We’re roughly a third of the way through the 2023 season. Players have had a couple months to build something of a performance track record that’ll play a role in their future contracts. With that in mind, MLBTR will take a look over the coming days at players whose contracts contain team or mutual options to gauge the early trajectory for those upcoming decisions.
This series kicked off with the NL West last night. Today, we move to the Central.
- Kyle Hendricks: $16MM team option ($1.5MM buyout)
Hendricks has only made two starts this season. The sinkerballer was diagnosed with a capsular tear in his throwing shoulder last August. That required a lengthy rehab process that lingered into this month. The former ERA champion hadn’t been nearly as effective in the two years leading up to the shoulder issues as he was over his first seven seasons. Going back to the start of the 2021 campaign, he owns a 4.75 ERA over 274 2/3 innings. Between that back-of-the-rotation production and the injury, the Cubs seem likely to reallocate the $14.5MM difference between the option price and the buyout.
- Yan Gomes: $6MM team option ($1MM buyout)
Gomes signed a two-year guarantee with Chicago going into the 2022 campaign. Initially tabbed to pair with Willson Contreras, he’s gotten the majority of the playing time alongside Tucker Barnhart this season. Gomes struggled to a .235/.260/.365 line in 86 games during his first season on the North Side. He’s playing better this season, hitting six home runs with a .273/.297/.445 batting line over his first 118 trips to the plate. The $5MM decision is a reasonable price for a veteran backstop hitting at that level, even if Gomes is more of a timeshare player than a true regular at this stage of his career.
- Brad Boxberger: $5MM mutual option ($800K buyout)
Boxberger signed with Chicago after being bought out by the Brewers. The righty has had a tough first couple months. He allowed nine runs with a 13:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 14 2/3 innings. He hit the 15-day injured list with a forearm strain a couple weeks ago. Boxberger is throwing again but figures to miss a decent chunk of action. This is trending towards a Cubs’ buyout.
- Joey Votto: $20MM team option ($7MM buyout)
Votto is a franchise icon. He’s played his entire 17-season career in Cincinnati and it’s hard to envision him in another uniform. If he’s to stick with the Reds beyond this year, though, it’d almost certainly be at a cheaper price point than the option value. Votto had a below-average .205/.319/.370 batting line last season and hasn’t played this year as he works back from last August’s rotator cuff surgery.
- Wil Myers: $12MM mutual option ($1.5MM buyout)
Myers’ first season as a Red hasn’t gone as planned. The offseason signee has started his Cincinnati career with a .189/.257/.283 batting line with three home runs over 141 plate appearances. Perhaps he’ll play well enough this summer the Reds can recoup something in a trade around the deadline. Cincinnati isn’t going to exercise their end of this option short of a massive turnaround, though.
- Curt Casali: $4MM mutual option ($750K buyout)
Casali is part of a three-catcher group in Cincinnati. The veteran backstop has only a .157/.259/.157 line in 60 trips to the plate during his second stint as a Red. The club looks likely to decline their end of the option for the journeyman backstop.
- Justin Wilson: $2.5MM team option ($150K buyout)
Wilson underwent Tommy John surgery last June. The Brewers signed him to a big league deal with an eye towards the second half and potentially the ’24 campaign. He’s on the 60-day injured list. This one’s still to be determined.
- Jarlín García: $3.25MM team option (no buyout)
García landed in Pittsburgh after being non-tendered by the Giants last winter. His Bucs’ tenure hasn’t gotten off the ground. He suffered a biceps injury in Spring Training, was shut down from throwing entirely for more than a month, and has spent the year on the 60-day injured list. There’s no public clarity on his status.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Paul DeJong: $12.5MM team option ($2MM buyout)
Six weeks ago, this looked like a no-brainer for the Cardinals to buy out. DeJong’s offensive production had absolutely nosedived since 2020. He hit only .196/.280/.351 in over 800 plate appearances between 2020-22. He struggled so badly last season the Cards optioned him to Triple-A for a spell.
The Cards continued to resist calls to move on from DeJong entirely, however. The front office has held out hope he could recapture the productive offensive form he showed through his first few seasons. They’ve been rewarded for their patience to this point in 2023. DeJong has had a surprising resurgence, popping eight home runs in 31 games. His bat has faded a bit in May after a scorching April, but the overall .234/.311/.495 line is 21 percentage points above league average by measure of wRC+. DeJong’s defense has always been above-average, and the offensive bounceback has gotten him back in the starting lineup at shortstop.
DeJong will need to maintain this form over an extended stretch before the Cards get to a point where it’s worthwhile to trigger the option. Tommy Edman and top prospect Masyn Winn are in the organization as potential replacements. Yet DeJong is performing better than any of the impending free agents in a weak shortstop class. That there’s a chance the front office might have to think about this one is a testament to his strong start.