The upcoming free agent class looks to be one of the thinnest in years, and it’s only going to get worse once teams begin picking up club options for productive players. The deadline to exercise or decline contract options is usually five days after the end of the World Series, though some contracts specify a different date.
It goes without saying some options are easier decisions than others. Some are no-brainers to pick up and others are easy calls to decline. Many fall in the middle though. Is it worth bringing that player back at that salary? Does he fit our roster next season? Could we pick up the option and trade him? Those are questions teams will be asking themselves in the coming weeks.
In this post we’ll examine the upcoming options decisions around the league. We’re going to look at club options only. Player options are a different animal and mutual options are pretty much pointless. They’re a way for teams to push money to next year’s payroll through buyouts. It’s extremely rare for both sides to exercise their end of a mutual option.
We’re going to split the players up into three self-explanatory categories: easy calls to exercise, easy calls to decline, and on the bubble. The first two categories are straightforward. The third group is the one that will have executives racking their brains.
Easy Calls To Exercise
|Option: $10 million||Buyout: $2.5 million|
Davis is having another excellent season, albeit one not quite as otherworldly as his 2014-15 efforts. He’s missed some time with a forearm issue as well, and that’s always a red flag. Still, one of the best relievers on the planet for a mere $10 million? No-brainer.
|Option: $7 million||Buyout: $1 million|
Escobar is not without his warts — he’s had some injuries this year and has been known to be a bit of a headache at times — but he’s hit .316/.373/.408 since the start of last season, plus he can play shortstop or third base. He’d get way more than $7 million as a free agent this winter.
|Option: $12 million||Buyout: $500,000|
No, Garcia has not had a particularly great season this year, pitching to a 4.58 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 163 innings. He’s also had some major arm injuries in recent years. But still, pitching is always in demand, and this winter’s free agent pitching class is so thin that Garcia could be the best available starter should his option get declined. At worst, the St. Louis Cardinals would pick up his option and shop him around in trades.
|Option: $12 million||Buyout: $500,000|
Like Garcia, Gonzalez is not having a particularly strong season (4.40 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 157 1/3 innings), but he’s still only 30 and starting pitching is at a premium. If the Washington Nationals are comfortable with Stephen Strasburg ‘s health, they could pick up Gio’s option and trade him to clear room for some of their young starters.
|Option: $3 million||Buyout: $250,000|
A few weeks ago Grilli would have been in the “maybe” pile. He’s had some hiccups of late but has generally been very good since being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays (2.88 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 34 1/3 innings). No, Grilli is not young (40 in November), and he’s had some injuries in the past, but $3 million for a veteran late-inning reliever qualifies as affordable. Considering the buyout, Toronto is making a $2.75 million decision here.
|Option: $10 million||Buyout: $2 million|
Hammel has been hit pretty hard of late (23 runs in his last 17 1/3 innings) and he recently had a disagreement with manager Joe Maddon about his quick hooks, but this decision isn’t being made by Hammel or Maddon. It’s being made by the front office. Even with his recent struggles, Hammel has a 3.57 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in almost 500 innings over the last three years. The $2 million buyout makes this an $8 million decision for the Chicago Cubs . Pretty easy call here.
There is no easier option decision this offseason than this one. Lucroy is an absolutely steal at that salary next season, and that dirt cheap option is one of the reasons he was such a popular trade target at the deadline. He fits into every team’s budget. The Texas Rangers will exercise their option on Lucroy. Zero doubt about it.
|Option: $9 million||Buyout: $1 million|
A year or two ago Maybin would have fallen into the “on the bubble” category. He had some down seasons with the San Diego Padres , but after a nice bounceback season with the Atlanta Braves last year, he’s had a huge year with the Detroit Tigers in 2016, hitting .320/.388/.401. A quality center-field defender capable of putting up those numbers is easily worth $9 million next season.
|Option: $12 million||Buyout: $1.2 million|
Santana is a flawed player, no doubt about it. He doesn’t hit for a high average and he’s pretty inflexible defensively; he’s been relegated to first base and DH the last two years. At the same time, Santana has 30-homer power and he’s always among the league leader in walks, leading to strong on-base percentages. And he’s a switch-hitter. You don’t cut a player like Santana loose over $12 million.
Easy Calls To Decline
|Option: $3 million||Buyout: $250,000|
Yeah, the option is cheap, but Albers has been throwing batting practice this season. He has a 6.20 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP in 49 1/3 innings. He’s also allowed 10 home runs and 19 walks while striking out only 28. There’s better ways for the Chicago White Sox to spent that money.
|Option: $13 million||Buyout: $750,000|
Crisp’s option could have vested based on plate appearance and games played totals, though that won’t happen. There’s not enough time left in the season for him to accumulate the necessary totals. A few weeks ago Crisp said he was ” extremely hurt” the Oakland Athletics reduced his playing because he believed they were trying to prevent his option from vesting. Coco is with the Cleveland Indians now, and he simply isn’t a $13 million player anymore.
|Option: $3.75 million||Buyout: $800,000|
I was on the fence about this one for a little while because decent catchers are so hard to fine. Hanigan is firmly in “backup catcher only” territory now, plus he’s had some injury problems. The Boston Red Sox have some depth behind the plate ( Sandy Leon , Christian Vazquez , Blake Swihart ) and I don’t think there would be enough interest in Hanigan to pick up the option and trade him. Decline it is.
|Option: $23 million||Buyout: $10 million|
Howard’s contract is finally coming to an end. The Philadelphia Phillies still owe him a $10 million buyout, but they’ll pass on bringing him back next season. Howard has had some tremendous years in Philadelphia and he helped the team win a World Series in 2008, but make no mistake, the team has been waiting to get rid of him for a few years now.
|Option: $4.5 million||Buyout: $500,000|
Even at age 37, Ruiz remains a productive backup catcher, plus he’s considered a great clubhouse guy as well. Backup catchers usually don’t make $4.5 million, though the Los Angeles Dodgers clearly like him given the fact they traded clubhouse favorite A.J. Ellis and two prospects to get him last month, so maybe they will pick up the option. I’d be surprised though.
|Option: $5.25 million||Buyout: $250,000|
It wasn’t too long ago that Walden was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. A biceps issue limited him to only 12 appearances last season though, and Walden has not pitched all this year due to a shoulder problem. It’s easy to dream on him coming back next season and regaining his 2010-13 form, but no team will gamble $5.25 million on that.
On The Bubble
|Option: $13 million||Buyout: $1 million|
Although he’s been better of late, Bruce’s first few weeks with the New York Mets have not gone all that well. The team will also have two other left-handed hitting corner outfielders ( Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto ) on the roster next season, which could squeeze out Bruce. New York’s decision could depend on Yoenis Cespedes ; if he opts out of his contract (as expected), they could bring Bruce back. If Cespedes stays, they might simply decline Bruce’s option and move on.
|Option: $13.5 million||Buyout: $500,000|
Buchholz may be getting hot at just the right time. He was so bad earlier this season that he was demoted to the bullpen, but, in his last four starts, he’s allowed only six runs in 23 1/3 innings. Buchholz is a very frustrating pitcher. He’ll have days when he looks like the best pitcher in the league and days when he looks like he belongs in Triple-A. These days $13.5 million is not a ton of money, and there’s no such thing as too much pitching depth, so I think the Red Sox will pick this one up. It’s not a certainty, however.
|Option: $6.5 million||Buyout: $500,000|
The perception of Escobar as a player seems to far outweigh the reality. He’s hitting .269/.299/.350 this year and owns a .261/.292/.336 batting line in more than 2,500 plate appearances since 2013. Also, the defensive stats don’t love him nearly as much as the eye test, which is why he’s only been worth 4 WAR over the last four seasons. The Kansas City Royals have some young infielders too, namely shortstop Raul Mondesi . Now, that said, Escobar is only 29, and solid defensive shortstops who can hit an empty .270 or so have value. I’d bet on his option being picked up.
|Option: $11 million||Buyout: $1 million|
He’s healthy right now, but various injuries have limited Holland to only 33 starts (and one relief appearance) the last three years, during which he has a 4.15 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 190 2/3 innings. This season Holland has pitched to a 4.74 ERA in 95 innings. This option decision could be telling. If the Rangers decide to let Holland walk over $11 million, chances are they aren’t that comfortable with his medicals.
|Option: $17 million||Buyout: $1 million|
Over the last four seasons Holliday has seen his OPS slip from .879 to .811 to .804 to .768. He’s also had some injury problems — to be fair, this year’s broken thumb was the result of a fluky hit-by-pitch — and is no longer much of an outfielder at 36. In fact, the Cardinals had him play some first base earlier this year. $17 million is a lot gamble on a player in decline. I wonder if St. Louis would decline the option and look to bring Holliday back a lower salary.
(Holliday’s option can vest with a top-10 finish in the NL MVP voting this year, but that won’t happen.)
|Option: $4.25 million||Buyout: none|
It looks like Mike Zunino is finally starting to put it together, making him the favorite for the starting job in 2017. The team still needs a backup though, and Iannetta is a favorite of GM Jerry Dipoto. He traded for him when he was with the Los Angeles Angels and signed him as a free agent this past offseason. Iannetta is unlikely to start the 16 games necessary to vest his option, so this one will come down to whether Dipoto wants to pay $4.25 million for a veteran backup.
|Option: $6.5 million||Buyout: $500,000|
The 36-year-old Neshek is having another very good year (2.57 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 42 innings) and there’s always room for another quality reliever in the bullpen. The question is whether the Houston Astros want to make room for some of their younger hard-throwing relievers on next year’s roster. I think they’ll pick Neshek’s option though. You’d rather have too much pitching than not enough.
|Option: $10 million||Buyout: $500,000|
Niese was having a disaster season (5.50 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 121 innings) before undergoing season-ending knee surgery last month. The buyout makes this a $9.5 million decision for the Mets. Their recent call-ups, specifically Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo , have pitched well, giving the team a nice layer of depth behind their top starters. Both Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler will be coming back from serious injuries next season, so the Mets will need that depth too. I feel like committing $9.5 million to Niese, who will be coming back from a serious injury of his own, would be pushing it though.
|Option: $3 million||Buyout: $500,000|
Every team needs a swingman and Petit is as good as any proverbial “last guy in the bullpen” in baseball. Even with all the young pitching the Nationals have, giving $3 million to Petit next season seems like a good investment. Low risk, and if he doesn’t pitch well or room is needed for a younger pitcher, it’s an easy amount to swallow.
Rodney’s option is complicated. It calls for a $2 million base salary, plus any incentives he reaches this year are tacked onto next year’s salary too. Rodney has already made an additional $2.5 million in incentives this year, pushing his 2017 option value to $4.5 million. Another $1 million in incentives is still within reach too. Rodney has not been particularly good with the Miami Marlins , and each time he reaches another incentive, it becomes less likely they’ll bring him back in 2017.
|Option: $7 million||Buyout: $250,000|
Smith is a rock solid player, but a limited one. He’s not a good defender and he can’t hit lefties at all, so he fits best as a left-handed hitting DH. That’s not the most flexible player in the world. The Seattle Mariners are auditioning several young outfielders this month, and that makes me wonder if they’re preparing to cut ties with Smith after the season.
My guess is this option is entirely up to Ichiro. If he wants to play next season, the Marlins will pick it up. If he calls it a career or even just wants a few weeks to think things over, then they’ll decline it. Ichiro has cooled off considerably the last few weeks, but he’s still a productive fourth outfielder. Also, he’s a very popular player and has legitimate marquee value. People still go to the park to see him.
Source: CBS Sports / Here are 12 club options that’ll be tough calls for MLB teams this offseason