It’s been more than a month since we last looked in on the crop of eight players that can opt out of their current contracts and reenter the free-agent market following the 2017 campaign. With more than half the season in the books, a few cases look relatively certain, but there are plenty of questions surrounding several such players…
[Related: 2018 Vesting Options Update]
- Greg Holland, RP, Rockies: Holland’s $10MM mutual option became a $15MM player option when he finished his 30th game of the season for the Rox a little more than a week ago. His recent brush with wildness is of mild concern, but Holland has a ridiculous 1.48 ERA with 11.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and a 39.7 percent ground-ball rate. In a year when homers are being hit more than ever and he’s tackling Coors Field for the first time, Holland has managed to limit opponents to just one big fly in 30 1/3 innings. So long as his arm holds up for the remainder of the season — no sure thing considering this is his first year back from 2015 Tommy John surgery — he’ll 100 percent turn down that player option in search of a huge multi-year deal. Agent Scott Boras will undoubtedly look to vault Mark Melancon’s four-year, $62MM pact and could seek a five-year deal.
- Johnny Cueto, SP, Giants: Cueto is still a workhorse, by today’s standards, as he’s on pace to reach 200 innings for the fourth straight year if he can make 33 starts. He’s logged a 3.97 ERA in eight starts since we last looked at the opt-out crop, though he continues to be abnormally homer prone (though that’s a league-wide trend, as homers are up across the board). Cueto has a 4.26 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 2.7 40BB/9 and a 40.3 percent ground-ball rate. If he can rediscover his pinpoint control and/or his grounder rate from previous years (1.8 BB/9, 50.2 GB% in 2016), he could make this an easier decision come October. Cueto still ranks third on MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman has reported that he’s still planning to opt out of the remaining four years and $84MM on his deal. I think there’s a decent chance he once again hits the open market in search of a five-year deal in the Jordan Zimmermann mold.
- Welington Castillo, C, Orioles: Castillo’s bat has seen a precipitous decline in effectiveness since our mid-May check-in on opt-out clauses, as he’s batted .205/.250/.349 in 88 plate appearances since that time. He perhaps deserves somewhat of a pass, given the cringe-inducing groin injury he suffered on an ill-placed foul ball deflection that landed him on the DL for 10 days in late May/early June. His overall .272/.307/.439 slash is solid for a catcher, and he’s thrown out a ridiculous 48 percent of opposing stolen base attempts (12-for-25). Framing will probably never be his strong suit, but he’s made some incremental improvements in recent years (though he still grades out below average). With a fairly small one-year, $7MM player option on his deal, it’s certainly plausible that Castillo hits free agency this winter and scores a better payday than that option would afford.
- Justin Upton, LF, Tigers: I understand the doubt around the possibility of Upton turning away an extra four years and $88.5MM to once again test free agency this winter; he’s 30 years old with questionable defensive value and a strikeout that has soared since his peak year in Arizona. Corner-limited sluggers also fared quite poorly on last year’s market, for the most part. Nonetheless, Upton is having his best offensive season since 2014 and is hitting .267/.351/.500 with 15 homers. Dating back to last year’s All-Star break, he’s slashing .264/.344/.537 with 37 bombs in 575 plate appearances. He’d need a big finish to be confident enough to top four years and $88MM, but that’s the same mark Hanley Ramirez signed for in Boston when he was a year older. If Upton’s camp feels that there’s a chance to approach the $110MM that Yoenis Cespedes received on a four-year pact last winter (again, when he was a year older than Upton), Upton’s reps could elect to search elsewhere. He can’t receive a qualifying offer this time around.
- Matt Wieters, C, Nationals: Wieters is hitting .205/.224/.328 through 125 plate appearances since the last time we checked in on this group. Overall, he’s batting .244/.293/.384 with a substandard 22 percent caught-stealing rate and the worst framing marks of his career. It’s possible that the one year, $10.5MM player option on his contract is still beatable in a thin market for catching this coming winter, but opting into the deal and remaining with a competitive team is going to look pretty appealing if he can’t get his bat going once again.
- Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees: Tanaka has picked a poor time to have the worst season of his career, though he’s showing signs of life on the mound. He’s tossed 14 innings with a 14-to-4 K/BB ratio and a huge ground-ball rate in his past two starts and also gone without a home run allowed in that brief stretch. Tanaka is still sitting on a 5.56 ERA with an awful 2.1 HR/9 mark, but he’s averaging 8.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 with a 49.3 percent ground-ball rate. xFIP is much more favorable than his ERA at 3.87, and SIERA agrees with a 3.91 mark. Three of his past four starts have been brilliant, and if he can continue that momentum he could still do better than the three years and $67MM remaining on his contract and hit the open market in search of a larger deal. Age is on his side as well. He’ll turn just 29 this winter.
- Ian Kennedy, SP, Royals: The 32-year-old Kennedy’s walk and strikeout rates have gone in the wrong direction by a substantial amount this season, and he’s more homer-prone than ever (1.9 HR/9). Starting pitching is almost always in heavy demand on the free-agent market (as Kennedy’s five-year, $70MM deal and opt-out clause illustrate), but he’s sporting a 4.72 ERA with FIP, xFIP and SIERA marks all well north of 5.00. Barring a miraculous turnaround, he’s not topping the remaining three years and $49MM on his deal as a free agent this winter, so expect him to stay in Kansas City.
- Wei-Yin Chen, SP: Marlins: Chen hasn’t thrown a single pitch since we last checked in on May 22, as he continues to attempt to work his way back from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. With three years and $52MM remaining on his contract, he’s a lock to forgo his opt-out provision.