Intriguing options all over the league will make the bidding season that much more heated, and the biggest-name gift item of the shuffled deck of 52 players could very well be former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks.
Then again, big league shoppers will head into this potentially furious Friday with other talented, big-name targets in mind, now that Russell Martin and George Sherrill (Dodgers), Hideki Okajima (Red Sox), John Maine (Mets), Chien-Ming Wang (Nationals) and J.P. Howell (Rays) were non-tendered by their clubs.
And let's not forget the potential for serious sleepers that could alter the course of pennant races to come. Just ask David Ortiz, a Twins non-tender who was plucked off the pile by the Red Sox in late 2002, signed for $1 million and became a Boston icon and two-time World Series winner.
This year's "Big Papi" bargain category could include fresh non-tenders such as Matt Diaz (Braves), Willy Aybar and Lance Cormier (Rays), Edwin Encarnacion, Jack Cust and Travis Buck (A's), Scott Hairston (Padres), Lastings Milledge (Pirates), Zach Miner (Tigers), Andrew Miller (Red Sox), Fred Lewis (Blue Jays), Matt Albers (Orioles), Kevin Frandsen (Angels), Ryan Rowland-Smith (Mariners), Sammy Gervacio (Astros), Josh Fields (Royals), Dustin Nippert (Rangers), and many more.
Jenks, who spent six solid and often spectacular years on the South Side, is the headliner of this group for obvious reasons.
He was the team's World Series closer in 2005, he's still only 29 years old, and his fastball still reaches the upper 90s. Then again, it's understandable why the White Sox made the move. Jenks made $7.5 million last year, put up a career-high 4.44 ERA, he's in his third year of arbitration eligibility and would be in line for a substantial raise. The White Sox have an elite lefty reliever in Matt Thornton who might be closer-ready.
Then again, White Sox general manager Ken Williams indicated that the team might be interested in bringing the big guy back after all.
"All this move says is for the dollars we would commit to him in arbitration, we can't commit that type of money to where he is now and where we are now," said Williams, whose team also non-tendered left-handed reliever Erick Threets.
"It's especially true since we have a few options to go to," Williams said. "We have to allocate money to the best of our abilities to put together the team as a whole."
Meanwhile, the Dodgers' move with Martin, while not a stunner, shows how much injuries can shape a team's decision.
Martin is a two-time All-Star (2007-08) who won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger three seasons ago. But his production was down before he suffered a hip fracture that ended his 2010 campaign in early August, and he would have been due for a salary of around $6 million next year. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said non-tendering Martin was "one of the toughest decisions I've had to make, maybe ever."
Nonetheless, Colletti said he's now "pretty far down the road" with signing another catcher. A source indicated it is 35-year-old free agent Rod Barajas, who spent the last two months with the Dodgers this season, hitting .297 with five homers in 25 games after being claimed from the Mets.
As for Okajima, he's nearing the age of 35, made $2.75 million last year, and had by far his roughest year in the Majors in 2010, with a 1.717 WHIP and a career-low 33 strikeouts. His ERA also has gone up in four consecutive big-league seasons.
And in the case of Maine, injuries also sealed the deal. The right-hander made $3.3 million last year and could probably be retained for less since he's coming off shoulder surgery, but it's likely that new Mets GM Sandy Alderson is willing to take a chance that he can find a healthier arm for the same amount of money on the open market.
The fine print behind non-tender day reads as such: The Thursday deadline, which passed at 11:59 p.m. ET, is for teams to offer 2011 contracts to unsigned players under their control, and the players who are not tendered contracts become free agents. Usually, younger players become non-tenders because they're eligible for arbitration and their teams often won't want to fork over the salaries plus raises that will ensue the following year. According to the Basic Agreement, when teams tender contracts, they can't attempt to cut any more than 20 percent of what a player earned in salary and performance bonuses the previous season or 30 percent of those figures during the past two seasons. And even if salaries are cut in the ensuing year, the non-tendered player can still end up signing with the same team.
In other words, there are many different reasons to non-tender players, but quality talent always seems to become available at this time of year.
For the Rays, the non-tender of Howell made sense because the reliever is coming off shoulder surgery, probably won't be available until May at the earliest, and the club's executive vice president, Andrew Friedman, said he is confident that the team will sign Howell again despite this technicality.
The team also will look to re-up with Aybar and Cormier, although the Rays are officially saying goodbye to catcher Dioner Navarro, who fell behind John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach on the depth chart and fell out of favor in the organization when he left the team after not being named to the postseason roster.
In Atlanta, Diaz, a solid right-handed pinch-hit and platoon bat, became expendable when the team acquired second baseman Dan Uggla in a trade with the Marlins and then announced that it would move Martin Prado to left field, where most of Diaz's playing time came.
"[Diaz] is such a great person on and off the field," Braves GM Frank Wren said. "We all were very appreciative of what he did here over the past five years. But with the way our roster has changed, we didn't see the same role being available for him next year. For us to go to arbitration with him, we had to see a significant role for him."
Yes, it's a numbers game sometimes, and that also was the case in Oakland.
Cust, after all, was non-tendered and re-signed by the same A's club last year, but this year appears to be a different story with the A's being one of the teams most strongly connected to free agent Lance Berkman. Meanwhile, Buck's injury-laden recent past paved the way for his non-tender, and the recently acquired Encarnacion was on the wrong end of the third-base equation when the A's decided to tender Kevin Kouzmanoff instead.
2010 NON-TENDER LIST
Baltimore: Matt Albers, RHP
Boston: Taylor Buchholz, RHP; Andrew Miller, LHP; Hideki Okajima, LHP
New York Yankees: Alfredo Aceves, RHP; Dustin Moseley, RHP
Tampa Bay: Willy Aybar, IF/DH; Lance Cormier, RHP; J.P. Howell, LHP; Dioner Navarro, C
Toronto: Jeremy Accardo, RHP; Fred Lewis, OF
White Sox: Bobby Jenks, RHP; Erick Threets, LHP
Detroit: Zach Miner, RHP
Kansas City: Josh Fields, IF
Angels: Kevin Frandsen, IF
Oakland: Travis Buck, OF; Jack Cust, DH/OF; Edwin Encarnacion, IF;
Seattle: Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP
Texas: Dustin Nippert, RHP
Atlanta: Matt Diaz, OF
Florida: Ronny Paulino, C; Jose Veras, RHP
Mets: Chris Carter, OF; Sean Green, RHP; John Maine, RHP
Washington: Wil Nieves, C; Joel Peralta, RHP; Chien-Ming Wang, RHP
Houston: Sammy Gervacio, RHP
Milwaukee: Todd Coffey, RHP; Joe Inglett, IF/OF
Pittsburgh: Brian Burres, LHP; Argenis Diaz, IF; Lastings Milledge, OF; Donnie Veal, LHP
St. Louis: None.
Arizona: Blaine Boyer, RHP; D.J. Carrasco, RHP; Ryan Church, OF; Augie Ojeda, IF
Colorado: Manny Delcarmen, RHP
Dodgers: Russell Martin, C; Trent Oeltjen, OF; George Sherrill, LHP
San Diego: Matt Antonelli, IF; Tony Gwynn Jr., OF; Scott Hairston, OF; Luis Perdomo, RHP
San Francisco: Chris Ray, RHP; Eugenio Velez, IF
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.