Vaporstarter Adam Miller and the oft-injured Anthony Reyes were not tendered contracts by the Indians yesterday, rendering them free agents, but both pitchers signed minor league deals with the Indians just hours later. These transactions remove both pitchers from the 40-man roster while retaining their services for at least one more year. In the (admittedly unlikely) event Miller's career gets back on track this season, this series of moves avoids using up one of his option years, and should the Indians choose in the next year to restore him to the 40-man roster, he will have at least one option year left and will remain under club control at least through 2016. Reyes remains optionless, of course, but still hypothetically could remain under club control through 2013.
The Indians also declined to offer a contract to reliever Jose Veras, who was arbitration eligible, rendering him a free agent, and there is no indication he will be re-signed. Cleveland's 40-man roster now stands at 37, with 18 pitchers and 19 position players.
The Indians did tender a contract to pitcher Rafael Perez, who is eligible for arbitration (and to the other 28 players on the 40-man roster who are not yet eligible). The non-non-tender to Perez was non-unexpected, despite a disastrous season in which he was the fourth-worst reliever in the majors (min. 30 IP) per WXRL, which estimates a reliever's actual impact on the chance of his team winning or losing games. (That's "Win Expectation above Replacement, Lineup-adjusted," if you must know. BP rates Perez as merely the 10th-worst reliever at preventing runs from scoring, but because he blew more runs than his peers in high-leverage game situations, his negative impact on wins and losses was more substantial.)
Perez spent almost two months in the minors but still qualified for arbitration as a Super Two player with several weeks to spare. As a relief pitcher coming off a terrible season with barely enough service time to qualify, Perez is in line to be awarded perhaps the smallest salary of any player going to arbitration, probably less than $1 million. It's worth recalling, at this point, how outstanding Perez was in his truly super two-plus seasons prior to this one. He had a 2.89 ERA (and 152 ERA+) over 149.1 IP. He struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings, with 3.7 strikeouts for every walk. He held lefties to a .241 slugging percentage and allowed them only nine extra-base hits in 249 PA. As long as we keep tendering him contracts, he remains under club control through 2013, and there is a reasonable chance he will re-emerge as an impact reliever, or at the very least a useful one, at some point in that span.
Other notable non-tenders include former Indians Ryan Garko and Ryan Church. Garko of course was traded to the Giants only months ago for a decent enough pitching prospect. Just 115 abysmal AB later, Giants GM Brian Sabean is now saying he doesn't want to pay upwards of $3 million to a guy who isn't really an everyday player. I'm not saying he's wrong, but it's a pretty hilarious statement to make for a guy who will still owes $83 million to Barry Zito for the next four seasons. McCovey Chronicles has a pretty dead-on take on Sabean's curious sequence of decisions. My theory is that you just can't understand how slow this guy is on the basepaths until he's actually on your team, and maybe Wedge actually deked the Giants with respect to Garko's athleticism by playing him in the outfield.
Expect the cleveland.com crowd to clamor for Garko's return, oblivious to the fact that two teams have now deemed him unworthy of an everyday role in the space of just a few months. Despite high regard for his character, I would be surprised if Shapiro brought him back, even at a substantially reduced salary. I rather expect Garko will be signed by a GM who scouted him as a college player and was impressed with his stroke. As a lefty batter, Church doesn't really fit in with the Indians' plans. Other interesting non-tenders include Pirates closer Matt Capps, Yankees sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang, and third baseman Garrett Atkins. Atkins is perhaps best remembered as the guy that the Indians never even considered trading Aaron Laffey to get. I wouldn't be surprised if the Indians took an interest in Mike MacDougal; they seem to like guys who used to be closers.
As for Miller, these moves were unusual, reflecting an unusual situation. The "non-tender" deadline traditionally involves only players who are arbitration-eligible, as there is little reason not to tender a contract to any player on the 40-man roster who isn't eligible, since the most the team can be compelled to pay such a player is the minimum salary, which will remain $400,000 for the 2010 season. Many such players will make less than half that much, if they don't spend much time in the majors.
The latest in Miller's deathless progression of rehab setbacks occurred after rosters were frozen for the Rule 5 draft. Otherwise, the Indians might have chosen to DFA Miller prior to that point, exposing him to waivers. That might have cost the Indians the rights to Chuck Lofgren — but then again, maybe not. The Indians might have protected some other on-the-bubble prospect like Yohan Pino, in which case, Miller's delayed setback actually saved the Indians from burning an option year on whoever-that-would-have-been. And even if Miller clears waivers (and later, presumably, also clears the Rule 5 draft), he would have been granted minor league free agency anyway, since he was originally signed more than six years ago.
In that sense, non-tendering Miller, while unusual, was actually a more straightforward path to the same destination. Either way, he ends up as a free agent, free to sign with any club, but this way, he doesn't have to pass through waivers first. Miller obviously felt some combination of organizational loyalty and faith in the club's ability to rehab him back into a prospect, assuming that's even possible. Reyes has spent far less time in the Indians organization, but he had the same options as Miller and made the same choice. If either player was actually worth something anymore, we might consider feeling good about that.