Yesterday, MLBTR checked in on the status of seven players who have vesting options in their contracts for the 2023 season. Each can (or already has) lock in some guaranteed money or the right to opt out of their current deal based on their workload or finish in awards voting this year.
Over the next two days, we’ll turn our attention to players with less of a say over their contractual status. A host of contracts around the league contain club options for 2023. Some of them will be easy decisions one way or the other, while there are others that’ll be more borderline calls. With teams having to make these calls a little over two months from now, it’s worth taking a look at how these players are performing in 2022.
Today, we’ll start with the American League. We’ll follow up with a look at the Senior Circuit tomorrow.
- Jordan Lyles, SP ($11MM option, $1MM buyout)
Baltimore signed Lyles to a $7MM guarantee last winter, taking the form of a $6MM salary for 2022 and at least a $1MM buyout on next year’s option. He’s been a fine back-end starter, working to a 4.35 ERA across 130 1/3 innings. Lyles has below-average strikeout, swinging strike and ground-ball rates, but he leads the club in innings pitched and is throwing plenty of strikes. He’s also drawn strong reviews for his work in the clubhouse with the team’s younger arms. A $10MM call is borderline for a 4th/5th starter type, but the Orioles have almost nothing on the books next season and could keep him around as a veteran stabilizer.
- James Paxton, SP (team must decide on consecutive $13MM options this offseason; Paxton would have $4MM player option for 2023 if club declines)
Paxton signed a convoluted deal last winter that reflected his atypical situation. A mid-rotation caliber starter when healthy, he’s made just six starts over the past three years and hasn’t pitched in an MLB game since undergoing Tommy John surgery last April. He’s making $6MM this season and could be a rotation option for a team that’ll see each of Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill hit free agency. The club will have to decide whether to trigger consecutive $13MM options (essentially a two-year, $26MM pact) this winter. If they decline, Paxton could opt in to a $4MM salary for 2023 or test free agency. How things play out largely depends on how Paxton looks down the stretch. Manager Alex Cora recently told reporters the southpaw will throw a simulated game on Friday and could soon head out on a minor league rehab appearance (link via Chris Cotillo of MassLive).
- Hirokazu Sawamura, RP (team holds option currently valued at $3.6MM; Sawamura holds player option for 2023 currently valued at $1.8MM if club declines)
Sawamura signed a two-year, $3MM guarantee with the Red Sox over the 2020-21 offseason. The deal also included a club option for 2023 valued anywhere between $3-4MM, depending on whether Sawamura held his roster spot and based on his number of appearances. MLBTR has confirmed that escalators have already pushed the value of the club option to $3.6MM; that price escalates by an additional $100K for reaching each of 45, 50 and 60 appearances this season. (He’s presently at 43 games). If the team declines, Sawamura would have the right to trigger a player option currently valued at $1.8MM. As with the club option, the player option price escalates by $100K for reaching 45, 50 and 60 appearances. If both sides bypass their respective options, Sawamura would receive a $1MM buyout.
It seems likely that Sawamura’s team option price will fall somewhere in the $3.8MM – 3.9MM range, with a $1.8MM gap between the value of the club and player options. That’s an acceptable price to pay for a solid reliever, albeit one who’s been relied upon more in lower-leverage innings. Sawamura has a 3.14 ERA in 97 1/3 innings since coming stateside, striking out a decent 23% of opponents with a strong 51.7% ground-ball rate. He’s had issues throwing strikes consistently, but he’s an affordable power arm for a middle innings group that has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. That the Red Sox haven’t given Sawamura much high-leverage work in spite of their bullpen struggles is enough of a red flag to put this one in some doubt, but it seems likelier they’ll keep him around.
- Luis Severino, SP ($15MM option, $2.75MM buyout)
Severino barely pitched between 2019-21 because of injuries, including a Tommy John recovery. He returned to the rotation this season and pitched to an impressive 3.45 ERA through 16 starts before suffering a lat injury that’ll cost him at least two months. The injury history is a real concern, but Severino still looks like an above-average starter when healthy. He’s averaged around 96 MPH on his fastball, struck out 27.2% of opposing hitters and has a tiny 7.2% walk rate. The Yankees would have to be very pessimistic about his health outlook to buy out his age-29 season, particularly since it’s only a $12.25MM decision once the buyout price is taken into account.
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF ($13MM option, $2.5MM buyout)
Kiermaier hit .228/.281/.369 over 221 plate appearances before suffering a season-ending left hip injury. It’s the latest in a long line of major health issues for the 32-year-old, and the Rays are planning to buy out the three-time Gold Glove winner. It’s possible the team tries to circle back at a lower price point, but the career-long Ray is likely to hit the open market for the first time in his career.
- Anthony Bass, RP ($3MM option, $1MM buyout)
The Jays just acquired Bass from the Marlins at the trade deadline, fortifying their bullpen with a productive middle-innings arm. Bass has an excellent 1.49 ERA through 48 1/3 innings on the year, striking out 26.2% of opponents against just a 5.9% walk rate. It’s a career-best season at age 34, but Bass has a sub-4.00 ERA for five years running. He’s an underrated bullpen piece, and the Jays are sure to bring him back for what amounts to a $2MM decision.
- Tim Anderson, SS ($12.5MM option, $1MM buyout)
This is as easy a call as any team will have to make this winter. Anderson has been one of the game’s better players four years running. He’s an elite contact hitter and baserunner, and he’s cemented himself as the Sox’s franchise shortstop. His 2022 season has been dinged by injuries, including a recent hand ligament tear that’ll cost him most of the remaining schedule. Frustrating year aside, Anderson has hit at a quality .301/.339/.395 clip this season and been an All-Star caliber performer in prior years. The White Sox are keeping him around next year, and they can do the same in 2024 via $14MM option.
- Josh Harrison, 2B ($5.5MM option, $1.5MM buyout)
Harrison signed a one-year deal in Spring Training and got off to a dreadful start. The veteran utilityman has turned things on since the calendar flipped to June, though, and he now carries a roughly league average .242/.312/.385 line through 281 plate appearances. The Sox will have to make a $4MM call this offseason on whether to bring him back for 2023. They’ll probably look for an upgrade at second base, but that’s a reasonable enough sum to dedicate to a quality infielder off the bench. Chicago already has Leury García making decent money in that role, and they might prefer to focus their finances on adding to the back of the rotation and bringing back star first baseman José Abreu.
- Bryan Shaw, RP ($4MM option, $500K buyout)
Shaw is a longtime member of the Cleveland organization, having spent seven of his 11 MLB seasons there. He’s a durable bullpen workhorse who’s clearly a favorite of the coaching staff and front office, but his 2022 results have not been good. The 34-year-old righty owns a 5.36 ERA across 40 1/3 innings. He’s only striking out 17.7% of opponents, walking batters at an elevated 11.6% clip and has had some home run issues. The Guardians seem likely to go in another direction this offseason.
- Miguel Sanó, 1B ($14MM option, $3MM buyout)
Sanó is a longtime member of the organization who’s capable of carrying a lineup with his power at his best. His platform season has been a disaster, though, and the Twins are sure to buy out his option. The 29-year-old underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee in May. He returned briefly but went back on the 60-day injured list last week with additional knee concerns. It’s not clear whether he’ll make it back this season. Sanó has an .083/.211/.133 line in 20 games this year after slightly above-average offensive performances in 2020-21.
- Sonny Gray, SP ($13.1MM option, no buyout)
Just as Sanó’s option is certain to be bought out, Gray’s is a no-brainer to exercise. Minnesota acquired the right-hander from the Reds in Spring Training, sending last year’s first-round pick Chase Petty to Cincinnati. Gray lost some time on the injured list, but he’s posted an impressive 3.19 ERA with slightly above-average peripherals through his first 16 starts in a Twins uniform. A mid-rotation starter of his caliber is a solid bargain at the cost of his option, which played into the fairly high asking price the Twins had to relinquish in the trade.
- Dylan Bundy, SP ($11MM option, $1MM buyout)
The Twins bought low on Bundy on a one-year free agent deal, hoping he’d rebound from a dismal 2021 and look more like the mid-rotation arm he resembled in 2020. That hasn’t really transpired, as the right-hander has a 5.01 ERA through 93 1/3 innings. He’s averaging a personal-low 89.2 MPH on his fastball, and while he’s throwing plenty of strikes, that lack of velocity has been reflected in both his 18.6% strikeout rate and higher than average home run rate. It seems likely the Twins will decline the option and reallocate that $10MM elsewhere, particularly with the recent acquisition of Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda’s expected return reducing the urgency to add to the rotation next season.
- Will Smith, RP ($13MM option, $1MM buyout)
Acquired in a one-for-one deadline swap that sent Jake Odorizzi to Atlanta, Smith is having a generally disappointing year. He has a 4.17 ERA through 41 innings, striking out a personal-worst 24.1% of batters faced with a career-high 11.2% walk rate. Smith was an effective late-game arm as recently as a season ago and is still generating swinging strikes at a quality 14.2% clip, but the $12MM price tag seems likely to be too hefty given the mediocre strikeout and walk numbers.
- Stephen Piscotty, RF ($15MM option, $1MM buyout)
Piscotty has spent five seasons in Oakland after being acquired from the Cardinals heading into the 2018 campaign. He had an excellent first season in green and gold, but he’s been a well below-average hitter fours years running now. Going back to the start of 2019, Piscotty has a .231/.288/.380 line in just under 900 trips to the plate. He’s sure to be bought out and could be looking at minor league offers next winter.
- Ken Giles, RP ($9.5MM option, $500K buyout)
Seattle signed Giles to a two-year deal knowing he’d miss all of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, hopes of a year two payout have been largely derailed by a finger issue that delayed his season debut and some shoulder tightness that has kept him out of action for the past month. Giles has thrown just 4 1/3 innings in a Seattle uniform, surrendering only one hit but four walks with six strikeouts. He’s averaged 94.8 MPH on his fastball, still solid but down from the 96.9 MPH range he showed during his incredible 2019 season with the Blue Jays. There’s a non-zero chance Giles returns — he’s currently on a rehab assignment in Triple-A — and dominates down the stretch to make Seattle think about the option. For the moment, though, it’s trending towards a buyout.
- Garrett Richards, RP ($9MM option, $1MM buyout)
Texas signed the 34-year-old Richards to a one-year guarantee over the offseason, hoping he’d build off the promise he showed in a late-season bullpen stint with the Red Sox. That hasn’t panned out, as he has a 5.35 ERA across 38 2/3 innings of relief. Richards has an excellent 52.1% ground-ball rate, but he’s not missing as many bats as one would like and he’s giving up a lot of hard contact. Texas seems likely to buy him out.
- José Leclerc, RP ($6MM option, $750K buyout)
Texas signed Leclerc to an early-career extension in 2019, locking him in after a 1.56 ERA season the year before. He struggled with his control the following season, then missed virtually all of 2020-21 battling elbow issues that eventually culminated in Tommy John surgery. Leclerc returned to the mound in June but has a 4.01 ERA with a personal-low 20.4% strikeout percentage in 24 2/3 innings of generally low-leverage work. He’s still throwing hard and missing plenty of bats with his slider, so there’s a chance Texas takes an optimistic view and keeps him around. His deal also contains a $6.25MM option for 2024, so he’d be under control for multiple seasons if the Rangers are willing to give him a bit of a longer leash. This feels like it could go either way depending on how he performs down the stretch.
- Kole Calhoun, RF ($5.5MM option, no buyout)
The Rangers signing of Calhoun to a one-year deal over the winter hasn’t panned out. He’s hitting .211/.269/.363 through 350 plate appearances and is currently on the injured list with a heel issue. It’s a second straight below-average season for the veteran outfielder, who’ll be 35 in October. The Rangers will almost assuredly decline the option and look elsewhere in right field as they aim for legitimate competitiveness in 2023.