With the offseason approaching, so is the time for players and teams to decide upon any 2023 options in their contracts. MLBTR has taken a look through various option decisions in recent weeks: first with players whose deals contain vesting provisions, then a respective look at the team options in both the American and National Leagues.
Today, we’ll turn our attention to the players’ side. A number of players could hit free agency this winter either by triggering an opt-out clause in their current deal or bypassing a player option for the 2023 campaign. We’ll take a run through those decisions, many of which will have implications at the very top of the free agent market.
Note: All stats referenced are through play Sunday
Elite Potential Free Agents
- Nolan Arenado, Cardinals 3B (can opt out of final five years and $144MM)
Arenado was already on a Hall of Fame trajectory before 2022, but he’s bolstering his case with the best season of his career. Through 500 plate appearances, he owns a .306/.370/.567 line with 27 home runs. He’s had seasons with that kind of slash line in years past, but they came with the caveat that he’d played half his games at Coors Field. That’s no longer a factor, and it’s easily his best offensive output once one adjusts for the ballpark. Arenado’s 162 wRC+ is the fourth-best mark among qualified hitters.
That kind of offensive production alone would get him in the MVP discussion, but Arenado’s obviously valuable for far more than his bat. One of the best defensive third basemen in MLB history, he’s continued to post elite marks with the glove even as he’s entered his 30s. Arenado is among the top handful of players in the game. While walking away from $144MM wouldn’t be an easy decision, it’d seem the prudent one from a strict financial perspective. Freddie Freeman received six years and $162MM from the Dodgers (albeit with deferrals that reduced the net present value closer to the $148MM range) headed into his age-32 season. Freeman was coming off a 135 wRC+ platform showing, and he plays a less valuable position. Arenado and his camp could make a strong argument the Freeman contract should represent his floor, and it’s not outlandish to seek a six-year deal at the $35MM annual range Anthony Rendon received from the Angels (which would bring the guarantee to $210MM).
On paper, Arenado’s opt-out decision looks like a slam dunk. There’s at least some amount of uncertainty, though, as he forewent an opt-out opportunity last offseason and told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch it was “always the plan” to remain in St. Louis long term. Passing on free agency coming off a .255/.312/.494 showing in 2021 is a lot easier than doing so after a career-best year that should make him an MVP finalist. Maybe he’s comfortable enough with the Cardinals he’ll return, but he’d probably be leaving a lot of money on the table to do so. At the very least, he looks to have a case for a renegotiation of his contract with the Cards, which is slated to pay him just $15MM in the final season (2027).
- Carlos Correa, Twins SS (can opt out of final two years and $70.2MM this offseason; deal also contains post-2023 opt-out if Correa opts in this winter)
Regarded by many (MLBTR included) as the top free agent in last winter’s class, Correa reportedly turned down at least one ten-year offer early in the offseason in search of a guarantee that rivaled the $341MM Francisco Lindor had received from the Mets last April. That proposal seemingly never came, and Correa reversed course in Spring Training. He signed a shocking three-year deal with the Twins that guaranteed him the largest annual salary ($35.1MM) for a free agent position player and afforded the opportunity to retest the market in either of the next two offseasons via opt-out.
Conventional wisdom was that Correa was sure to trigger his first opt-out and make another run at a long-term deal in a winter unaffected by a lockout. That still seems likely, although he hasn’t resoundingly made the case for teams to be more willing to approach the Lindor range that they had been. He’s having a similar offensive season as he did during his final year with the Astros. After posting a .279/.366/.485 showing his last year in Houston, Correa is hitting .276/.355/.439 over 440 plate appearances with Minnesota. His raw power production is down, but that’s not quite as alarming when considering the leaguewide slugging percentage has dropped from .411 to .395. Perhaps of greater concern is that the elite defensive marks that garnered Correa a Gold Glove last season are unanimously down, ranging anywhere from below-average (-2 Outs Above Average) to solid (+4 Defensive Runs Saved, +1 Ultimate Zone Rating).
There’s no question Correa’s an excellent player having a very good season. Yet he’s not likely to wind up a top five finisher in MVP balloting as he did in 2021. He’d top a $200MM guarantee on the open market, but he’s unlikely to reach the kind of money he anticipated last offseason. Could he return to Minnesota (where he’s by all accounts very happy) for one more year and look to trigger his post-2023 opt-out after hopefully putting up MVP-caliber numbers? That feels unlikely, but he’s already bet on himself once and would only be entering his age-29 season if he put off opting out for a year.
Bogaerts has been the Red Sox’s everyday shortstop since 2014, but his time in Boston could be nearing its end. He and the club didn’t make progress in extension talks this spring, and he’s a lock to opt out and top $60MM on the open market barring a catastrophic injury. One of the game’s top offensive shortstops, Bogaerts is amidst another strong season. He carries a .303/.372/.448 line through 508 plate appearances. His slugging output is below where it was from 2018-21, but he consistently gets on base and has a strong pre-2022 track record from a power perspective.
One can quibble about certain aspects of Boagerts’ profile. In addition to this year’s slugging dip, he’s traditionally rated as a below-average defender. Even with generally solid defensive metrics this season, clubs will probably have some question whether he’ll eventually need to move to second or third base. Those are nitpicks for whether Bogaerts would be a worthwhile investment in the $180MM – $200MM range, though. A 30-year-old shortstop with an elite durability track record and a .299/.370/.478 line since the start of 2020, he’s certainly going to shatter $60MM even if the market takes a relatively pessimistic view of his long-term projection.
- Jacob deGrom, Mets RHP (can opt of final year and $33.5MM this offseason)
There’s no suspense with this one, as deGrom has publicly maintained his plan to opt out for months. That’s in spite of elbow/shoulder injuries that kept him from throwing a major league pitch between July 2021 and this August. With only one guaranteed year remaining on his deal (plus a 2024 club option that’d go into effect if he doesn’t opt out this winter), that’s been a pretty easy call. To the extent there may have been any lingering doubts, deGrom has silenced them with his first five starts since returning from the injured list. He’s looked like his vintage self, averaging 99.3 MPH on his fastball while posting a laughable 46:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 29 1/3 innings. On an inning-for-inning basis, he’s the best starting pitcher on the planet.
deGrom’s free agent case will be fascinating. Even if he finishes the season healthy, he’ll have gone three consecutive years without topping 15 starts or 100 innings (although he’s obviously not at fault for the shortened 2020 schedule). What kind of volume a signing team can expect is an open question, particularly as he enters his age-35 season. Yet the upside of a healthy deGrom is through the roof. He’ll receive a multi-year deal that beats the $33.5MM remaining on his current contract. Can he top teammate Max Scherzer’s $43.333MM AAV over a three or even four-year term? Time will tell.
While we’re on the topic of upper-echelon starting pitchers who are basically certain to opt out, let’s turn to Verlander. The future Hall of Famer triggered a $25MM option for next season by throwing 130 innings, but that’s largely a moot point. Verlander told Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic last week he was likely to opt out if things went as planned down the stretch. It’d have been surprising if he were even considering exercising the option.
Verlander has returned from 2020 Tommy John surgery to lead the major leagues with a 1.84 ERA. He’s striking out 26.5% of opponents and has a strong argument for a third career Cy Young award. He’s also a proven playoff performer and a prototypical ace who eats about as many innings as anyone else in the game. Even heading into his age-40 season, Verlander can try to beat the Scherzer AAV on a multi-year contract.
Verlander did injure his calf in his most recent start, resulting in a placement on the injured list just this afternoon. The Astros announced that an MRI of his calf revealed “fascial disruption, but no muscle fiber disruption” — an extremely specific diagnosis but one that both Verlander and GM James Click touted as good news. Click expressed hope the injury will be short-term, and Verlander suggested that had he sustained damage to the muscle fibers themselves, he’d likely have missed the remainder of the regular season and perhaps part of the postseason.
The manner to which Verlander rebounds will obviously be key in his opt-out scenario, but if he misses only a couple weeks’ time and returns strong for his final regular-season and postseason starts, this opt-out is an easy call.
We’ll wrap up the trifecta with Rodón, who’s also going to have an easy decision, barring injury. While there was some trepidation about Rodón’s breakout 2021 season — both due to his inconsistent track record before last season and some shoulder soreness and a velocity drop last August — he’s doubled down and looks to have cemented himself among the game’s top ten starters. Rodón has avoided the injured list thus far, and he’s striking out 32.1% of opponents while posting a 2.81 ERA through 25 starts. By topping 110 innings, he earned the right to opt out after this season.
Heading into his age-30 campaign, he should land the nine-figure deal that eluded him last offseason. Between his youth and last two years of production, Rodón has an argument for the largest guarantee of any free agent starter. He won’t get paid at the deGrom or Verlander level on an annual basis, but he could push for six years and look to top $150MM.
Quality Regulars Likely To Opt Out
Rizzo’s market last offseason seemed a bit underwhelming. The veteran first baseman was coming off two fine but unspectacular seasons, and it looked as if his best days might be behind him with his mid-30s approaching. Rizzo still made plenty of contact and hit the ball hard, but he’d gotten quite pull-oriented and had rough ball-in-play results against an increasing number of defensive shifts. He signed a two-year deal with the Yankees that paid him matching $16MM salaries and allowed him to opt out after this season.
That now looks like an easy call, as Rizzo has bounced back with a year more reminiscent of his peak days with the Cubs. He carries a .223/.337/.480 line and is going to top 30 homers for the first time since 2017. He’s still getting dismal results on balls in play and doesn’t have a particularly impressive batting average, but even that looks as if might turn around next year. It’s widely expected MLB will institute limits on shifting next spring. Few players would stand to benefit more than Rizzo, who’s facing a shift on a whopping 83.5% of his plate appearances according to Statcast. His age and lack of defensive versatility will limit the length of any deal, but he’ll probably beat the $16MM salary over at least a two-year term, even if the Yankees tag him with a qualifying offer.
The Padres’ signing Profar to a three-year, $21MM deal that allowed him multiple opt-out chances was one of the more eyebrow-raising moves of the 2020-21 offseason. The switch-hitter was coming off a solid 2020 campaign, but that shortened schedule was the first in which he’d posted above-average production. It looked like a misstep when he struggled last year and unsurprisingly forewent his first opt-out clause, but Profar has rewarded the organization’s faith with a career-best showing in 2022.
Through 530 plate appearances, he’s hitting .241/.339/.387 with 12 homers. He’s walking at a robust 12.3% clip while only going down on strikes 15.1% of the time. He looks like a solid regular, and headed into his age-30 season, Profar’s a candidate for another multi-year deal this time around. After major throwing issues as an infielder early in his career, he’s played exclusively left field this year. Profar isn’t a prototypical corner outfield masher, but his plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills should allow him to top the guaranteed money remaining on his current deal.
Starting Pitchers With High Buyouts
Walker signed a $20MM guarantee with the Mets over the 2020-21 offseason. The deal was front-loaded but came with a $6MM player option or a $3MM buyout for 2023. Adding a player option allowed the Mets to soften the contract’s luxury tax hit. Because player options are treated as guaranteed money, it technically qualified as a three-year, $20MM deal with a $6.67MM average annual value for CBT purposes. Yet the $3MM gap between the option value and the buyout meant Walker was a virtual lock to opt out, barring injury that made him unable to pitch next season. The Associated Press reports the option has various escalators that could push its value as high as $8.5MM if Walker throws 175 innings this year, but even that figure is modest enough he’s going to decline.
Walker should opt out in search of a multi-year deal, as he’s been a valuable mid-rotation arm for New York. Over 117 1/3 frames, he owns a 3.38 ERA despite a modest 18.3% strikeout rate. His blend of plus control and solid ground-ball rates makes him a candidate for a three-year pact as he heads into his age-30 season. The Mets will have an interesting decision on whether to tag him with a qualifying offer.
Like Walker, Odorizzi signed late in the 2020-21 offseason on a deal that locked in the first two seasons and gave the player a third-year option. Odorizzi’s contract with the Astros was similarly structured to facilitate a third-year buyout while diminishing the AAV for luxury tax purposes, although he’s deciding on a bit more money. The option was initially valued at $6.5MM with a $3.25MM buyout, but the Associated Press provided a breakdown of various escalators. The option value would jump by $2MM apiece if Odorizzi reached 20, 25 and 30 appearances between 2021-22 in which he either started the game or worked four-plus innings of relief. The buyout value would spike by $1MM apiece for hitting each of those thresholds.
Odorizzi has already made 41 such appearances over the past two years, so he’s long since maxed out both thresholds. He’ll therefore be deciding between a $12.5MM option to return to the Braves or taking a $6.25MM buyout and heading to free agency. With only a $6.25MM difference between the option value and the buyout, Odorizzi looks like a borderline opt-out case. He owns a 3.90 ERA across 85 1/3 innings this season, although his 18.3% strikeout rate is a few points below league average. He’ll be 33 by next Opening Day, and he didn’t find as robust interest as most expected he would during his last trip through free agency. He’s a quality strike-thrower and a perfectly fine back-of-the-rotation starter, but it’s now been three years since he’s missed bats at an above-average rate, and he was traded this summer in a one-for-one swap for an underperforming reliever (Will Smith).
Easy Calls To Return
- Eric Hosmer, Red Sox 1B (can opt out of final three years and $39MM)
Hosmer’s opt-in decision is a no-brainer. Since signing a $144MM contract with the Padres heading into 2018, he’s posted a league average .264/.325/.409 slash line. Paired with his lack of defensive versatility and mixed reviews on his glovework (public metrics have never been as fond of Hosmer as his four Gold Gloves would suggest), he’d probably be limited to one-year offers were he a free agent. The Padres will remain on the hook for virtually all of the money, as they agreed to pay down Hosmer’s deal to the league minimum salary to facilitate his trade to the Red Sox.
- AJ Pollock, White Sox LF ($11MM option, $5MM buyout)
The White Sox acquired Pollock just before the start of the season, sending Craig Kimbrel to the Dodgers in a surprising one-for-one swap. The hope was that they’d addressed a notable hole in the corner outfield, but Pollock’s production has cratered in Chicago. Just a season removed from a .297/.355/.536 showing in L.A., he’s stumbled to a .237/.284/.363 line through 401 plate appearances with the ChiSox. Even with a fairly modest $6MM gap between the option’s present value and the buyout, Pollock is likely to bypass a trip to free agency after a replacement-level platform season.
The present $11MM option value isn’t fixed, as Pollock’s contract contains escalators that could boost it a bit further. Originally set at $10MM, he’d lock in an extra $1MM for hitting each of 400, 450, 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances this season. He’s already surpassed 400 trips, and the 450 mark is well within range with 34 games remaining. Consistent playing time down the stretch would allow him to reach 500 plate appearances as well, although it’s hard to envision him getting to 550. The most likely outcome is that the option price ends up at $12MM, but anywhere between $11-13MM is viable.
Schoop signed a two-year, $15MM extension amidst a productive 2021 season in Detroit. While a defensible enough decision for the Tigers at the time, that hasn’t panned out. The veteran second baseman has a .235 on-base percentage that’s easily the worst in the majors among players with 400+ plate appearances. He’s posted otherworldly defensive marks this season and could well collect a Gold Glove, but the complete lack of production at the dish should make him a lock to exercise his option.
Blackmon exercised a 2022 option last season, and he went on the record at the time as saying he’d trigger the 2023 provision as well. There’s no intrigue as to his decision — he’ll be back in Colorado next year — the only question is how much he’ll make. The ’23 option came with a $10MM base value, but ESPN reported it’d escalate by $500K apiece if Blackmon reached 400, 425, 450, 475, 500, and 525 plate appearances in 2022. It’d jump another $1MM apiece at 550 and 575 trips.
The veteran outfielder enters play Tuesday with 490 plate appearances, so he’s already pushed the value to $12MM. Barring injury, he’s a lock to hit at least the 525 PA mark, and he’s quite likely to get all the way to 575. Colorado has 33 games remaining, and Blackmon is only 85 plate appearances (2.76 per game) from maxing out the plate appearance threshold at $15MM. The deal also contained escalators based on MVP finishes which Blackmon will not hit.
- Nick Martinez, Padres RHP (can opt out of final three years and $19.5MM this offseason, $1.5MM buyout; deal also contains opt-out chances after 2023 and 2024 if Martinez opts in)
Martinez signed a four-year, $25.5MM guarantee with San Diego this past winter. That deal contained opt-out chances after each of the first three seasons for the former KBO hurler, but it seems unlikely Martinez will take his first opportunity to return to the open market. He has a strong 3.02 ERA over 92 1/3 innings during his return season in the big leagues, but he’s worked as a swingman for a San Diego team that has quite a bit of rotation depth. Martinez has excelled as a reliever, pitching to a 1.35 ERA while holding opponents to a .208/.258/.295 line in 40 innings. That’s come with a modest 21.5% strikeout rate, though, and he doesn’t brandish the power arsenal teams tend to prioritize late in games.
Entering his age-32 season, Martinez probably wouldn’t find a better deal that the opt-out laden three years and $18MM (after factoring in the buyout price) he’d be bypassing to return to the open market. The Friars have to be happy with their investment considering his excellence out of the bullpen, but the surprisingly strong deal they gave him in the first place makes it hard to see him doing much better elsewhere even on the heels of a quality first season.
Detroit signed the ever-reliable Chafin late last offseason, and they’ve been rewarded with another excellent year. Through 43 1/3 innings, he’s posted a 2.91 ERA while striking out more than 30% of opponents with an excellent 52.3% ground-ball rate. The market probably undervalued Chafin last winter; it’d be hard to do so again after another very good season. In a vacuum, declining the option and topping $6.5MM in free agency seems likely.
That said, the Tigers decision to not trade Chafin at this summer’s deadline was tied to a belief he could stick around. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free-Press reported shortly before the deadline that Detroit’s proximity to Chafin’s Ohio home could lead him to return in 2023 if he weren’t moved before August 2. That led to a disconnect in his trade value, with the Tigers confident they still possessed a year and a half of his services while other clubs viewed him as an impending free agent. From a strict financial perspective, opting out is the prudent call. Yet the family considerations Petzold noted would make the decision more complicated if Chafin’s priority isn’t simply to maximize his earnings.
San Diego added Suárez, who’d never previously pitched in the majors, on the heels of an excellent career closing in Japan. He had a nightmare outing on Opening Day where he dished out free passes to all three batters he faced, but he’s been quite effective since that point. Excluding his first appearance, Suárez owns a 2.36 ERA with a strong 29% strikeout rate in 34 1/3 innings. He’s still had spotty control, but he’s averaging north of 97 MPH on his fastball. He’d only need to beat $4MM on the open market, and something around that rate over a multi-year term feels attainable heading into his age-32 season. A rough final couple months could change the calculus, but Suárez seems likely to retest free agency at the moment.
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