The Diamondbacks have exercised their $4.25MM club option on right-hander Merrill Kelly for the 2021 season, as per a team press release. Kelly and fellow right-handers Corbin Martin and Jeremy Beasley were all reinstated from the injured list and placed on Arizona’s 40-man roster, bringing the team’s total to 38 of 40 players.
Kelly’s original two-year, $5.5MM contract with the D’Backs contained club options for both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, with this year’s option containing a $500K buyout and the $5.25MM option for 2022 containing no buyout. The Snakes therefore had a $3.75MM choice to make on Kelly, which wasn’t necessarily a sure thing given how we’ve already seen several notable players cut loose on option decisions in this young offseason, and Kelly is a health question mark going into 2021.
After posting a 2.59 ERA, 5.80 K/BB rate, and 8.3 K/9 over 31 1/3 innings this season, Kelly’s strong start was cut short after he required surgery to address a blood clot in his shoulder. A couple of weeks after that procedure, Kelly then underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. While Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen was optimistic that Kelly would be ready to go for Spring Training, past cases of TOS procedures have had varying timelines. And, of even more concern to Kelly and the D’Backs, several pitchers who have undergone thoracic outlet syndrome surgeries were unable to regain their past form on the mound.
Still, there was obviously enough comfort on the front office’s part to take the $3.75MM risk that Kelly will be recovered enough to contribute. The D’Backs are facing a likely reduction in payroll as a response to lower revenues, but in a vacuum, $3.75MM is a very reasonable price for a pitcher who has shown that he can be a solid member of a rotation.
Originally an eighth-round pick for the Rays in the 2010 draft, Kelly spent five years in the minors before heading to South Korea to pitch with SK Wyverns of the KBO League. He posted impressive numbers and established himself as a workhorse starter, doing well enough to land that multi-year contract from Arizona upon his return to North American baseball. Kelly acquitted himself well in his first taste of the big leagues, with a 4.42 ERA, 2.77 K/BB rate, and 7.8 K/9 over 183 1/3 innings for the D’Backs in 2019.