Cole Hamels, LHP, Cubs – $20MM option, $6MM buyout (Texas would pay the buyout): Earlier in the season, when Hamels was toiling as a home run-prone Rangers starter, it seemed like a lock that he’d reach free agency over the winter. But since the Cubs acquired the 34-year-old prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, he has returned to his old ways as a front-end starter, as Steve Adams noted last week. Hamels hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of his six starts with Chicago, and has yielded a mere three ER across 39 innings. He has also notched nearly a strikeout per frame (38) while walking only 11 hitters during his brief Cubs tenure. Further, the HR issues that plagued Hamels in Texas have vanished, as he hasn’t surrendered a single long ball as a Cub. It seems Hamels is pitching his way into the Cubs’ 2019 plans, barring a meltdown over the next several weeks.
James Shields, RHP, White Sox – $16MM option, $2MM buyout: Once among the game’s most celebrated workhorses, Shields’ career went in the tank from 2016-17. But the 36-year-old has bounced back to a degree this season, having pitched to a 4.39 ERA/4.78 FIP through 182 1/3 innings. That type of production isn’t worth $16MM, though, so the White Sox are certain to decline Shields’ option and potentially end a disappointing tenure on the South Side. Not that White Sox fans need to hear about it again, but the team traded now-standout infield prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. to the Padres for Shields in June 2016. Even though the loss of Tatis has become a sickening reality for Chicago, it’s fair to note he wasn’t a ballyhooed prospect when it dealt him.
Chris Sale, LHP, Red Sox – $15MM option, $1MM buyout: Sale’s option will increase to $16MM if he wins this year’s AL Cy Young Award, which is a real possibility. That should tell you all you need to know about where he’ll pitch in 2019.
Ervin Santana, RHP, Twins – $14MM option, no buyout: A finger injury has wrecked Santana’s season, limiting him to 24 2/3 dreadful innings of 8.03 ERA/7.94 FIP ball, and kept him out since Aug. 16. Worsening matters, Santana expressed frustration toward the Twins’ front office last month after the out-of-contention club traded multiple veterans. Those comments aside, the Twins would have been inclined to pick up Santana’s option had he continued to post his typically above-average production this season. Now, given the way Santana’s 2018 has gone, Minnesota would be hard pressed to keep the soon-to-be 36-year-old at such a lofty price.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants – $12MM option, $1.5MM buyout: Like Boston’s situation with Sale, this is a no-brainer for the Giants. They’ll absolutely exercise Bumgarner’s option.
Matt Moore, LHP, Rangers – $10MM option, $750K buyout: The 29-year-old Moore has recorded a woeful 7.27 ERA/5.24 FIP in 90 1/3 innings (30 appearances, 12 starts), further distancing himself from his days as an elite prospect with the Rays. Texas will buy him out after the season.
Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Indians – $9MM option, $663K buyout: This is an easy yes for Cleveland, which has reaped the benefits of the underrated Carrasco’s stellar work since his 2014 breakout.
Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers – $7.5MM option, $750K buyout: At times, Perez has been a passable innings eater, and had that continued this year, the Rangers would’ve exercised his option. Instead, injuries have helped hold the 27-year-old to 70 2/3 innings and a 6.75 ERA/5.97 FIP. Thanks to Perez’s horrific output this season, the Rangers demoted him to the bullpen last week and informed him that they’re not planning to pick up his option.
Doug Fister, RHP, Rangers – $4.5MM option, $500K buyout: Fister used to be one of the game’s most effective starters, but he’s now an unspectacular back-end type, and his future with the Rangers is in question heading into 2019. Things working in the soon-to-be 35-year-old’s favor with respect to his option: 1.) It’s relatively inexpensive. 2.) The Rangers are starved for pitching, especially with Moore and Perez on the outs. Things working against the soft-tossing Fister: 1.) He was subpar this year in 66 innings and 12 starts, registering a 4.50 ERA with a 5.25 FIP. 2.) His season ended in mid-June because of a knee strain. This doesn’t look like a slam-dunk decision either way, particularly considering Texas is so hard up for starters.
Jordan Lyles, RHP, Brewers – $3.5MM option, $250K buyout: Lyles has spent the majority of his career in teams’ rotations, having piled up 115 starts in 212 appearances, but has primarily been a reliever since 2016. While the 27-year-old did good work out of the Padres’ bullpen earlier this year, his season has gone off a cliff since the Brewers added him via waivers last month. Lyles has only thrown 9 1/3 innings as a Brewer, but with six earned runs and eight walks given up, he has damaged his already shaky chances of the team exercising his option. It seems likely he’ll be a free agent in the offseason.
Wily Peralta, RHP, Royals – $3MM option, $25K buyout: As with Lyles, we’ll lump Peralta in with the starters, even though he may not belong with them. While Peralta has amassed 120 starts in 156 major league appearances, he has functioned solely as a reliever this year. Now the rebuilding Royals’ closer, the hard-throwing 29-year-old has saved all eight of his opportunities and logged a 3.57 ERA/4.17 FIP with 9.53 K/9 and a 45.1 percent groundball rate over 22 2/2 frames (24 appearances). Peralta’s walk rate is ugly (5.56 per nine), however, and both his batting average on balls in play against (.250) and Statcast data (.293 wOBA allowed vs. 345 xwOBA) suggest he has been fortunate to limit earned runs at such a quality rate. As of now, though, Peralta appears to be a decent bet to return to the Royals for $3MM next year, as the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger wrote over the weekend.