NOVEMBER 7: Rizzo has officially exercised his opt-out clause, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com.
NOVEMBER 4: Aaron Judge will understandably dominate most Yankee-centric headlines for the foreseeable future, but he’s not the only pinstriped slugger who’ll have the opportunity to field interest from other clubs this offseason. First baseman Anthony Rizzo’s two-year, $32MM contract with the Yankees contained even salaries of $16MM per year and allows the longtime Cubs star to decline a 2023 player option and return to the open market if he chooses. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden writes that Rizzo is planning to do just that, which isn’t a huge surprise given the season that Rizzo put together in the Bronx.
Rizzo, 33, did post a low batting average but piled up walks and extra-base hits en route to a .224/.338/.480 batting line through 548 trips to the plate in 2022. He slugged 32 home runs, knocked 21 doubles and even chipped in a triple and six stolen bases. His 18.4% strikeout rate was his highest since 2014 but was still well shy of the 22.4% league average. Similarly, his 10.6% walk rate was a good bit higher than the league-average mark of 8.2%. All in all, wRC+ (which adjusts for his home park and league-wide offensive environment) pegged Rizzo’s bat at 32% better than an average hitter.
On the defensive side of the coin, Rizzo’s once-sterling defensive grades have taken a tumble, but not to the point where he ought to be considered a liability. He checked in with negative marks in Defensive Runs Saved (-3) and Outs Above Average (-2) but did so over the course of more than 1000 innings. Rizzo has battled back injuries the past couple seasons, which could help to explain some of the downturn with the glove. He received an epidural injection this summer and later began experiencing migraines, which cost him a couple weeks of action. Rizzo went 3-for-6 with a homer in his return contest following that IL stint.
Rizzo played in 11 fewer games in 2022 than in 2021, but at least with regard to his offensive performance, his 2022 season was better across the board. He had slightly more strikeouts but showed substantially more power (.256 ISO to .192), hitting more home runs in fewer plate appearances (32 vs. 22) and walking more often (10.6% vs. 9%). Overall, it was his best offensive showing since 2019. Though he will be another year older in 2023, the incoming ban on defensive shifts should benefit him. As a left-handed hitter without much speed, some of his grounders that were easy outs in 2022 could turn into singles going forward.
Given that this year’s production rather handily outpaced his 2021 output, there’s little reason to think Rizzo shouldn’t be able to expect at least the same type of two-year, $32MM pact he signed with the Yankees last offseason. The one scenario that might impact his earning power would be if he were to opt out and be saddled with a qualifying offer, but the $19.65MM value of this year’s QO represents a noticeable bump from the $16MM he’s scheduled to earn in 2023. Rizzo would be wise to decline the player option if only to push the Yankees to make that QO and put himself in a position to secure that raise. If they don’t make the QO, then another two- or even three-year deal could well be present for the slugger in free agency.
Bowden suggests that Rizzo would like to return to the Bronx on a longer deal. If that interest is reciprocated by the club, perhaps they could work something out even if the QO is involved. Such a scenario played out a few years ago when the White Sox gave a QO to Jose Abreu, who accepted it, but then they agreed to a three-year deal about a week later.
The Yankees have a good deal of uncertainty with their infield picture for next year, with not many players locked in. Josh Donaldson had a rough year at the plate and is about to turn 37, making it possible the Yanks look to move on from the last year of his contract. Gleyber Torres was decent at second but should see his contract rise to the $10MM range via arbitration. He’s still worth an investment like that but the club could also look to trade him and devote those resources to other parts of the roster. DJ LeMahieu should factor in here somewhere but he finished 2022 on the IL and will turn 35 next year. He’s probably best suited to a utility role as opposed to an everyday gig. Shortstop is a big mystery with Isiah Kiner-Falefa having a generally solid season with the glove but a few errors in the postseason cost him some playing time. There are youngsters available to take his job in Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Volpe but none of those guys have proven themselves locks to be MLB-capable just yet.
If Rizzo does indeed trigger his opt-out, it would create one more issue for the Yankees to deal with on the dirt. If they are able to give him a contract that entices him to stay, it would be one step towards stabilizing things. If the parties can’t find common ground, the alternatives available to the Yankees on the free agent market include Abreu, Josh Bell and Trey Mancini, among others.