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8 non-tendered free agents that make sense for Indians

The free agent pool got a fresh supply of mid-level players on Monday

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

If the Indians are still refusing to sign Anthony Rendon (I have hope), the injection of non-tendered players into the free agent market should at least give us something to think about and discuss as the offseason rounds the corner into December.

This year’s crop of players that were not tendered a contract prior to arbitration is loaded with plenty of “woah, that guy got released?” candidates as teams look to trim the corner of their roster and opt for cheaper players with similar production. It just so happens quite a few of them could help out the Indians.

The obvious caveat with most of these non-tendered players is they are not going to be superstars for whatever teams signs them at a steep discount. All of this year’s group are projected by Steamer to be worth fewer than 2.0 WAR in 2019 — best case scenario you find a diamond in the rough that breaks through projections and doubles it, or something close.

With that in mind, here are a few that the Indians will likely target, sorted alphabetically by the third letter in their first name.

All arbitration projections via MLB Trade Rumors.

Blake Treinen, 31, RHP

  • Non-tendered by Athletics, projected to make $7.8 million in arbitration
  • 2019: 4.91 ERA, 22.2 K%, 13.9 BB%, 110 ERA-, -0.3 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projection: 3.86 ERA, 23.7 K%, 10.0 BB%, 0.5 fWAR

Blake Treinen was the definition of unhittable just two years ago for the Oakland Athletics, with a 19 ERA- (!!!), 0.83 WHIP, a career-high 31.8% strikeout rate, and he was among the elite of elite with his Statcast measurements.

Unfortunately, no elite reliever can last forever (just ask Andrew Miller), and a year later Treinen regressed to a middle of the road arm with a declining spin rate and noticeable lack of deception.

Treinen’s ERA- ballooned to 110, his walk rate hit a career-worst at 13.9%, and his strikeout rate dropped to 22.2%. Unless multiple teams believe his 2019 season was somehow a fluke, he shouldn’t be that expensive of a flyer to take. And the Indians should take it.

Travis Shaw, 29, INF

  • Non-tendered by Brewers, projected to make $4.7 million in arbitration
  • 2019: .157/.281/.270, 47 wRC+, 7 HR, 0 SB, 13.3 BB%, 33.0 K%, -0.8 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projection: .233/.332/.446, 100 wRC+, 28 HR, 4 SB, 12.1 BB%, 25.1 K%, 1.4 fWAR

To put it nicely, 2019 was a rough year for Travis Shaw. A lingering wrist injury forced him to miss a chunk of the season, and when he actually found the field again he was terrible.

He put up back-to-back solid offensive seasons of 120 wRC+ and 119 wRC+ in 2017 and 2018, respectively, but the floor dropped out from his bat in 2019 and he slashed just .157/.281/.270 over his 86 games with the Brewers. His strikeout rate jumped from a career-low 18.4% in 2018 to 33.0% in 2019.

The good news is, his exit velocity and hard-hit rate remained almost identical to the numbers he put up in 2018, the only issue last season was actually making contact.

If last season’s struggles were just a confidence issue or discomfort with his wrist, Shaw is easy to envision as a prime bounceback candidate. He’s played well over 3000 innings at third base in his career and dabbled with second base as recently as 2018.

Steven Souza Jr., 30, OF

  • Non-tendered by Diamondbacks, projected to make $4.125 million in arbitration
  • 2019: .220/.309/.369, 85 wRC+, 5 HR, 6 SB, 10.3 BB%, 27.6 K%, -0.4 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projections: .244/.333/.455, 103 wRC+, 10.8 BB%, 28.9 K%, 1.1 fWAR

It’s difficult to know what to make of Steven Souza Jr.’s projection for 2020 as he missed all of 2019 with a devastating, freak injury when he slipped at home plate in an exhibition game against the White Sox.

He wasn’t very good in 2018, but he is just two years removed from a 3.8 fWAR campaign in which he hit 30 home runs and slashed .239/.351/.459.

Maikel Franco, 27, INF

  • Non-tendered by Phillies, projected to make $6.7 million in arbitration
  • 2019: .234/.297/.409, 70 wRC+, 17 HR, 0 SB, 8.4 BB%, 14.3 K%, -0.5 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projection: .261/.325/.490, 17 HR, 1 SB, 8.4 BB%, 15.0 K%, 0.7 fWAR

Maikel Franco came onto the scene in 2015 with a 129 wRC+ campaign over 80 games, wherein he slashed .280/.343/.497, hit 14 home runs, and looked poised to stick at third base while the Phillies were in the endless trench of a deep rebuild. He did stick around at the hot corner, but inconsistency marred his final four seasons in Philadelphia, leading to his non-tender status Monday.

In 2019, he hit rock bottom with a 70 wRC+ over 428 plate appearances and 17 home runs — his first sub-20 homer season since 2015. Unlike a few of the other names on this list, however, Franco is still hitting the ball relatively hard — he’s in the 49th percentile for exit velocity, and 46th percentile for hard-hit hate.

He doesn’t field all that well and isn’t fast, but maybe he’s a “change of scenery” guy? Steamer projects him to at least bounce back to an above-average bat with a 102 wRC+ and 17 home runs (in 319 PA).

Tim Beckham, 29, INF

  • Non-tendered by Mariners, projected to make $3.0 million in arbitration
  • 2019: .237/.293/.461, 99 wRC+, 15 HR, 1 SB, 6.4 BB%, 31.1 K%, 0.4 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projections: .233/.290/.402, 84 wRC+, 12 HR, 3 SB, 6.7 BB%, 28.7 K%, 0.5 fWAR

Beckham is going to miss part of 2020 for a PED suspension, and he’s going to be cheap as all hell. Go get ‘em, Paul.

Domingo Santana, 27, OF

  • Non-tendered by Mariners, projected to make $4.4 million in arbitration
  • 2019: .253/.329/.441, 107 wRC+, 21 HR, 8 SB, 9.9 BB%, 32.3 K%, 0.0 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projection: .242/.329/.430, 104 wRC+, 22 HR, 7 SB, 10.9 BB%, 31.9 K%, 0.8 fWAR

It seems like just yesterday it made sense for the Indians to send both Danny Salazar and Jason Kipnis to the Brewers in exchange for Domingo Santana, a rough (*rough*) defender in the outfield who sprays the ball all over the field and strikes out a ton.

The strikeout issues haven’t gotten better — in fact, they’ve gotten worse — and he’s easily one of the worst defensive outfielders in all of baseball HOWEVER the man can still slug and he hit 21 home runs last season in just 121 games.

I’d still love to see him in Cleveland, but given how reluctant the Indians were to let Franmil Reyes even touch the outfield, I don’t see them letting Santana do it either. Since they both can’t play designated hitter — and Carlos Santana isn’t giving up first base any time soon — there just isn’t much of a fit. I can dream, though.

César Hernández, 29, INF

  • Non-tendered by Phillies, projected to make $11.8 million in arbitration
  • 2019: .279/.333/.408, 92 wRC+, 14 HR, 9 SB, 6.7 BB%, 15.0 K%, 1.7 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projection: .266/.346/.390, 94 wRC+, 13 HR, 11 SB, 10.3 BB%, 17.8 K%, 1.8 fWAR

A little birdy told me Alex Hooper is doing a full post on César Hernández later this week so I won’t delve too deep into it here, but the short of it is: Sign him. Oh Lord please sign him.

One curious thing about Hernández: Despite never stealing more than 20 bases in a season, he’s in the 88th percentile for sprint speed, according to Baseball Savant. My man can round the bases like lightning, but isn’t too interested in stealing 40 bags a season.

He also got a bit more aggressive at the plate in 2019, chasing 5% more pitches out of the zone and making contact on said pitches 84.5% of the time. It didn’t help his offense that much, but it’s a thing.

Kevin Pillar, 30, OF

  • Non-tendered by Giants, projected to make $9.7 million in arbitration
  • 2019: .259/.287/.432, 85 wRC+, 21 HR, 14 SB, 2.8 BB%, 13.8 K%, 1.5 fWAR
  • 2020 Steamer Projection: .260/.299/.415, 17 HR, 13 SB, 4.3 BB%, 16.0 K%, 1.4 fWAR

A fun fact that will forever be part of useless sports trivia: Kevin Pillar received an MVP vote in 2019. He led the San Francisco Giants in three very bigly important categories: home runs, stolen bases, and runs batted in. He also won the Willie Mac Award, which is given to the most inspirational athlete of the Bay Area. Even with all of that, he has been non-tendered just a few short months after the season ended. Probably because he’s not very good.

He’s always been a bit of a fringey player to begin with, relying mostly on defense and a little speed to keep him above 2.0 fWAR every season, but in 161 games split between the Blue Jays and Giants in 2019, his offense continued to slip and age appeared to be catching up with his defense.

Pillar actually made better contact in 2019 (83.4%) than he did in previous years, but everything after bat met the ball got worse. His hard-hit rate dropped almost 6%, and his expected wOBA upon contact — abbreviated as a Hideo Kojima-esque xwOBAcon — dropped from .373 in 2018 to .326 in 2019.

If the Indians can parlay his improved contact rate into something, he’s easily a risk worth taking and — according to Steamer projections — would immediately be the Tribe’s best all-around outfielder in 2020.