The Astros have a decision to make before the Monday deadline to non-tender a player or two on the 40-man roster. Each year, any player with less than six years of service time must be tendered a contract. Before you are arbitration-eligible, the team typically controls how much that player’s contract will be for that season. During the arbitration process, the player and team must agree on a contract or go before an arbitration panel.
For this reason, teams have the right to non-tender a contract to a player. The most famous Astros player to be non-tendered has to be Mike Fiers. Fiers was non-tendered after the 2017 season by the Astros for reasons coming to light this offseason. Chris Carter was another compelling case, but the Astros probably felt that he would have gotten more in arbitration than they were willing to pay.
Like with Fiers, even though it’s part of the rules of the game, it can lead to disgruntled former employees. Teams can DFA a player at any time, but would be liable to pay for the part of the contract should they not get claimed. But, once a year, a team can non-tender a player, voiding the rest of his contract. This is an excellent way to shed some salary.
The 2020 Astros roster will be talented, but expensive. According to Sportrac, the Astros estimated AAV is close to $208.6 million. The current competitive balance tax threshold is around $208 million. The Astros would like to stay underneath the threshold to avoid paying tax.
Who could be non-tendered?
We have already seen the Astros decline a team option on Chris Devenski and avoid arbitration with Yuli Gurriel. Devenski is now arbitration-eligible, projected by Sportrac to earn $2 million in 2020. His original option called for $2.825 million, so the Astros are looking to save approximately $825k.
However, the Astros could still decide that Devenski is not worth the $2 million he is due in 2020. If this is the case, they could non-tender him a deal tomorrow. This means he could become a free agent. The Astros could then allocate that $2 million towards a free agent they want to bring in. Devenski’s career got off to a hot start, but he is not fooling too many hitters nowadays.
Devenski is not alone. Two other players could be non-tendered, and they both joined the Astros at the trade deadline last year. Aaron Sanchez made a few starts with the Astros before hitting the IL. He eventually had shoulder surgery that threatens to sideline him for part of the 2020 season. He is coming off a down season, but Sportrac has him getting about $5.6 million.
While the Astros may see some promise in Sanchez on the mound, they may not see him as being worth the projected salary. The $5.6 million is just an estimate. It could be more or less depending on the negotiation. The Astros assign a value to each player and prefer to settle around that number. The analytically oriented front office has a plan and isn’t afraid of hurting people’s feelings.
To a lesser extent, Joe Biagini could also be non-tendered a contract. After a 3-1 record with a 3.79 ERA with the Blue Jays, Biagini was 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA with the Astros. When he came over, the Astros made some changes to how he pitched. Sportrac has him getting $1.5 million in arbitration this year. Biagini abandoned the sinker mostly when he came to Houston, now will the Astros abandon him?
If all three are non-tendered contacts, it would save the Astros nearly $9.1 million. It would also mean that all five of the members of the combined no-hitter could no longer be part of the Astros. Will Harris and Martin Maldonado are free agents. The current 40-man roster sits at 39. They still need to add free agents so they will need open spots on the 40-man. I still think the Astros may hold onto one of these three. We shall see tomorrow.
I will discuss this on tonight's Locked On Astros podcast.