October is the month for determining a champion, but it is also the month for evaluating options.
Five days after the World Series ends, teams will have to make the call on whether to exercise 2020 options on their players or allow them to explore free agency. In some cases, these are mutual options, meaning both the team and the player must agree on picking it up, or player options, meaning it’s the player's decision entirely.
Here are the options at hand this offseason, divided into categories to sort the difficulty of the choice. The numbers in parentheses next to the player’s name are his 2020 seasonal age and his 2019 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) mark, respectively.
Nelson Cruz (39, 4.3 WAR), DH, Twins: $12 million ($300,000 buyout)
According to sources, the Twins will do the obvious and retain the ageless Cruz.
Sean Doolittle (33, 0.7 WAR), LHP, Nationals: $6.5 million ($500,000 buyout)
Doolittle had to iron out some performance and injury issues in the second half, but he has a 2.87 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in two and a half seasons in Washington.
Adam Eaton (31, 2.3 WAR), OF, Nationals: $9.5 million ($1.5 million buyout)
The Nats should follow their instincts and pick this up, as Eaton is a solid player who helps them at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Hopefully, for his sake, they don’t do as he did in a National League Championship Series at-bat and, a la George Costanza, go with the opposite of their instincts.
Corey Kluber (34, 0.6 WAR), RHP, Indians: $17.5 million ($1 million buyout)
Given the large sum, this wasn’t so much an “easy” call as it is a done deal. A broken forearm and oblique injury limited Kluber to seven not-great starts in 2019, but even with a limited budget, the Indians felt their ace was worth banking on and announced they’ll be exercising this.
Starling Marte (31, 3.0 WAR), OF, Pirates: $11.5 million ($2 million buyout)
The question is not whether the Pirates pick up Marte’s option but, rather, whether they deal him this winter.
Yusmeiro Petit (35, 1.4 WAR), RHP, A’s: $5.5 million ($1 million buyout)
He’s averaged 89 relief innings to the tune of a 2.83 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP over the last three seasons, so Petit has earned this relatively meager investment, even from a team on a budget.
Anthony Rizzo (30, 4.0 WAR), 1B, Cubs: $14.5 million ($2 million buyout)
The Cubs have lots of difficult decisions in their winter of discontent. This isn’t one of them.
Tony Barnette (36, -0.1 WAR), RHP, Cubs: $3 million
Barnette made just two appearances for the Cubs this year.
Andrew Cashner (33, 1.8 WAR), RHP, Red Sox: $10 million
Cashner fell 37 innings shy of this becoming a guaranteed option. His 6.20 ERA after joining the Red Sox probably makes it a different sort of guarantee.
Welington Castillo (33, -1.0 WAR), C, White Sox: $8 million ($500,000 buyout)
In posting a .209/.267/.417 slash, Castillo lost significant playing time to James McCann.
Starlin Castro (30, 1.3 WAR), 2B, Marlins: $16 million ($1 million buyout)
Castro hasn’t performed significantly above average offensively since 2014.
Jedd Gyorko (31, -0.7 WAR), 3B, Dodgers: $13 million ($1 million buyout)
He had a .174/.248/.250 slash in 62 games this season, so the free-agent market will include the Gyork Store.
Jared Hughes (34, -0.5 WAR), RHP, Phillies: $3 million ($250,000 buyout)
Hughes joined Philly on waivers in August. He posted a 4.04 ERA and 5.29 FIP on the year.
Nate Jones (34, -0.1), RHP, Rangers: $5.15 million ($1.25 million buyout)
Because he was recovering from right forearm surgery, Jones never threw a pitch for the Rangers after they acquired him at the Trade Deadline. Their hope is to negotiate a new deal with him, because he’s a valuable relief arm when healthy -- but picking up the option doesn’t appear likely.
Jason Kipnis (33, 1.1 WAR), 2B, Indians: $16.5 million ($2.5 million buyout)
Kipnis has a .708 OPS over the last three seasons, and the Indians have already announced they won’t be picking this up.
Juan Lagares (31, -0.8 WAR), OF, Mets: $9.5 million ($500,000 buyout)
The .605 OPS and rising price tag spells the end of this deal.
Wade LeBlanc (35, -0.3 WAR), LHP, Mariners, $5 million ($450,000 buyout)
A 5.71 ERA in 121 1/3 innings will buy you a buyout.
Aaron Loup (32, 0.1 WAR), LHP, Padres: $2 million ($200,000 buyout)
Loup was limited to four appearances by an elbow injury. While what is essentially a $1.8 million bet to see how he recovers isn’t overwhelming, the Padres will probably decline this.
Brandon Morrow (35, N/A), RHP, Cubs: $12 million ($3 million buyout)
The Cubs had big expectations when they signed Morrow to a two-year deal prior to 2018, but he hasn’t pitched since the All-Star break of that year.
Pat Neshek (39, -0.3 WAR), RHP, Phillies, $7 million ($750,000 buyout)
Injury has limited the right-hander to just 42 1/3 innings since signing a two-year deal to remain in Philly prior to 2018.
Dan Otero (35, -0.1 WAR), RHP, Indians: $1.5 million ($100,000 buyout)
A shoulder issue limited Otero to 29 2/3 innings with a 4.85 ERA. The Indians already announced they won’t be exercising this.
Jason Vargas (37, 1.8 WAR), LHP, Phillies: $8 million ($2 million buyout)
With a 5.37 ERA in 11 appearances after getting traded to Philly, Vargas likely sealed his fate here.
Adam Warren (32, -0.8 WAR), RHP, Padres: $2.5 million ($500,000 buyout)
Warren hasn't pitched since early June due to a forearm issue and he had a 5.34 ERA before hitting the injured list.
Ryan Zimmerman (35, 0.1 WAR), 1B, Nationals: $18 million ($2 million buyout)
As respected as they come, and maybe there’s a way to maintain the relationship. But not for $18 million.
Chris Archer (31, 0.7 WAR), RHP, Pirates: $9 million ($1.75 million buyout)
Archer’s Pittsburgh tenure (4.92 ERA in 33 starts) has been a tremendous disappointment, made all the worse by the emergence of Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows with Tampa Bay. But $9 million is probably a worthwhile gamble for a healthy arm with a career ERA+ around league average (103).
Kole Calhoun (32, 2.5 WAR), OF, Angels: $14 million ($1 million buyout)
He bounced back offensively this season with a 108 OPS+, 33 homers and 29 doubles. But the Angels’ top prospect, Jo Adell, is a looming outfield option, and this club needs to spend big on pitching if it’s going to contend.
Edwin Encarnacion (37, 2.5), DH/1B, Yankees: $20 million ($5 million buyout)
Encarnación can still bring it with the bat (.344 OBP, .531 SLG), but that option is steep for a player who is predominantly a DH. Then again, the buyout ain’t exactly cheap, either.
Wilmer Flores (28, 1.1 WAR), 2B, D-backs: $6 million ($500,000 buyout)
In a hyper-specific role as a lefty killer (.982 OPS), Flores flourishes. Is that worth $6 million?
Tyler Flowers (34, 2.1 WAR), C, Braves: $6 million ($2 million buyout)
While Flowers’ offensive numbers (88 OPS+ over 2018-19) are nothing special, the retirement of Brian McCann might make this a reasonable price for quality veteran catching.
Freddy Galvis (30, 1.4 WAR), SS, Reds: $5.5 million ($1 million buyout)
Galvis had a .260/.296/.438 slash between Toronto and Cincinnati, which isn’t great, but he pairs that with solid defensive contributions. The Reds, though, might want to make a bigger splash here.
Yan Gomes (32, 0.8 WAR), C, Nationals: $9 million ($1 million buyout)
Catching help can be hard to find, and Gomes is just a year removed from an All-Star appearance. But a disappointing offensive season (78 OPS+) and the Nats’ consistent reliance on Kurt Suzuki in the playoffs probably means this one won’t be picked up.
Kendall Graveman (29, N/A), RHP, Cubs: $3 million
The Cubs signed Graveman knowing he likely wouldn’t contribute in 2019 following Tommy John surgery. They would have a better read than the rest of us as far as whether his recovery merits added financial investment.
Shawn Kelley (36, -0.2 WAR), RHP, Rangers: $2.5 million ($250,000 buyout)
Though the money isn’t huge here, a 4.94 ERA in 47 1/3 innings isn’t an inspiring showing, and Kelley has told MLB.com he plans to “drift off to the sunset” if the option isn’t exercised.
Eric Thames (33, 1.9 WAR), 1B, Brewers: $7.5 million ($1 million buyout)
While Thames was a positive offensive influence overall (.346 OBP, .505 SLG and 25 homers), his struggles against lefties and the Brewers’ budget make this debatable.
Nick Markakis (36, 0.4 WAR), OF, Braves: $6 million ($2 million buyout)
While Markakis’ performance and durability dipped in 2019, it’s not a vast gap, relatively speaking, between the option and the buyout.
Martín Pérez (29, 1.9 WAR), LHP, Twins: $7.5 million ($500,000 buyout)
A great story in the first 11 appearances of 2019 (7-1, 2.95 ERA) became a not-so-great story the rest of the way (3-6, 6.29). The Twins have up to four rotation spots to fill.
David Phelps (33, 0.1 WAR), RHP, Cubs: $5 million
This option value increased $4 million when Phelps reached 40 appearances on the year. That makes a difficult decision even dicier, because Phelps’ 1.40 WHIP and 4.58 FIP undercut his 3.41 ERA.
Julio Teheran (29, 1.6 WAR), RHP, Braves: $12 million ($1 million buyout)
When the Braves initially left Teheran off their NLDS roster (before Chris Martin’s injury), that probably said a lot. But an average of 32 starts per season with an ERA+ of 112 over the last seven seasons makes this a tricky one.
José Quintana (31, 3.5 WAR), LHP, Cubs: $10.5 million ($1 million buyout)
While not a top-flight arm, Quintana did have a 3.80 FIP that is more attractive than his 4.68 ERA last season, and this price tag isn’t overwhelming for an arm that can give you 30 starts.
Tony Watson (35, -0.3 WAR), LHP, Giants: $2.5 million ($500,000 buyout)
Though his 2019 numbers (4.17 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) weren’t as strong as his ’18 numbers (2.59, 1.03) and his season ended with a fractured left wrist, odds are Watson will decline and explore a market starved for relief help.
Matt Adams (31, -0.1 WAR), 1B, Nationals: $4 million ($1 million buyout)
Adams’ disappointing 83 OPS+ makes turning this down an easy call for the Nats.
Jake Arrieta (34, 1.1 WAR), RHP, Phillies: Two-year, $40 million option 2021-22
This isn’t actually a mutual option, but it is a mutual decision-making process. Arrieta can opt out of his $20 million salary for 2020 and become a free agent if the Phillies don’t exercise the two-year, $40 million option for 2021-22. Anyway, neither of those things are going to happen after season-ending elbow surgery.
Jake Diekman (33, 1.0 WAR), LHP, A’s: $5.75 million ($500,000 buyout)
Diekman's 4.43 ERA and 1.57 WHIP after a midseason trade will probably make this too steep a price for the low-budget A’s.
Yasmani Grandal (31, 5.2 WAR), C, Brewers: $16 million ($2.25 million buyout)
While exercising this is a no-brainer for the Brewers, turning it down is a no-brainer for Grandal. He will hit the open market looking to better the reported four-year, $60 million deal he would have received for 2019-22 had he signed with the Mets.
Alex Gordon (36, 1.3 WAR), OF, Royals: $23 million ($4 million buyout)
Though greatly respected for his Royals career, Gordon has unfortunately been a below-average offensive contributor each of the four years of this deal. The Royals will likely decline.
Billy Hamilton (29, 0.4 WAR), OF, Braves: $7.5 million ($1 million buyout)
The continued difficulty of stealing first base will make turning this down a quick decision for Atlanta.
Mike Moustakas (31, 2.8 WAR), 3B, Brewers: $11 million ($3 million buyout)
Moustakas is 31 and coming off a solid 3.2 bWAR season. He’ll almost certainly turn this down. It is, however, worth considering that this will be his third straight crack at free agency and the previous two did not net him a guarantee this large.