Last week, MLBTR took an early look at offseason option decisions facing teams in the National League. We’re continuing our division by division series moving through the Junior Circuit. Next up, the AL Central, where only three of five teams have players with contracts that contain 2024 options.
Chicago White Sox
- Lance Lynn: $18MM club option ($1MM buyout)
Lynn signed a $38MM extension midway through the 2021 season. He was en route to a third-place Cy Young finish at the time but has seen his results go backwards over the past two years. He still managed a solid 3.99 ERA through 121 2/3 innings last season, but this year has been far tougher. The 36-year-old has been tagged for a personal-worst 6.55 ERA in his first 12 starts.
The righty is striking out a quarter of opponents against a manageable 8.6% walk rate. His results on batted balls have been disastrous, though. He’s surrendering a .335 batting average on balls in play and has already given up 15 home runs, tied for third-most in the majors. There’s probably some amount of misfortune there, but Lynn’s a fly-ball pitcher who is giving up a lot of hard contact while pitching in a homer-friendly home park. It’s been a rough couple months and nowhere near the level the Sox would need to consider an option with a net $17MM decision.
- Liam Hendriks: $15MM club option ($15MM buyout)
Hendriks’ free agent deal contained a unique fourth year in which the option price and the buyout were valued the same. That was mostly an accounting measure designed to front-load the Sox’s luxury tax hit to afford more CBT breathing room in 2024. The only material difference at this point is that buying Hendriks out would allow the Sox to pay him in installments over a 10-year period as opposed to a $15MM salary to be disbursed in during the ’24 season.
There’s practically no question the White Sox are going to exercise this. Hendriks came back from a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis to return to pitching at the major league level within a matter of months. He’s one of the best relievers in the game when at his peak.
- Tim Anderson: $14MM club option ($1MM buyout)
Anderson’s option call is almost as obvious as the Hendriks decision. The 29-year-old is typically one of the game’s best-hitting shortstops, an annual threat to bat over .300 with plus baserunning and typically solid defense. This hasn’t been a standard Anderson season. He’s off to a modest .273/.313/.320 start and is without a home run in 42 games. He missed a few weeks with a left knee sprain, and defensive metrics have soured on his glovework.
Rough couple months aside, a $13MM price point is still strong value for a player of Anderson’s caliber. He hit .318/.347/.473 between 2019-22 and earned a pair of All-Star nods. Next year’s free agent shortstop class is also incredibly thin, meaning there aren’t likely to be many alternatives available. Even if 2019-22 proves to be Anderson’s peak, a one-year, net $13MM decision is still an easy call for the team.
- Mike Clevinger: $12MM mutual option ($4MM buyout)
The White Sox signed Clevinger to a $12MM free agent deal over the winter. They were hoping to buy low on a return to form for the righty as he further distanced himself from 2020 Tommy John surgery. It hasn’t really materialized, as Clevinger’s performance in Chicago isn’t far off last year’s work in San Diego.
Through 10 starts, the 32-year-old has a 4.13 ERA in 52 1/3 innings. He’s posted slightly below-average strikeout and grounder rates while walking 10% of opposing hitters. This year’s 9.1% swinging-strike rate is a career low. He’s posting competent fifth starter results, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely he’ll recapture the upper mid-rotation upside of his Cleveland days.
It’s an $8MM decision on the option after accounting for the buyout. That’s a reasonable price point for a back-of-the-rotation arm. The likes of Zach Davies, Johnny Cueto and Kyle Gibson all landed between $5MM and $10MM last offseason, while Jordan Lyles secured a two-year, $17MM pact. Clevinger looks likely to land in that area. Mutual options are almost never exercised by both sides, so odds are Clevinger is headed back to free agency. His next contract just might land around there regardless.
- Joe Kelly: $9.5MM club option ($1MM buyout)
Kelly has had a confounding two seasons in Chicago. Signed to a two-year, $17MM deal coming out of the lockout, he’s posted rough run prevention marks despite excellent peripherals. Kelly carries a 5.43 ERA through 54 2/3 innings since the start of 2022. That’s belied by elite strikeout (32.1%) and ground-ball (62.7%) numbers. Huge walk totals at least partially explained his 2022 struggles, but Kelly has a 4.08 ERA this season despite only walking two of the 70 batters he’s faced.
The right-hander has been an enigmatic player throughout his career. Kelly has always had wipeout stuff and flashed the ability to be an impact high-leverage arm at times. Yet he’s often paired that high-octane arsenal with control that comes and goes. It’s unlikely Kelly sustains anything close to his current 2.9% walk rate over a full season. This is probably headed towards a buyout.
- Miguel Cabrera: $30MM club option ($8MM buyout)
This technically qualifies as an option decision on Cabrera. There’s no suspense about the result, of course. The future Hall of Famer will be bought out as the Tigers finally wrap up a $248MM extension that proved very ill-advised. Cabrera has already declared 2023 to be his likely final season. He’ll leave the sport as one of the greatest hitters ever, but it remains to be seen whether the Tigers will carry him on the roster all year. He’s hitting .202/.283/.245 in 26 games.
- Jorge Polanco: $10.5MM club/vesting option ($1MM buyout)
Polanco would vest next year’s option with 550 plate appearances if he passed a postseason physical. He’s very unlikely to meet the playing time threshold. Polanco has only 118 trips to the dish more than a third of the way through the season. He’s had a pair of injured list stints already, missing time due both to right knee and left hamstring concerns. He’d need to average more than 4.2 plate appearances per game the rest of the way.
That’ll probably be a moot point, as the Twins seem likely to welcome him back regardless. It’s a $9.5MM decision for a middle infielder who’s one of the team’s better hitters. The switch-hitting Polanco posted a .235/.346/.405 line last season and is at a .268/.305/.482 pace in 27 games this year. Dating back to 2018, Polanco is a .272/.337/.456 hitter in nearly 2500 plate appearances. The Twins would have another club option (this time valued at $12MM) for 2025 if they keep him around, only adding to the appeal.
- Max Kepler: $10MM club option ($1MM buyout)
Kepler’s early-career extension looked like it’d be a coup when he connected on 36 home runs in 2019. The former top prospect seemed to be taking his long-awaited step forward. He hasn’t built on it, though, as he posted roughly league average numbers each season from 2020-22.
Even average production would be a welcome departure from Kepler’s showing thus far in ’23. The left-handed-hitting outfielder is off to a brutal .192/.264/.376 start in 140 plate appearances. The shift ban hasn’t resulted in any kind of improvement in his perennially low ball in play numbers. He’s sporting a career-worst .196 BABIP. His strikeouts are up to 20.7% and he’s walking at a career-worst 7.1% clip.
Kepler is an elite defensive right fielder and has shown better offensive form in prior seasons. A $9MM call isn’t out of the question, but he’ll obviously need to markedly improve upon his current pace. Minnesota has a number of controllable corner outfielders who’ve reached the MLB level (Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Matt Wallner among them). Perhaps it’s time for a change of scenery for Kepler, who seems to have stalled out in the Twin Cities.