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The Inexplicable Non-Tender

While it is an overused writing cliche, I can still think of no better way to drive home this point, so let’s use the old anonymous player comparison.

Relief Pitcher A: 49 IP, 1.65 BB/9, 9.00 K/9, 26.2% GB%, 3.02 FIP
Relief Pitcher B: 62 IP, 2.02 BB/9, 8.23 K/9, 32.5% GB%, 2.81 FIP

Pretty similar pitchers, right? Both are extreme flyball guys with good command and strikeout stuff. Pitcher B throws a little harder, but Pitcher A throws a curveball, giving him less of a demonstrated platoon split. Overall, they’re coming off pretty similar years.

Pitcher B is Rafael Soriano, generally considered the best closer on the market, and a guy likely to cash in with a mutli-year deal for significant money this winter. Pitcher A is Joel Peralta, who was inexplicably non-tendered last night.

I have yet to see an explanation for why the Nationals cut their best relief pitcher loose, and unless there’s a significant off-the-field issue that hasn’t become public yet, this looks to be one of the strangest decisions of the year. After dominating Triple-A and earning a promotion, Peralta was simply lights out for Washington last year.

Among relievers who threw at least 40 innings in 2010, only two issued fewer unintentional walks than Peralta, and he pounded the strike zone while also striking out 26 percent of the batters he faced. It’s not like his traditional stats were lousy, either – his ERA was 2.02. Even his career long struggle with giving up the longball wasn’t really a problem, as he allowed just five home runs.

Sure, Peralta would have been able to take those shiny numbers to arbitration, but given his previous salaries and experience, he wouldn’t have been able to command more than a couple of million dollars for 2011. As a guy who had to settle for a minor league contract last winter, trying to extract a big raise would have been impossible. Wilson Betemit had a similar season on the offensive side of things, starting the year in the minors and then performing once he got called up, and he accepted a $1 million offer from the Royals yesterday.

Considering that the Nationals will have to pay the league minimum to whoever replaces Peralta, their savings by cutting him loose is probably going to be measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is chump change for a Major League team, and deciding to part ways with Peralta over that kind of money is honestly baffling.

Peralta will be just fine. Now free to negotiate with any team, he won’t have a hard time finding work. His 2010 numbers compare favorably to almost every other reliever on the market, and while it was the first year he’s ever been this good, that didn’t matter for Joaquin Benoit. In fact, there’s a good chance that Peralta will make more now that he’s a free agent than he would have through the arbitration process.

While Jack Cust, Russell Martin, and Bobby Jenks will draw all the attention, Peralta is perhaps the most interesting player set loose yesterday. I’ll be curious to hear Mike Rizzo’s explanation for this one. From a cost/benefit standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense.