Rockies designated hitter/corner outfielder Charlie Blackmon plans to exercise his player option for the 2023 campaign, he tells Danielle Allentuck of the Colorado Springs Gazette (Twitter link). MLBTR has confirmed that the option value will be $15MM.
It’ll be the sixth and final year of the long-term extension he inked back in April 2018. Blackmon made $14MM in 2018, followed by successive $21MM salaries from 2019-21. He exercised a $21MM player option for this season, while his 2023 option had a base value of $10MM. That contained up to $5MM in escalators that were based on his playing time up to 575 plate appearances. Blackmon hit that highest threshold on Tuesday, triggering all the available playing time incentives. The deal also contained an additional $3MM that would’ve been attainable had Blackmon accrued any MVP support between 2018-22, but he won’t collect any of the awards bonuses.
Blackmon will be back for a 13th season in Colorado. A 2008 draftee, he debuted three years later. After a few seasons as a part-time player, he seized the primary center field job in 2014. Blackmon picked up an All-Star nod that season and kicked off an excellent run of both durability and productivity. He was an above-average hitter, by measure of wRC+, each year from 2015-19. That park-adjusted metric accounts for the favorable hitting environment in which he played half his games. He played 140+ games in each of those seasons, as well of 59 of the 60 contests in the shortened 2020 campaign.
While Blackmon has continued to be a fixture in the lineup over the past three years, his productivity has dipped. He’s not reached 20 homers or topped a .450 slugging mark since 2019. He’s also moved out of center field as his defensive metrics have declined, and he spent more time at designated hitter than in the outfield this season. Blackmon hit .264/.314/.419 across 577 plate appearances this season, which came to an early end when the Rox placed him on the injured list two days ago. He’s headed for surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee next week.
There was never any suspense as to Blackmon’s option decision coming off that down year. Yet even with his production falling in his age-35 campaign, he remains a key part of the Colorado organization. That the Rockies didn’t curtail his playing time late in the season — even as his continuing to rack up at-bats added an extra $5MM to next season’s books — is a testament to the franchise’s affinity for Blackmon and all he’s accomplished in their uniform.
As MLBTR explored in previewing the Rockies’ offseason yesterday, Colorado’s 2023 books are rather cluttered. They’re on the hook for around $112MM in guaranteed payroll commitments (not including projected salaries for arbitration-eligible players), and they’d owe the Cardinals an additional $5MM if Nolan Arenado declines to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of breathing room for outside additions before the team approaches its franchise-record $145MM payroll.
General manager Bill Schmidt and his staff have various areas of the roster they could look to augment this winter. The starting rotation seems the primary concern, but it’s possible they look for corner outfield help to continue to decrease the amount of time Blackmon needs to spend on the grass. He’ll presumably continue to play most days, if healthy, with skipper Bud Black splitting his time between DH and right field. Blackmon will be a free agent after the 2023 campaign, and he tells Allentuck he’s not yet considered what his future holds beyond next season.
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