It is not at all uncommon for contracts to contain option years that must be exercised or declined within five days of the end of the World Series. But in recent years, opt-outs have been in vogue, too, and those decisions could further add to the free-agent pool.
Eight players will have to make such a decision in that same five-day time period. Here, we present them in order from most likely to opt-out and test the market to least likely to opt-out.
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals: 4 years, $100 million remaining
If there was any doubt going into October that turning down nine figures in order to explore the open market is the right business decision for Strasburg, it has been totally erased by his postseason performance. Strasburg has a 1.64 ERA and .568 opponents’ OPS in 22 innings this month. And while that won’t earn him Gerrit Cole money, it does up the ante in an industry that still puts a high price tag on elite starting pitching.
Knowing what we do about the 31-year-old Strasburg’s personality, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if his first preference is to use the opt-out as leverage to renegotiate a longer and/or more lucrative deal with Washington, a place where he is comfortable and familiar. But we also know that his hometown team, the Padres, and another Southern California squad, the Angels, are good candidates to splurge on pitching this offseason, which only improves Strasburg’s leverage.
2. J.D. Martinez, DH/OF, Red Sox: 3 years, $62.5 million remaining
When asked by the Boston Globe late in the 2019 season about the prospect of changing teams yet again, Martinez said, “I don’t mind moving around. I kind of like it.” Not exactly a “bury me in Boston in my Red Sox jersey” kind of comment.
One X-factor in Martinez’ decision-making process could be the Yankees’ $20 million option on Edwin Encarnacion. If they turn it down, that adds competition in an otherwise light DH market. Martinez also must be mindful of how few bites he got two years ago, when he was coming off an incendiary second half with the D-backs, but only reached his five-year, $109.95 million deal because the Red Sox bid against themselves. But there’s no denying he’s fulfilled his end of the first two years of the deal (156 OPS+, 79 homers, 70 doubles), and he has every right to see what that nets him in a market in which there are several AL teams who might be willing to splurge.
3. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Yankees: 2 years, $30 million remaining
A friend of Chapman’s told Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network this summer that the famous closer is “one million percent” opting out. That’s a fun quote that’s even funnier if you say it in a Dr. Evil voice. But would that be one million percent the right decision? Check this out:
Kimbrel reportedly went into last offseason looking for $100 million over six years and he came out (seven months later!) with $45 million over three. Chapman, whose four-seamer that once averaged 101 mph is now around 98, must be mindful of this. He might opt-out, but it would surprise nobody if this all results in the Yankees tacking on another year at his current average annual value, which is why we’ll list him after Martinez here.
4. Yu Darvish, RHP, Cubs: 4 years, $81 million remaining
This is one where the “will he” and “should he” questions diverge at the fork in the road. Our own Mike Petriello laid out a pretty compelling argument for why Darvish is far more valuable than his 3.98 ERA from 2019 might indicate, including a notable home/road split (he’s way, way better away from Wrigley, basically) and a four-month stretch of excellence in which he was legitimately one of the top five starters in baseball.
Darvish, though, told reporters late in the season that he and his family are “so comfortable” in Chicago. And while Darvish might be capable of bettering the $81 million commitment in theory, the Draft pick compensation attachment that would accompany Darvish if he opted out and turned down the Cubs’ qualifying offer might lessen his chances in reality.
5. Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers: 2 years, $38 million remaining
After two shaky (at the very least, by his standards) seasons, the Dodgers aren’t committing to Jansen as their closer for 2020, and maybe that means he doesn’t commit to them, either. He sure didn’t seem pumped when manager Dave Roberts gave him the ball only after Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Nationals got out of hand.
But business is business, and Jansen’s elevated home-run and walk rates the last two seasons make it highly unlikely he’d sniff this kind of AAV in free agency.
6. Jake Arrieta, RHP, Phillies: 1 year, $20 million remaining
There is another wrinkle in this deal in which the Phillies can remove Arrieta’s opt-out by picking up a two-year, $40 million option. That ain’t happening, and neither is this opt-out after two seasons in which Arrieta has been essentially a MLB-average arm who will now be coming off season-ending surgery for a bone spur.
7. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers: 3 years, $43 million remaining
Andrus turned down his first of two opt-outs last year and, after posting a 78 OPS+ that was identical to his 2018 output (albeit with 50 more games played) and the lowest WAR of his career (1.1), will do so again.
8. Jason Heyward, OF, Cubs: 4 years, $86M remaining
Here we are again. Heyward had an opt-out a year ago and wisely didn’t use it. He has another one now, as a result of reaching 550 plate appearances in ’19. While he hit for more power this season, nothing short of a bodily invasion by the ghost of Babe Ruth would compel him to turn his nose at money.