White Sox outfielder AJ Pollock is declining his $13MM player option, per Buster Olney of ESPN, instead taking the $5MM buyout and returning to free agency.
The decision comes as something of a surprise since Pollock is coming of a noticeable down year in 2022. Going into 2019, he and the Dodgers agreed to a four-year, $60MM contract that came with a $10MM player option for 2023 or a $5MM buyout. That $10MM salary could be increased by $1MM for Pollock hitting 400, 450, 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances in 2022, maxing out at $15MM. Since Pollock got to 527 plate appearances on the year, he added $3MM to his potential total, though it ended up being a moot point since he is taking the buyout.
For the first three years of that deal, Pollock was excellent at the plate, hitting 52 total home runs and producing a batting line of .282/.337/.519. That production was 25% above league average, as evidenced by his 125 wRC+. The Dodgers traded him to the White Sox for Craig Kimbrel going into 2022, which precipitated a downturn at the plate. For the Sox this year, Pollock hit just .245/.292/.389 for a wRC+ of 92, or 8% below league average.
He also seems to have lost a step, which isn’t surprising as he’s about to turn 35. He’s racked up double-digit steals in multiple seasons, including 39 in 2015. However, his last time getting into two-figure territory was 2018 and he only swiped three bags here in 2022. Advanced defensive metrics like Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Outs Above Average also considered him to be average or below in the field this year.
If there’s one thing Pollock has going for him is that he still mashes lefties. His career batting line with the platoon advantage is .285/.335/.533, leading to a wRC+ of 129, compared to a 107 against righties. That split was even more pronounced in 2022, with Pollock hitting .286/.316/.619 against southpaws, leading a wRC+ 161 compared to a 69 against northpaws. 11 of his 14 home runs came against lefties despite getting only about a quarter of his plate appearances against them.
Whether that’s enough for Pollock to come out ahead in the end remains to be seen. Joc Pederson was coming off a somewhat similar down year in 2021 when he had to settle for a one-year, $6MM deal with the Giants for 2022. Pederson also has strong platoon splits for his career, but could play fairly regularly against right-handers since he hits from the left side. If any team has interest in Pollock for a platoon role, he would have less value since there are fewer lefties for him to play against.
For the White Sox, this removes one option from an outfield that’s in flux for 2022. Andrew Vaughn has been playing on the grass a lot despite being a natural first baseman. He had a nice season at the plate but was one of the worst defensive outfielders in the league by most measures. The club is reportedly leaning towards letting Jose Abreu depart in free agency, opening things up for Vaughn to return to first base. Pollock’s departure removes another corner option from the calculus. That leaves the oft-injured Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez as their primary remaining outfielders, though they also have Adam Engel, Gavin Sheets and Mark Payton on the roster. Even with Pollock around, it seemed that the Sox were a good candidate to look for outfield upgrades and his exodus should only increase the chances of them looking for additions there.
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