Super Two status and service time manipulation aside, most major league teams get three full years of cheap, league minimum work from their players before they finally begin to get a bit expensive. That's when they're eligible for arbitration, which is a convoluted way of saying "that's when they can finally start to get paid for how good they've been at their job to that point in their careers."
Of course, players only really get to benefit from that arbitration process and the raise it entails if the team that controls their rights chooses to, ya know, actually offer them a contract. When those teams opt not to tender those players contracts - either due to underperformance, injury issues, or what have you - the players then become free agents and are able to sign wherever they and their agents choose.
MLB Trade Rumors released their preliminary list of non-tender candidates this morning, and while there are no Cincinnati Reds listed, some 33 one-time big leaguers are included as guys who may well be cut loose by their teams this winter. For the reasons mentioned above, there are no rotation cogs or middle of the order bats, no players off All Star campaigns or models of health. However, there are guys who may be considered savvy additions to the 2017 Reds should things pan out ideally, a few of which I've broken down in detail below.
Jeanmar Gomez - RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Gomez, 28, saved 37 games for the Philadelphia Phillies last year, which instantly made Doc and Plaschke and Murray Chass writhe uncomfortably in their boat shoes in attempts to figure out why he's on the non-tender list in the first place. The reality is that Gomez, already in his third organization, struggled to a 4.85 ERA, his 86 ERA+ being the lowest of his career since he became a full-time reliever four years ago.
Here's the rub, though: his .327 BABIP last year was the highest of his career, and that paired with his the worst strand rate since being a full-time reliever meant a lot more runs scored against him than you'd otherwise expect. He still posted a FIP under 4.00 for the second consecutive season, his fastball velocity remained identical to his 2015 rate (when he posted a 3.01 ERA in 74.2 IP), and while his BABIP was at a career high, he also induced the highest rate of soft-hit contact (21.7%) in his career in 2016, suggesting it wasn't laser-liners that were the root of that spike.
He's no Aroldis Chapman, but he's a reliable reliever, and for a Reds team that had the worst bullpen my eyes have ever seen last year, picking him up on the cheap wouldn't be the worst idea of all time. (You'll notice that's a theme here in a second...)
Brandon Workman - RHP, Boston Red Sox
Workman threw 8.2 scoreless playoff innings as a rookie during Boston's run to the 2013 World Series title, the then 23 year old former 2nd round pick looking as if he'd be a key arm in their arsenal for years to come. 87 brutal innings in 2014 and a Tommy John surgery later, he lands on this list after struggling mightily in his comeback attempt in 2016, having tossed 20 innings of 7.65 ERA ball across the lower levels of Boston's system last year.
His walk rate spiked, but that's what usually happens when pitchers have random new elbow ligaments bolted to their arm bones and take a year off. More often than not, however, they figure out their throwing motions again eventually, and when they do their innate talent shines through again. That's the gamble the Reds would be hoping for with Workman (much like they're hoping for with Homer Bailey, for instance), but a healthy Workman would add a solid middle reliever at what looks to be a cut-rate price.
Wade LeBlanc - LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Quick, name the left-handed relief options that the Reds currently have on the roster.
You probably got Tony Cingrani, and probably remember his struggles with secondary pitches and throwing the ball anywhere near the strike zone. You also might remember that lefties have hit just as well (if not better) against him over the last two seasons, and that combined with Wandy Peralta being the only other lefty reliever on the 40-man means adding a cromulent LHP to the bullpen is probably a must-do for Dick Williams this offseason.
Enter LeBlanc, 32, who owns an excellent 4.00 K/BB and 1.13 WHIP in 91.2 IP since the start of the 2014 season (sandwiched around a year in Japan), and since he's got mixed experience as a starter and reliever would provide the Reds' pen with more than just a one-out guy. His career shows he's been hid relatively hard against LHP somewhat surprisingly, but over his last two big league seasons that's not been the case - which just so happens to coincide with his increased usage from the bullpen.
He's not a perfect fit, but this is all drawn from an imperfect list of imperfect players. What he does have, however, is a change-up that can completely fool hitters, and that's something the Reds' bullpen could surely use more of.
Cory Gearrin - RHP, San Francisco Giants
Cory Gearrin threw 48.1 innings of 3.29 FIP ball for the Giants in 2016, a 1.16 WHIP and plus slider carrying him through the season with solid results. Pair that with a career K/9 of 10.1 in 268 MiLB games, and you may well be wondering why he lands on this list - especially since he's only set to command around a $1.1 million salary in 2017.
Well, that's because a shoulder injury landed him on the DL mid-year in 2016, most likely. Considering Tommy John surgery in early 2014 cost him a year already, and the 30 year old may not be the healthiest gamble on the planet. Still, he posted a 1.17 ERA and .445 OPS allowed over his final 10 appearances after returning from the DL last year, and he's exactly the kind of cheap pickup that a team that was forced to depend on Ross Ohlendorf and Jumbo Diaz should consider.
A.J. Griffin - RHP, Texas Rangers
Ah, Dan Straily, the scrap heap hero from the Reds' 2016 season, the guy brought in just days before the start of the season who posted a 4 WAR season after not having had any success since a 4th place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting after a solid 2013 season with Oakland.
Speaking of solid 2013 seasons with Oakland, enter A.J. Griffin, who matched Straily's 152.1 innings of 3.96 ERA ball that year with 200 innings of a 3.83 ERA himself. Though while Straily's subsequent years were rife with struggles and underperformance prior to his 2016 breakout, Griffin's consisted of his arm nearly falling off - twice.
Shoulder and elbow issues kept him out of the big leagues entirely during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but he reemerged with Texas this past year with 119 IP, featuring a solid 8.1 K/9 and decent 1.36 WHIP despite an unsightly 5.07 ERA. He tired mightily down the stretch after holding hitters to a .234 average and posting a 3.81 ERA in the season's 1st half, but that probably should've been expected after two full years out of action.
The Reds have talked about bringing in a veteran arm to challenge for a back of the rotation spot, and Griffin may well be the most bounce-backy of the bounce-back candidates out there, should he actually be non-tendered. He'll still just be 29 in January, and - again like Straily - he'd have three full years of team control left should he prove to be an asset worth hanging onto.