- Giants center fielder Denard Span is limited by a left thumb problem, he told reporters including Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter link). It doesn’t appear as if it’s something that’ll require a DL stint, but it does represent yet another nick for the 33-year-old. Span is hitting just .258/.296/.398 on the year thus far, with a shoulder injury also having limited him in the early going.
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.
Jon Heyman of Fan Rag takes a look around the league in his latest notes columns. In addition to providing updates on every National League and American League team, he takes a particularly close look at the Nationals in separate posts. Let’s take a look at some of the items of particular relevance to the transactional landscape:
- The Nationals are beginning to put in phone calls to rivals as they start the search for a new closer in earnest, Heyman writes. Among the players under consideration by the team, at present, are a variety of names with differing contract situations. David Robertson of the White Sox, Kelvin Herrera of the Royals, and A.J. Ramos of the Marlins all have two years remaining at less-than-bargain rates (the latter two via arbitration). Alex Colome of the Rays and Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays, meanwhile, bring more years of cheap control — and, in all likelihood, astronomical asking prices. Then there’s old friend Mark Melancon, who is in the first year of the four-year pact he signed with the Giants — who evidently beat the Nats’ offer over the winter. Needless to say, there’s quite a lot that could change that picture over the coming months.
- Looking back a bit, the Nationals came closer than any other team to landing Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates over the winter, Heyman adds.Per the report, the sides held talks that “revolved around three players, including Lucas Giolito and veteran Gio Gonzalez.” It’s not immediately clear what else might have been involved, and where things went south, but it’s interesting to hear those parameters. The Nats ultimately pivoted to Adam Eaton, of course, but he’s now out for the year. Perhaps it’s conceivable that the team could take another look at McCutchen, though no doubt the teams would need to start discussions anew with Giolito in Chicago, Gonzalez a key member of the Nats staff and McCutchen struggling.
- The Marlins sale talks had seemingly been building, but Heyman writes that there’s no deal ready to be made at present. For one thing, there are whispers that the purchase price will continue to drop as the organization’s financial health comes under greater scrutiny. For another, there are still questions about where the money will come from on the buyer’s side. “[A]t least the Bush-Jeter group and maybe the Romney-Glavine group, too, [are] still seeking investors,” per Heyman.
- Two significant recent investments made by the Marlins aren’t delivering value at present. Per Heyman, lefty Wei-Yin Chen is headed for a second opinion with his elbow issue still failing to progress. It seems the team could be bracing for a relatively lengthy absence. And Heyman notes that some in the baseball operations department weren’t thrilled at the idea of extending Martin Prado last year at $40MM over three years. He has been playing well enough, but is back on the DL with a recurring hamstring injury.
- Pirates righty Gerrit Cole has looked strong in the early going, but Heyman says the team may not be interested in dealing him even if they continue to lag in the standings. “We’re not in any rush,” a club source tells him. “I don’t think we’re there yet.” The 26-year-old owns a 2.84 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9; while the peripherals are largely in line with his 2016 work, the improved results are supported by jumps in swinging-strike rate (9.9%) and average fastball velocity (a career-high 96.1 mph). With two more years of arb eligibility to go, Cole would likely command a big price at the deadline.
- While the Rays entered play today just one game under .500, that doesn’t mean they aren’t readying for the possibility of selling. Of course, given the team’s pitching depth, it’s imaginable that the team could send out a veteran while still maintaining hopes of cracking the postseason. Per Heyman, Tampa Bay has “already begun calling to get a gauge on the value of Alex Cobb.” Rivals also think the club will be amenable to discussing both Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, he adds. Cobb, though, is the most obvious possible trade chip. The 29-year-old was homer-prone in his return from Tommy John surgery last year, but has looked solid through 56 1/3 innings this year — his last before reaching free agency. He carries a 3.67 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 to go with a 47.5% groundball rate. Cobb still isn’t getting swings and misses like he used to, but his velocity is better than ever and he has tamped down on the long balls thus far.
- The Giants had planned to activate Mark Melancon from the disabled list this Friday but chose to bring him back two days earlier than expected, writes Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area. San Francisco entered the day with the opportunity to close out a sweep of the division-rival Dodgers but knew that interim closer Derek Law wouldn’t be available after pitching four out of five days. The Giants were shut down by Clayton Kershaw, however, rendering Melancon’s early activation a bit of a moot point. The Giants entered the day with five straight wins under their belts (six in their past seven games), however, and the return of Melancon should only deepen the relief corps. Even after their recent improvements, though, the Giants are still in a 17-25 hole — nine games back from the division lead. Kelby Tomlinson was optioned to Triple-A to clear room for Melancon.
- The Giants reached a minors deal with righty Collin Balester. The 30-year-old appeared briefly last year in the Korea Baseball Organization’s Samsung Lions. His most recent affiliated action came in 2015, when he posted solid results in the upper minors but struggled to a 7.47 ERA over 15 2/3 MLB innings.
The Giants announced tonight that right fielder Hunter Pence has been placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a left hamstring strain. Fellow outfielder Mac Williamson is up from Triple-A Sacramento to take Pence’s spot on the roster. The loss of Pence is the latest blow to a Giants roster that has seen a number of key players go down with injuries this year, though Pence’s performance hasn’t been anywhere near what one would expect from the typically productive slugger. The 34-year-old has been at least 18 percent better than the league-average hitter in each of the past four seasons, per park-adjusted metrics OPS+ and wRC+, and he’s batted a combined .281/.339/.463 in that time. However, this year, he’s mustered just a .243/.289/.338 batting line through his first 149 plate appearances.
- Giants closer Mark Melancon is on the mend and appears to be progressing well, as the right-hander told reporters that he threw a 22-pitch mound session today (Twitter links via John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle and Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area. Melancon said that he was “pretty much full go,” and Pavlovic notes that he can be activated as soon as tomorrow. Derek Law has been filling in as San Francisco’s closer with Melancon on the shelf.
- The Giants are mulling a stint on the disabled list for right fielder Hunter Pence, relays Michael Wagaman of MLB.com. Pence, who has been on the shelf this weekend, underwent an MRI on Sunday that revealed a mild hamstring strain. The 34-year-old is among the many Giants who have started slowly this season, having hit just .243/.289/.338 in 149 plate appearances.
Off to a major league-worst 14-24 start, the Giants look like sellers in the making. The problem is that the veterans they could attempt to move are lacking in trade value, observes Buster Olney of ESPN. The best of the bunch is Johnny Cueto, but the offseason opt-out clause in the right-hander’s contract takes away some of his appeal. Then there’s righty Jeff Samardzija, who owns a 5.44 ERA in 46 1/3 innings (albeit with a 3.43 FIP) and is due upward of $60MM through 2020, as well as aging outfielders Hunter Pence and Denard Span. The 34-year-old Pence is making $18.5MM both this year and next, while Span, 33, is on a $9MM salary through 2018 and has a $4MM buyout for 2019.
- Further north, the Giants have cause for hope that closer Mark Melancon will require only the brief DL timeline the club had charted when he was taken off the active roster. As Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on Twitter, Melancon is reporting reduced symptoms in his forearm. The righty will test things out by playing catch tomorrow.
9:52pm: The hope is that Melancon will be ready to be activated on May 16th, the earliest he’d be available given his backdated DL placement, as Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area was among those to tweet. Manager Bruce Bochy noted that the veteran hurler has been pitching through some discomfort for a few weeks, with the team evidently deciding now was time to try to get him past the issue.
At the moment, it’s not clear how long Melancon is expected to miss. It’s promising, at least, that the team has specified the strain is “mild.” But any forearm issue comes with potential implications for elbow health, so the club will need to exercise care in getting Melancon back to the hill.
The news is yet another blow to a San Francisco team that has drastically underperformed expectations after promising Melancon $62MM over four years to solve the club’s ninth-inning woes of last year. The veteran reliever has held up his end of the bargain — he carries a 2.53 ERA through 10 2/3 innings, with a typically excellent K/BB ratio (10:1) — but not much else has gone right for the Giants thus far.
It seems likely Derek Law will get the first crack at the closer’s job while Melancon is down, Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area writes. Hunter Strickland would also seem to have a shot at factoring in the mix.