- It seems the Orioles will go without infielder Ryan Flaherty for a reasonable stretch. Per Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com, via Twitter, the veteran utilityman is going to need a platelet-rich plasma injection after suffering an injury to his shoulder/upper-back area. Flaherty, 30, is expected to need more than the minimum ten-day stay on the DL.
Recently, I took a quick look at all of the players with vesting options for the 2018 season, noting that many of the outcomes within will have significant ramifications for both the upcoming free-agent market and the future of those players’ respective teams. The implications are even greater for the eight players that have opt-out provisions of some type at the end of the current season. In some cases, the opt-out in question could either liberate that player’s team from more than $80MM in future commitments or saddle them with that same burdensome amount. (And, in most cases, if the player isn’t opting out, the remaining salary is indeed a burden, as the player either performed too poorly to opt out and/or got hurt.)
Here’s a look at the opt-out decisions that are looming at season’s end…
- Justin Upton, Tigers: The disastrous start to Upton’s six-year, $132.5MM contract now looks like a distant memory. After struggling to a .228/.286/.369 batting line through his first three months in the Motor City, Upton has surged with a .255/.342/.535 slash and 31 home runs over his past 471 big league plate appearances. Strikeouts are still an issue for Upton, but he’s also walking more than ever (15 percent in 2017). He’s on pace to finish the season right around the 30-homer mark, and if he can do so with an OBP in the mid-.300s and respectable marks in left field — he’s currently at +4 DRS and +3.4 UZR — then the remaining four years and $88.5MM on his contract will pose an interesting decision for Upton, who is currently playing out his age-29 season.
- Johnny Cueto, Giants: Cueto looked like an ace in his first year with San Francisco but has stumbled to a 4.50 ERA through his first 58 innings with the Giants in 2017. He’s still averaging better than eight punchouts per nine innings to go along with solid (but diminished) control. However, he’s seen his ground-ball rate plummet from 50 percent to 39 percent, and paired with the increase in walk rate (1.8 BB/9 to 2.5 BB/9), that has led to some issues. There’s still plenty of time for Cueto to get back on track, but the remaining four years and $84MM on his contract doesn’t look quite as easy to walk away from as it did just seven weeks ago. He’ll be 32 next season.
- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: Cueto’s slow start looks Cy Young-worthy when juxtaposed with Tanaka, who has logged a ghastly 6.56 ERA through 48 innings in 2017. Like Cueto, Tanaka has seen his control take a step back, though his strikeout and ground-ball rates are consistent, and his velocity is fine. Tanaka’s average on balls in play is up, however, and his homer-to-flyball rate has skyrocketed from 12 percent to 24.5 percent. Given his age (29 in November), Tanaka would be a virtual lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his contract with a good season. If he can’t overcome his home-run woes, however, he may instead opt for the substantial amount of guaranteed cash remaining on his deal.
- Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins: Chen’s opt-out is perhaps the easiest to determine of any player on this list. Unfortunately for the Marlins, that’s due to the fact that he’s currently sidelined indefinitely due to arm troubles. Chen is on the disabled list with arm fatigue, though it’s been reported previously that he’d been pitching through a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which was sustained in 2016. Chen hasn’t pitched well as a Marlin even when healthy, and at this point it would take a quick recovery and a dominant finish for him to even consider opting out of the remaining three years and $52MM on his contract.
- Ian Kennedy, Royals: Kennedy has logged a solid 3.74 ERA in 233 1/3 innings since signing a five-year deal with Kansas City, but he’s already in his age-32 season. His strikeout rate and control have taken a step back in 2017 as well, and he’s remained homer-prone despite pitching half his games at the spacious Kauffman Stadium. Kennedy turned in a very strong final four months in his last contract season — which helped him land this surprising contract in the first place — but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll opt out of the remaining three years and $49MM on his current contract.
- Greg Holland, Rockies: To be clear, Holland cannot technically opt out of his contract just yet. The one-year, $7MM contract that he signed with the Rox contained a $10MM mutual option that can vest as a $15MM player option if Holland finishes 30 games. At this juncture, though, it seems as if an injury is all that can stop Holland’s player option from vesting. He’s already finished 20 of the 30 games he needs, and he’s currently boasting a preposterous 0.96 ERA with a 26-to-6 K/BB ratio through 18 2/3 innings. Apparently, pitching at Coors Field suits Holland just fine, though if he keeps this up, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll turn down the one year and $15MM he’d receive for a second season at Coors and hit the market in search of a lucrative three- or four-year contract.
- Matt Wieters, Nationals: The stagnant offseason market for Wieters’ services culminated in a two-year, $21MM contract with the Nats that offers Wieters the opportunity to test free agency once again next winter, if he wishes. To this point, it’s looking likely that Wieters will pass on that player option. His walks, hard-hit rate and BABIP are up, none of which has come at the expense of his strikeout rate. Wieters is hitting a solid .283/.358/.442 with four homers on the year. His caught-stealing rate is down (23 percent), and his framing remains questionable, but the improved offense makes it seem likely that, even if Wieters again struggles to find the strong multi-year deal he craves, a contract comparable to the one year and $10.5MM he can opt out of will once again be available on the open market.
- Welington Castillo, Orioles: Castillo’s two-year, $13MM contract with the Orioles was a pleasant surprise for a player who had previously been locked into arbitration in Arizona before surprisingly being non-tendered. He’s off to a torrid .348/.375/.543 start to the season with four homers and six doubles through 96 plate appearances. There’s a fair bit of luck involved in that production, as evidenced by the 30-year-old’s .418 BABIP. But his strikeouts are down this season, and he’s thrown out a career-best 41 percent of attempted base thieves. His framing marks, while still below average, have improved on a per-pitch basis as well. His glove may prevent him from fully cashing in, but Castillo’s bat could make the remaining one year and $7MM on his contract easy enough to walk away from, assuming he’s healthy.
- The Orioles have selected infielder Paul Janish’s contract from Triple-A, per a team announcement. He’ll fill in for reserve infielder Ryan Flaherty, who went on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain. The defensively adept Janish is in his third season in the Orioles organization, but he has collected just 28 plate appearances with the O’s to this point. While Janish got off to a .255/.364/.378 start this season in 118 PAs with Norfolk prior to his promotion, he’s only a .216/.284/.289 hitter in 1,277 major league trips to the plate.
- Craig Gentry accepted his outright assignment to the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko tweets. Gentry was outrighted off Baltimore’s 40-man roster earlier this week, and he had the option of rejecting that assignment to become a free agent, though he has clearly chosen to remain in the organization. The veteran outfielder hit .162/.256/.270 in 44 plate appearance for the O’s this season.
The Orioles have acquired left-hander Alex Katz from the White Sox in exchange for international signing bonus slots #45 and #75, the club announced (Twitter link). The total value of those slots adds up to $756.3K (from Baseball America, here is the full list of slot values for the 2016-17 signing period, which ends on June 15).
A 27th-rounder for the Sox in the 2015 draft, Katz has a 3.09 ERA, 10.1 K/9 and 2.65 K/BB rate over 102 innings in the minors, appearing as a reliever in all but one of his 62 career games. Katz has shown a propensity for keeping the ball in the park, as he has surrendered only two homers during his career. Katz has yet to pitch above the Class-A level, and the Orioles announced that the 22-year-old will be assigned to their Class-A affiliate.
This is the third trade in six weeks that has seen the O’s deal away international signing slots in exchange for players, after April deals that brought right-hander Damien Magnifico to the team from the Brewers and southpaw Paul Fry from the Mariners. The Orioles have rather notoriously spent little on international free agents in recent years (as Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently noted in a severe critique of the club’s practices), so it makes sense that the team would look at its int’l bonus slots as trade chips.
The deal is also notable from Chicago’s end, as the team just spent between $25MM-$30MM in an agreement with Cuban outfielder Luis Robert. Since the Sox had to far exceed their bonus pool limit to make the signing, they owe a 100 percent overage on every dollar spent above their pool threshold. Increasing the size of that pool by $756.3K, therefore, saves the White Sox some money.
- Monday is Michael Bourn’s opt-out date in his minor league contract with the Orioles, Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun reports. Bourn suffered a broken finger that sidelined him through most of Spring Training, which led the outfielder and the Orioles to agree to a new minors deal after Bourn opted out of his original pact. There isn’t an obvious spot for Bourn on the big league roster, with Trey Mancini, Seth Smith, Joey Rickard and Hyun Soo Kim providing the O’s with solid corner outfield depth. Kim, however, hasn’t hit much or seen a lot of action this season; Bourn could replace Kim as a left-handed hitting option while adding much more speed and defensive ability.
Pena, 27, remained on the roster yesterday despite the fact that starting backstop Welington Castillo was activated from the disabled list. However, he survived only 24 hours, as the O’s understandably decided not to carry three catchers and deploy a six-man bullpen for more than a day. Though Baltimore may not relish the thought of losing Pena via outright waivers, he’s out of minor league options, thus making a DFA the only means by which the team can attempt to stash him back in Triple-A.
The son of five-time All-Star and four-time Gold-Glove-winning catcher Tony Pena, Francisco has totaled just 57 plate appearances in the Majors in parts of four seasons. He’s demonstrated a bit of power in that time, batting .241/.268/.407 with three homers, but he’s also punched out in nearly a third of his Major League plate appearances. The younger Pena is a career .249/.295/.452 hitter in parts of five Triple-A seasons.
Pena has halted 31 percent of stolen base attempts against him in Triple-A (plus a solid 5-for-9 showing in his limited big league time) and has drawn consistently above-average marks for his framing efforts in the minors (via Baseball Prospectus). That skill set could make him appealing to clubs, though his lack of minor league options means that any team to claim Pena on waivers or acquire him via trade will have to carry him on the 25-man roster.
- The Diamondbacks have released veteran lefty Brian Matusz. Once a fixture in the Orioles’ pen, Matusz has struggled to regain his footing over the past two seasons. He was hit hard in nine MLB frames last year and was off to a rough start with the D-backs organization. Through 17 2/3 innings at Triple-A, he carried a 6.11 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
- The Orioles cut ties with third baseman Juan Francisco. Still just 29 years of age, the six-year MLB veteran hasn’t seen the majors since 2014 — which is also the last year in which he accumulated any playing time with an affiliated organization. Over 1,091 total trips to the plate in the majors, he owns a .236/.297/.439 slash with 48 long balls.
The Orioles announced that veteran outfielder Craig Gentry has been outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk in order to clear a spot on the active roster for Welington Castillo, who has been reinstated from the disabled list. The 33-year-old Gentry will have the option of rejecting that outright assignment in favor of free agency if he wishes.
[Related: Updated Baltimore Orioles depth chart]
Castillo’s return means that Baltimore is now carrying three catchers, as both Caleb Joseph and Francisco Pena (the latter of whom is out of minor league options) remain on the big league roster. And, as MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli points out, this move also means that Baltimore will (presumably briefly) utilize a six-man bullpen. Certainly, it seems likely that the O’s will look to get back to a seven-man bullpen in the near future.
Gentry, long a light-hitting defensive standout, has appeared in 33 games for the O’s this season but received just 44 plate appearances, with the result being a lackluster .162/.256/.270 batting line. Gentry’s struggles at the plate in limited action aren’t a new development, as he’s endured similar difficulties both 2015 and 2016.
Prior to that, he turned in a solid four-year stretch with the Rangers and A’s, during which he batted a combined .278/.353/.355 (plus 75 stolen bases in 87 attempts). The right-handed-hitting Gentry has a track record of posting useful numbers against left-handed pitching and could remain with the O’s as a depth option or latch on with a new club in need of some defensive-minded outfield depth.
- Orioles righty Dylan Bundy has already thrown 51 2/3 innings in 2017, meaning he’s nearly halfway to the career-high 109 1/3 professional frames he tossed last year. That could be a problem for the recent Tommy John surgery recipient, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com points out. However, despite both Bundy’s innings total and the fact that he has amassed no fewer than 99 pitches in any of his eight starts, manager Buck Showalter isn’t overly concerned about the 24-year-old’s workload. “We’re careful. There is nobody more careful,” said Showalter. “I’m very proud about the health of our pitchers. It’s by design. It’s walk around and talk to them. Knowing their backgrounds. But to try to evaluate someone’s health on how many pitches or innings he’s thrown from one year to the next is a big excuse. It’s more about knowing the evidence and the person. Believe me, I’m concerned about it. I’ll put our track record of that part of it. … We’re watching everything Dylan does.”