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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

December 1, 2010 at 12:38 PM

New crop of free agents poised to hit the market Thursday

The Mariners have yet to be linked to any of the high-profile free agents on the market, but don’t despair. A brand-new crop of free agents will become available tomorrow.

Teams have until midnight to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. If they don’t, those players become unrestricted free agents. Since tendered players can only be cut a maximum of 20 percent, it’s a way for teams to shed themselves of players they simply don’t feel are worth the money they would have to pay — especially with the possibility of the volatile arbitration process looming. So the players are invariably ones who come with some flaws, but many are worth a gamble as comeback prospects, or ones that will prosper with a change of scenery.

Word has already broken, via ESPN 710’s Mike Salk, that the Mariners don’t plan to tender Jose Lopez — no big surprise. The M’s other arbitration-eligible players are David Aardsma, Brandon League, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jason Vargas and Josh Wilson. Of that group, I’d say Rowland-Smith, coming off a miserable 1-10, 6.75 ERA season, is the strongest non-tender candidate. But Rowland-Smith made just $440,000 last year, not that much more than the major-league minimum, so there’s not as much risk for the M’s if they want to take a chance on a rebound from Rowland-Smith. I’d say it’s just as likely they reach an 11th-hour contract agreement with him. And even if he’s non-tendered, they could still re-sign him, as they did with Ryan Langerhans last year.

The non-tender date was originally scheduled to be Dec. 12, but it was moved up in late September when the union and management made a number of small changes in the free agency timetable. The significance is that Dec. 12 falls after the winter meetings, which run from Dec. 6-9. But now general managers will leave for Orlando on Sunday or Monday knowing the full extent of the free-agent list, which should facilitate more deal-making.

Some interesting names will no doubt become free agents on Thursday. Just from skimming the internet, I’ve seen much speculation of potential non-tender candidates, incuding Jack Cust, Travis Buck, Edwin Encarnacion and Kevin Kouzmanoff (A’s); Dioner Navarro, Willy Aybar and Dan Johnson (Rays); J.J. Hardy (Twins); Russell Martin, George Sherrill and James Loney (Dodgers); John Maine (Mets); Jeff Mathis (Angels); Kyle Davies (Royals); Tony Gwynn (Padres); Matt Diaz (Braves); and Zach Duke (Diamondbacks).

MLBtraderumors.com today printed their list of potential non-tenders. We’ll find out the definitive list tomorrow, and then we can dig into potential matches with the Mariners

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