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MLB’s non-tender deadline is tonight

Will the Reds find new ways to be cheap?

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The picture above is of Kevin Gausman wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform. If you were still tuned-in to the final weeks of the lost 2019 season, you may remember those days.

The Reds plucked Gausman from Atlanta for a song off waivers after the former Baltimore ace had struggled to assimilate to the Braves rotation, and tried their best to shoehorn him into being an elite reliever. The peripherals ended up looking good, his arm looked lively, and at season’s end Gausman pretty clearly wanted to continue to be a starting pitcher.

The Reds, though, couldn’t quite get on the same page with him, and given his estimated arbitration salary was set to reach some $10.6 million, the Reds opted to non-tender him.

You probably know the rest of that story. He inked with the San Francisco Giants, was good enough in 2020 to warrant a Qualifying Offer, accepted said offer, poured in a brilliant 2021 season that saw him get MVP votes and finish 6th in the NL Cy Young voting, and landed a $110 million contract from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Such is the worry at the non-tender deadline each year. It’s the time when clubs can choose to call-time on the players they have who are reaching levels of expense that might not align with their resources, often times cutting ties with still-developing players who eventually turn into something that absolutely would’ve been worth holding onto.

Just last year, the Reds did that with the likes of Archie Bradley, for instance. Bradley immediately signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency for an amount nearly identical to what his projected arbitration salary was to be, and while he was hardly a Cy Young candidate during the 2021 season, his departure (and lack of replacement) was a pretty clear indication of the direction the Cincinnati Reds were heading at that time.

They were getting cheap as quickly as they could. It’s a trend they’ve continued since, making today’s flurry of decisions on their arb-eligibles drawing us to the edges of our collective seats.

The obvious candidates will get tendered contracts, of course. The likes of Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Jesse Winker are the core of the team, after all. The Reds might still choose to get cheaper and trade them later this winter, but they’ll get tendered contracts today first - they’re simply too valuable not to. That said, arb-eligibles who project to have increasing salaries and didn’t perform as well last year might well be on the chopping block, making the decisions on guys like Amir Garrett and Jeff Hoffman worth watching.

There’s also a chance of peripheral transactions with tonight’s 8 PM ET deadline looming. You could see a trade, for instance, if the Reds find someone willing to give them cheaper prospects for one of their arb-eligible guys and choose that route instead of paying to keep them around. There’s also the ever-so-slight chance of a long-term contract extension, since the idea of ‘how much will it cost to keep this guy around’ is the topic on both parties’ minds at the moment.

Here’s a complete list of the arbitration estimates for the Reds arb-eligibles, the group of folks that will be waiting anxiously to see just how many pennies the Reds choose to dole out this year.

Stay tuned!