 million salary?

Verdict

I’m fairly confident they’ll be tendering a deal here.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Matt Barnes ($3.7MM/$5.7MM/$4.1MM)

Why they will

Anyone who has read this site knows my feelings about Matt Barnes. But I don’t think you need to feel as highly about him as I do to think he’s worth keeping at this price. After last season, I will acknowledge that he shouldn’t be the top reliever on a good club, but you need at least three or four good relievers and he can be one of them. Barnes has consistently shown he is one of the elite strikeout pitchers in the game, and from 2017 through 2019 he was tied for the 20th best reliever by fWAR in all of baseball. They’ve seen him succeed at high levels, including pitching extremely well in the 2018 run to a championship. Again, as with Rodriguez, jettisoning one of your better pitchers when you’re so desperate for pitching is tough to swallow.

Why they won’t

I don’t know how tight money actually is with the Red Sox or any other team, but I know that’s not as important for these purposes as the fact that they and every other team will spend like it is very tight. And with so many holes, the Red Sox need to be sure about the market value of anyone they’re giving even relatively small amounts of money to. After seeing someone like Brad Hand go unclaimed earlier this winter, if the actual projection for Barnes is closer to that $5 or $6 million mark, it may be that they can non-tender him and get him back at a cheaper price, or find someone similar at a cheaper price. And coming off Barnes’s worst season since his rookie year, it becomes a lot easier to move on right now.

Verdict

Ultimately I think they will tender him a deal, but there admittedly may be some pro-Barnes bias clouding that prediction. Either way, this is very close to a 50/50 call and I wouldn’t be particularly surprised by either decision.

Rafael Devers ($3.4MM/$6.3MM/$3.4MM)

Why they will

I’m not going to spend much time here. Rafael Devers is one of the best players on this team even with his defensive question marks. He is part of the future core of the roster. Even at the high end of these projections he is one of the biggest bargains in the game.

Why they won’t

I don’t know. Maybe they forget to file the proper paperwork? Or they accidentally spell his name “Deverd” or something?

Verdict

Obviously.

Kevin Plawecki ($1.6MM/$2.0MM/$1.3MM)

Why they will

Plawecki came in and exceed all expectations last season, particularly at the plate. He didn’t get to play much, being a backup in a 60-game season and all, but when he did play he got it done. And presumably the league is getting ready for a normal season in 2021, so depth is going to be much more important. The Red Sox have gotten relatively fortunate health-wise with Christian Vázquez in recent years, but catcher is still a brutal position and you need someone you can trust in a backup role. Plawecki has proven he can provide that depth and the price isn’t that high.

Why they won’t

Plawecki was good, yes, but as mentioned above the sample was tiny. Plus, a whole lot of that success was on the back of a .403 batting average on balls in play that certainly will not be sustained moving forward. Add in his framing numbers taking a step back (albeit, again, in a small sample), and there is a chance he comes cratering back down to Earth in overall value next year. If they like Deivy Grullón, they may also already have their replacement backup in-house.

Verdict

I think they’ll ultimately tender him a deal, though this is closer than it may seem based on his 2020 production.

Ryan Brasier ($1.0MM/$1.6MM/$1.0MM)

Why they will

This is similar to the argument made for Barnes above in that the Red Sox need bodies in the bullpen. Brasier is not on Barnes’s level, but the salary is also significantly lower so the case could be made that since they’d both serve in secondary roles rather than being the primary arm in the bullpen they might as well keep the cheaper one. And while Brasier was rough in 2019, he came back and was quietly really solid this past year. Less than $2 million for a guy who has been a dependable reliever in two of the last three years is a small price to pay.

Why they won’t

I don’t really see money getting in the way on this one, so I think this would come down more to roster space. The Red Sox made their Rule 5 cuts earlier in the winter, but they now have a full 40-man roster and still need to add free agents. There are other expendable players remaining on the roster, but any way to cut down on space could be tempting.

Verdict

Given the price, I’d be fairly surprised if they non-tendered Brasier, though not completely shocked.

Austin Brice ($700K/$900K/$700K)

Why they will

Again, this comes down to simply needing bodies. Brice was the worst of the three relievers on this list, but that salary also comes in as the lowest. That essentially covers the case. He’s major-league caliber and affordable.

Why they won’t

We’re copying from the Brasier section again. It’s hard to see this salary being daunting, but that roster spot could. And compared to Brasier, there’s less clarity into where Brice fits into this bullpen, particularly if the team makes a couple of additions.

Verdict

I think they will end up non-tendering Brice, though again it’s no sure thing at this small of a price. In the end, though, I think they’ll value that roster spot.