With both trade deadlines having passed and the regular season nearing an end, most major league teams are now preparing themselves for the upcoming winter. Once the offseason begins, eight teams will have decisions to make on position players whose contracts include club options for 2019. Let’s assess where those players stand with just four weeks left until the playoffs…
Brian McCann, C, Astros – $15MM option, no buyout: McCann’s option would have vested had he amassed 1,000 PAs from 2017-18, started 90 games behind the plate this year and avoided ending the season on the disabled list. But the 34-year-old definitely won’t meet the first two requirements, thanks in part to July knee surgery that kept him out until this past weekend. While McCann won’t be able to control his fate at season’s end, the Astros will still be able to bring him back. That’s not going to happen, though, at least not at McCann’s $15MM price tag. The seven-time All-Star was an important part of the Astros’ World Series-winning team a year ago, but he has struggled to a personal-worst .203/.277/.316 batting line through 177 PAs this season, and the power he has shown off throughout his career hasn’t been present (five home runs, .114 ISO).
Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees – $12.5MM option, $2MM buyout: Underrated throughout his career, Gardner is amid his sixth straight season of at least 2.5 fWAR, though his offensive numbers have dipped a bit. Gardner has only managed a .237/.327/.373 (93 wRC+) line in 541 PAs, but he has swatted 12 homers and stolen 13 bags. As has been the case for most of his career, the 34-year-old has provided significant value as a baserunner and defender. Gardner’s also a well-regarded clubhouse presence, though it’s hardly a lock that the career-long Yankee will once again wear pinstripes in 2019. The Yankees have several other high-profile corner outfielders under control – including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, youngster Clint Frazier and the expensive, injury-laden Jacoby Ellsbury – and may even pursue Bryce Harper in free agency. It’s unclear how Gardner’s future will shake out, then, but it’s possible the Yankees will pick up the 35-year-old’s option and attempt to deal him. Gardner may well have trade value on what will essentially be a one-year deal, especially if the Yankees pay down some of the remaining cash.
Gerardo Parra, OF, Rockies – $12MM option, $1.5MM buyout: Parra has managed minus-1.8 fWAR and minus-2.1 rWAR in 1,202 PAs as a Rockie, making the three-year, $27.5MM guarantee they gave him entering the 2016 campaign a regrettable decision. It’ll be a shock if the Rockies don’t buy the 31-year-old out after the season.
Josh Harrison, 2B/3B/OF, Pirates – $10.5MM option, $1MM buyout: A Pirate since 2011, Harrison may be in his final weeks with the club. Across an injury-limited 351 PAs this season, the 31-year-old has slumped to a .255/.298/.360 showing with little power (seven HRs .106 ISO). Pittsburgh may be inclined to buy out Harrison, then, especially considering it’s a low-payroll team with younger, cheaper second base options in the fold, including Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Blue Jays – $8MM option, $250K buyout – Formerly a top prospect with the Mariners, Smoak’s career looked like a disappointment for a while, but he has finally broken out as a hitter over the past couple years in Toronto. Dating back to 2017, Smoak has totaled a Blue Jays-best 1,163 PAs and slashed .261/.356/.505 (129 wRC+) with 61 home runs, including 23 in 526 trips to the plate this season. So, even though the value of Smoak’s 2019 option has jumped from $6MM to $8MM this year, it should still be an easy one for Toronto to exercise.
David Freese, 3B/1B, Dodgers – $6MM option, $500K buyout: Since debuting in earnest with the Cardinals in 2010, Freese – whom the Dodgers just acquired from the Pirates – has always offered respectable offensive production. That has once again been the case this year, as the onetime World Series hero with St. Louis has posted a .283/.338/.443 line with nine HRs in a part-time role (269 PAs). Freese has also earned plus marks at the hot corner dating back to 2016, having combined for 15 Defensive Runs Saved (two this season) and a 9.9 Ultimate Zone Rating (2.7 in 2018). At worst, Freese is a valuable bench piece, but whether he’s valuable enough for the Dodgers to shell out $6MM next year is another question. The Dodgers are known for their depth, and they won’t be nearly as worried about spending under the competitive-balance tax threshold in 2019 – two factors that work in Freese’s favor. However, barring injuries to Justin Turner (who, granted, has only played in 77 games this year), they’re set at third base.
Jung Ho Kang, INF, Pirates – $5.5MM option, $250K buyout: Kang’s issues with drinking and driving in his native South Korea are well known, and as a result, he hasn’t played in the majors since 2016. The 31-year-old did return to the minor leagues this season after missing all of 2017, though his season ended in August on account of left wrist surgery; it’s possible that procedure also concluded his on-field tenure with the Pittsburgh organization. While Kang’s option for 2019 isn’t all that expensive, and he was a key contributor to the Pirates from 2015-16, it’s a decent bet the team will buy him out because of the off-field headaches he has caused.
Yangervis Solarte, INF, Blue Jays – $5.5MM option, $750K buyout: Acquired from the Padres last offseason, Solarte’s first year with the Blue Jays began well, but it has gone downhill over the past couple months. To his credit, Solarte has slugged 17 home runs and limited strikeouts (14.4 percent), but he has nonetheless hit an unimpressive .233/.287/.397 and recorded minus-0.6 fWAR over 471 PAs. The 31-year-old also hasn’t taken the field since Aug. 11 because of an oblique strain. With Josh Donaldson out of the picture, perhaps the Jays will keep Solarte around next year as an affordable third base option, though superstar prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be in the fold by then. In the event Toronto does pick up Solarte’s option and retain him, it’ll be in this same position with him heading into 2020, when he’ll have an $8MM club option or a $750K buyout.
Brandon Guyer, OF, Indians – $3MM option, $250K buyout: Guyer’s overall production has cratered since 2017, including his .191/.282/.357 showing in 177 PAs this year. However, the right-hander has been tough on southpaws (.233/.355/.467 in 107 PAs), which has typically been the case during his career. But that may not necessarily be enough for the Tribe to bring the soon-to-be 33-year-old Guyer back for $3MM.
Robinson Chirinos, C, Rangers – $2.375MM option, $1MM buyout: Going by wRC+ (107), Chirinos is in the midst of his fourth consecutive above-average offensive season. The 34-year-old has slashed .218/.337/.429 and shown off considerable power (17 homers, .211 ISO) over a career-high 377 PAs, though his strikeout rate has spiked to 34.5 percent (up from 26 percent lifetime). Still, despite Chirinos’ strikeout surge and his poor defensive numbers, his offensive production is well worth the price of next year’s option.