With Major League teams increasingly adding opt-out provisions to free-agent contracts as a means of incentivizing players to sign, there are now a handful of those decisions that impact the free-agent market every offseason. With nearly 90 percent of the season already in the books, many of the opt-out decisions/player option decisions look pretty clear cut.
Things could change over the final month, but here’s a look at where things currently stand…
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (Two years, $65MM remaining): Truthfully, Kershaw is the only player with an opt-out provision in 2018 who could be called likely to exercise the clause at present. While he hasn’t been quite as dominant as usual and has spent time on the DL for a third straight year (back issues, biceps tendinitis), it’s difficult to imagine him having to take less than that $65MM sum in free agency.
In 131 1/3 innings this season, Kershaw is sporting a 2.40 ERA with 8.7 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9 and a 48.9 percent ground-ball rate. He hasn’t topped 200 innings since 2015, but he’s still a clearly elite starter. If he does formally opt out, the Dodgers can issue a qualifying offer, though perhaps the easiest scenario would be for Los Angeles to simply extend Kershaw’s current contract to prolong his already historic Dodgers career.
David Price, Red Sox (Four years, $127MM remaining): Price is having his best season with the Red Sox, having notched a 3.60 ERA with a strikeout per inning and 2.4 walks per nine innings pitched through 152 1/3 frames. His results have been solid, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where he exceeds $127MM in free agency at the age of 33. Price’s Boston tenure has been rocky at times, but it seems likely that he’ll be back in the rotation next season.
Jason Heyward, Cubs (Five years, $106MM remaining): Declining to opt out is little more than a formality for Heyward at this point, as he hasn’t come close to living up to his $184MM contract in Chicago through the first three seasons. To his credit, though the 29-year-old has had a nice rebound effort, hitting .275/.342/.399 with above-average defense in right field. That might make the Cubs feel better about his contract moving forward, but it won’t be enough to prompt Heyward to test free agency. His contract contains a second opt-out clause following the 2019 season, at which point he’ll have four years and $86MM remaining, but that also seems like a long shot.
Elvis Andrus, Rangers (Four years, $58MM): Andrus could be considered more of a borderline call than some on this list, but he seems likelier to stay with Texas than to opt out. The 30-year-old hasn’t had a bad season, hitting .270/.322/.396 with quality defense, but his bat hasn’t been as potent as it was in 2016-17 when he hit a combined .299/.348/.457. The downturn in offensive output might not be entirely Andrus’ fault; he did incur a broken elbow when he was hit by a pitch earlier this season — an injury that caused him to miss just over two months of action. It’s easy to imagine that injury having a lingering effect on Andrus’ swing, too.
Like Heyward, Andrus has a second opt-out clause in his contract after the 2019 season. At that point, he’ll have three years and $43MM remaining on his contract. If his bat returns to its 2016-17 levels, surpassing that $43MM mark in free agency could be plausible. If Andrus opted out, he’d certainly be issued a qualifying offer — there’s no reason for the team to worry about him taking a one-year deal worth about $18MM when he just walked away from $58MM — which would only further hinder his earning power.
Yasmany Tomas, D-backs (Two years, $32.5MM remaining): Tomas clubbed 31 homers with the 2016 Diamondbacks but did so with a .315 on-base percentage and some of the worst defensive ratings of any player in the Majors — regardless of position. He’s since been outrighted off the 40-man roster and, in 371 Triple-A plate appearances this season, has 101 strikeouts against 11 walks with a .280 OBP. Suffice it to say: he’s not going anywhere.
Mark Melancon, Giants (Two years, $28MM remaining): Injuries have ruined Melancon’s first two seasons with the Giants, though he’s been excellent since returning in 2018: 2.64 ERA, 7.9K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 53.1 percent ground-ball rate in 30 2/3 innings. That performance is encouraging for the Giants as they look to 2019, but it won’t be enough to make Melancon’s camp think he can top $28MM heading into his age-34 season.
Brandon Kintzler, Cubs ($5MM player option): Kintzler’s contract technically contains a $10MM club option or a $5MM player option, but it’s clear given his dismal performance since being traded to Chicago that the team won’t be opting for that $10MM sum. Kintzler was very good with the Twins and Nationals from 2016 through this past July, but his typically excellent control has evaporated in Chicago while his hard-contact rate has skyrocketed. It’s only a sample of 11 2/3 innings, but his struggles make the option seem a fairly straightforward decision.
Eduardo Nunez, Red Sox ($5MM player option): Nunez’s deal comes with a $2MM buyout, making this effectively a $3MM decision for his camp. He’s struggled to the point that he may not even want to take that risk, though, hitting just .258/.282/.384 through 473 trips to the plate.
Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported this week that Nunez’s option increased from $4MM to $5MM once he reached 400 plate appearances. Bradford spoke to Nunez, who acknowledged that the knee that gave out on him in the postseason last year has been a problem for him throughout 2018, though he believes he’s finally “close” to 100 percent. Perhaps a strong month and a big postseason could prompt him to again test the open market, but his overall production to this point makes the player option seem a likelier outcome.