No matter if a Major League Baseball season takes place in 2020, there are certain players who will be in position to decide whether to exit their current contracts next winter. Whether it be by way of an opt-out clause or a mutual option, here’s a look at the players who will be able to choose to take their chances in free agency…
Back when the Marlins extended outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on a historic pact worth $325MM over 13 years in 2014, they included a one-time opt-out for next winter. Stanton has put up at least one phenomenal season since he signed that deal – he won the NL MVP and hit 59 home runs in 2017 – but injuries have hampered him on a regular basis. He’s now a member of the Yankees, who acquired him in a December 2017 deal, but Stanton played in just 18 games last season. He’ll still be owed $218MM for seven years after this season, and for at least the time being, it’s very tough to think of Stanton leaving that money on the table to test free agency.
Designated hitter J.D. Martinez, a member of the Yankees’ archrival in Boston, will have two years and $38.75MM remaining on his contract after this season. He’ll be 33 then, and will continue to be someone who’s known as a defensive liability, so should be opt out? It’s up for debate. The big-hitting Martinez remains an offensive standout, but his production last season fell (granted, he did still slash .304/.383/.557 with 36 home runs in 657 plate appearances). He subsequently chose not to opt out after last season, as doing so would have cost him his $23.75MM salary for this year.
One of Martinez’s former Tigers teammates, outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, will also have to choose whether to revisit free agency next offseason. Castellanos is another defensively challenged slugger, one whom the Reds guaranteed $64MM over four years this past winter. He’ll be 29 by the time the 2021 season rolls around, and by saying goodbye to his Reds pact, he’d be leaving $48MM on the table (including a $2MM buyout in 2024). It’s not easy to determine whether that will happen; some of it depends on how well Castellanos fares in 2020, if a season occurs. Carrying over the tremendous production he posted late last season after the Cubs acquired him from the Tigers may make Castellanos more inclined to try his luck on the market again, but his output at the plate has been more good than great throughout his career.
For the most part, mutual options don’t get picked up. Either a player’s so effective that he opts for free agency or he’s not useful enough for his team to exercise the option. Rockies first baseman Daniel Murphy and reliever Wade Davis are among those who have mutual option decisions waiting after the season, but they’ve struggled in the club’s uniform so far. With that in mind, Murphy’s on track for a $6MM buyout (as opposed to a $12MM salary), while Davis figures to receive a $1MM buyout instead of a $15MM payday.
Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun ($15MM mutual option, $4MM buyout), Diamondbacks right-hander Mike Leake ($18MM mutual option, $5MM buyout) and Cubs lefty Jon Lester ($25MM mutual option, $10MM buyout) could also find themselves looking for new contracts next winter. The same goes for Mets reliever Dellin Betances, though it’s tougher to say in his case. The former Yankee barely pitched at all season on account of injuries, and if there isn’t a season in 2020, would he turn down a guaranteed $6MM in 2021? And would the Mets buy him out for $3MM? That’s one of the many interesting questions we could face next offseason.