Most years, the non-tender deadline comes and goes for the Blue Jays without much fanfare. The most eventful non-tender deadline I can recall was December of 2013 when the team non-tendered J.P. Arencibia, then turned around and signed Dioner Navarro to a two-year deal.
Aside from that, big names typically don’t get released into the wild leading into the non-tender deadline. For the first time since that eventful non-tender deadline of 2013, there are some established Blue Jays in the mix who may find themselves as free agents on December 1st.
Most arbitration-eligible players are shoo-ins to be tendered contracts, others are somewhat questionable, but these are the three most likely Blue Jays to get non-tendered before Friday’s deadline.
Non-tender probability: 65%
Hands up if you knew that Devon Travis is entering his age-28 season? It feels like he should be much younger because Travis just finished his first MLB season when he didn’t land on the disabled list. Aside from a brief stint in Triple-A, Travis stayed on the Blue Jays 25-man roster from most of the season.
Despite staying healthy, he posted the worst numbers of his career; a .232/.275/.381 slash line and a 77 wRC+ in 103 games with the Blue Jays in 2018. He’s shown flashes of brilliance before – like his insane May of 2017 when he smacked 16 doubles – but ever since, Travis’ extra-base power has tapered off.
Even after the Blue Jays traded away Aledmys Diaz, the Blue Jays still have seven Major League infielders coming to camp to fill four infield spots. Travis played 94 of the Jays’ 162 games at second base last year, but he’s still at the bottom of the club’s infield depth chart and liable to get bumped out if there’s an infield realignment.
For example, if for some strange reason Troy Tulowitzki is healthy enough to play shortstop by Opening Day, it pushes Lourdes Gurriel towards second base. With Vlad Jr.’s impending arrival, that also moves someone like Brandon Drury towards second base.
In that scenario, Travis tumbles down the infield chart and lands behind someone like Richard Urena, who boasts the ability to plus defense and he’s a switch hitter. One way or another, it feels like Travis’ time with the Blue Jays is making a slow descent into an eventual designation for assignment or a trade.
Non-tender probability: 25%
Much like the infield, the Blue Jays have a logjam in the outfield heading into the 2019 season. Kevin Pillar is the longest-tenured member of the roster and appears to have a solid footing for a starting outfield spot heading into next season.
At this point in his career, Pillar is the player we thought he was. Entering his second-last year of arbitration, his $3.25 million salary is set to increase into the $5 to $6 million range for the 2019 season. If that seems like a lot to pay for a league average outfielder, you’re right.
Unlike a few years ago, the Blue Jays have a plethora of options in the outfield this coming season. In centre field alone, there’s Randal Grichuk, Jonathan Davis, Billy McKinney and Anthony Alford as options up the middle. Pillar’s foothold on the starting centre field job is beginning to slip.
That’s why Pillar has managed to survive this long; because nobody’s challenged him for the position since he took over centre field in May of 2015. Many assumed Alford would be the heir apparent, but he hasn’t stayed healthy enough to force the issue for the Blue Jays.
For all his faults and while it may seem easier just to non-tender him, Pillar is still a decent Major League outfielder. Not quite the Gold Glove-calibre defender he once was, but he’s a plus defender and baserunner and he’s a prototypical bottom-third of the order hitter.
Unlike the other candidates on this non-tender list, Pillar has some trade value if there’s a club out there looking for outfield depth. Heck, the Blue Jays reportedly explored trading Pillar at the 2017 trade deadline. Why not again in 2019?
It’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays giving up Pillar for nothing at all and releasing him into the free agent pool. Let’s put it this way; he won’t be a bane on the Blue Jays 2019 roster.
Non-tender probability: 100%
There’s no chance Yangervis Solarte doesn’t get non-tendered by the Blue Jays. Even though the club declined his 2019 contract option back on October 31st, the fact that Solarte’s still on this roster is somewhat of a surprise.
He was fun to watch for a while in April and May, but Solarte finished the 2018 season with a -1.3 WAR season in 122 games. Initially acquired last winter as part of the Blue Jays’ unofficial “raise the floor” movement, Solarte’s numbers completely bottomed out in 2018.
The interesting wrinkle to the whole Solarte situation was even though his option was declined, he’s still eligible for arbitration in 2019. If the team wasn’t willing to pick up his $5.5. million option, they most certainly wouldn’t be willing to go to arbitration.
There’s a remote possibility Solarte does return to the Blue Jays in some capacity. The Jays could non-tender him and re-sign him on a minor league deal or an extremely modest one-year contract. With his power numbers, he seems like the type of player the Rays would take a flier on (and Solarte would inevitably come back to crush the Blue Jays … that’s just how it works).