Major League Baseball’s non-tender deadline, usually an overlooked date on the industry’s offseason calendar, was met with heightened anticipation Wednesday.
The 30 teams were expected to decline to offer contracts to an unprecedented number of arbitration-eligible players after sustaining significant economic losses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Those players would then become free agents, flooding an already depressed market. The industry consensus was that offseason moves wouldn’t commence until the dust settled after 5 p.m.
The doomsday projections were exaggerated. The Chicago Cubs tendered a contract to former MVP Kris Bryant, but non-tendered slugger Kyle Schwarber and three others. The Colorado Rockies let go 2019 All-Star David Dahl and general manager Jeff Bridich declared the club won’t consider re-signing him at any price. The Miami Marlins declined to tender a contract to José Ureña, their opening day starter in 2018 and 2019. The Cincinnati Reds non-tendered five players. The Angels non-tendered five relievers.
Approximately 60 players were non-tendered, barely eclipsing last year’s mark of 56, though several players around the majors agreed to contracts before the deadline to avoid the possibility of being let go.
The Dodgers didn’t contribute to the number. Instead, they acquired former All-Star closer Corey Knebel from the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named or cash, agreed to a one-year, $1-million contract with reliever Scott Alexander to avoid arbitration and tendered contracts to their remaining six arbitration-eligible players: Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, Austin Barnes and Dylan Floro.
The Brewers planned on not tendering Knebel a contract before trading him. The Dodgers then tendered him a deal before the deadline.
Knebel, 29, was one of the best relievers in the majors in 2017 when he posted a 1.78 earned-run average in a league-leading 76 appearances. His performance, however, dipped in 2018 and he underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2019, forcing him to miss the entire season.
The right-hander gave up nine runs on 15 hits, including four home runs, in 13 1/3 innings across 15 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Dodgers believe he can bounce back. They’re betting on his upside, as they did with Blake Treinen when they signed him to a one-year, $10-million contract last winter after the Oakland Athletics non-tendered him coming off a down 2019 season.
Alexander, 31, reported late to summer camp after testing positive for the coronavirus, but still made the opening day roster. He was charged with six runs, four earned, in 12 1/3 innings before he was optioned to the club’s alternate training site Sept. 2. He didn’t return to the majors in 2020, missing out on the postseason roster as the Dodgers won the World Series.
Left-hander Caleb Ferguson recently underwent Tommy John surgery, leaving a hole on the 2021 roster that Alexander figures to help fill.
Adding two high-leverage relievers to the bullpen remains the Dodgers’ top priority this offseason. One answer could be re-signing Treinen. The right-hander has been in contact with the Dodgers about a return, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Pedro Báez, another free-agent reliever, is less likely to return.
The Dodgers have more choices to bolster the bullpen after more than 15 right-handed relievers hit the market Wednesday. The new options include former Arizona Diamondbacks closer Archie Bradley and former Angels closer Hansel Robles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.