While this offseason's free-agent class already has its share of starpower, more players could soon hit the market as decisions are made regarding options and opt-out clauses. All options must be decided upon within five days following the conclusion of the 2020 World Series.
To help navigate who else might soon join the free-agent pool, we've divided all of the players with options or opt-outs into two groups below: Those who are considered "tough calls" (players who could very well end up as free agents) and those who are unlikely to become free agents and will instead probably remain with their 2020 team for reasons we explain.
Chris Archer, RHP, Pirates
Contract: $11 million club option ($250,000 buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
The Pirates picked up Archer's $9 million option last offseason, but he didn't make a single appearance in 2020 after undergoing season-ending surgery on June 2 due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Though Archer is expected to return to full competition next year, the Pirates opted against committing $11 million to a 32-year-old pitcher coming off such a significant surgery.
Dellin Betances, RHP, Mets
Contract: $6 million player option ($3 million buyout) UPDATE: Betances will remain with Mets
It was a fairly easy decision for Betances to exercise his $6 million player option after coming off a season during which he posted a 7.71 ERA. If Betances had declined that option, he would have received a $3 million buyout from the Mets and would have needed to beat only a one-year, $3 million deal in free agency to justify that decision. But, again, that wasn't a guarantee after a terrible 2020 campaign during which Betances had more walks (12) than strikeouts (11). Betances -- who turns 33 in March -- is a four-time All-Star who posted a 2.21 ERA from 2014-19 while racking up 609 strikeouts in just 374 innings.
Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
Contract: $15 million mutual option ($4 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Braun's option was declined as the six-time All-Star and 2011 National League MVP Award winner decides whether to return for a 15th big league season. If he does decide to come back -- a decision that might not come until close to Spring Training -- the Brewers will likely try to find a deal that works for both sides, though other teams could certainly make a run at him. The soon-to-be 37-year-old outfielder hit .233/.281/.488 with eight homers in 39 games this season following a 22-homer, 11-steal campaign in 2019.
Adam Eaton, OF, Nationals
Contract: $10.5 million club option ($1.5 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Eaton's situation became far more complex after he sustained a season-ending left index finger injury in mid-September that shifted regular left fielder Juan Soto to right field down the stretch. It's possible that the Nats bring back Eaton -- a soon-to-be 32-year-old outfielder who hit just .226 with a .669 OPS in 41 games this season -- but Soto's performance certainly creates more flexibility. After declining Eaton's option, the club could choose to bring in either a right or left fielder, with Soto occupying the other corner.
Edwin Encarnación, DH, White Sox
Contract: $12 million club option UPDATE: Option declined
The White Sox took a flyer on Encarnación last offseason with the hope that he could add some extra pop to their lineup while also providing a veteran presence in the clubhouse. While the latter may have worked out for a Chicago team that made a run to the postseason, Encarnación (38 years old in January) posted career lows across the board, hitting just .157/.250/.377. That came on the heels of his 34-homer season between the Mariners and Yankees in 2019.
Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees
Contract: $10 million club option ($2.5 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, has said he plans to return to the Bronx, though he understands that's not a certainty at this point. While he played well down the stretch and had a solid postseason, Gardner hit just .223 this season, and he turned 37 in August. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Clint Frazier flashed some of his offensive potential in 2020 while also playing much-improved defense in the outfield. It won't be an easy decision for the Yankees, especially with Gardner just one year removed from posting career highs in homers (28), RBIs (74), slugging percentage (.503) and OPS (.829).
Jedd Gyorko, INF, Brewers
Contract: $4.5 million club option ($1 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Along with his ability to play either corner infield spot, Gyorko had a solid bounceback season at the plate, hitting .248 with nine homers and a .838 OPS in 42 games. He looked more like the player who hit 30 homers in '16 and another 20 in '17 than the one who struggled to a .174 average with just two homers in 62 games in '19 between the Cardinals and Dodgers.
Brad Hand, LHP, Indians
Contract: $10 million club option ($1 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Hand had a forgettable performance in his lone outing of the 2020 postseason, blowing a save and taking the loss in the Indians' Wild Card Series-deciding Game 2 loss to the Yankees. Entering with a one-run lead to start the ninth, Hand conceded two runs on three hits and a walk in just two-thirds of an inning before being lifted with Cleveland trailing by one. With the emergence of other options at the back end of their bullpen, the Indians chose to decline Hand's option and let the left-hander hit the free-agent market after he posted a 2.05 ERA and MLB-leading 16 saves during the regular season.
Howie Kendrick, 2B, Nationals
Contract: $6.5 million mutual option ($2.25 million buyout) UPDATE: Optioned declined
With his $6.5 million mutual option declined, Kendrick will need to decide whether he wants to return for another year or call it a career. The 37-year-old infielder came into Spring Training with a plan to retire following the 2020 season, but it's unclear if that changed following the abbreviated 60-game campaign. Kendrick slashed just .275/.320/.385 with two homers and a .705 OPS this season, but he's just one year removed from posting a .344/.395/.572 line with 17 homers and a career-high .966 OPS. He also won the '19 National League Championship Series MVP Award while helping the Nationals win their first World Series title.
Corey Kluber, RHP, Rangers
Contract: $18 million club option ($1 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
The Rangers didn't pick up Kluber's $18 million club option, but they're also hoping the one inning he pitched this season won't be his only appearance in a Texas uniform. After being acquired in a blockbuster deal last offseason, Kluber departed his Rangers debut after the first inning and ultimately missed the rest of the season due to a torn muscle in his right shoulder. The right-hander, who turns 35 in April, had a 5.80 ERA over seven starts in his final season in Cleveland in 2019, but potential suitors will be hoping that Kluber can rediscover the form that led to winning a pair of AL Cy Young Awards (2014 and '17).
Jon Lester, LHP, Cubs
Contract: $25 million mutual option ($10 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
The Cubs didn't pick up the $25 million option on Lester, but they might try to work out a deal to keep him in Chicago since they'll be investing $10 million in the veteran southpaw via the buyout. Lester, who turns 37 in January, posted a career-high 5.16 ERA in 12 starts this season and struck out just 6.2 batters per nine innings -- also the worst mark of his 15-year career. He's expressed an interest in returning to the Cubs, but it remains to be seen what kind of deal Chicago -- or others -- might offer.
Charlie Morton, RHP, Rays
Contract: $15 million club option (no buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
It's unclear if Morton will continue his big league career after the Rays declined his option. The soon-to-be 37-year-old right-hander said during Tampa Bay's postseason run that he would be "completely honored and privileged to continue to play for the Rays" if they were to pick up his 2021 option, while adding that he would discuss with his family the possibility of retiring if the option was declined. Morton had an incredible debut season with the Rays in 2019, finishing third in the AL Cy Young Award voting after going 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 33 starts. He took a step back with a 4.74 ERA in nine starts in '20, though he put together an impressive postseason.
Daniel Murphy, INF, Rockies
Contract: $12 million mutual option ($6 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Murphy, who turns 36 in April, hit just .236 with a career-low .608 OPS in 40 games with the Rockies this season. That came after he hit .279 with 13 homers, 78 RBIs and a .780 OPS in his debut season with Colorado in 2019. Though he has extensive experience at second base and has also logged time at third base and left field in his career, Murphy has primarily settled in as a first baseman over the past two seasons.
Wilson Ramos, C, Mets
Contract: $10 million club option ($1.5 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
An All-Star in 2016 and again in '18, Ramos struggled this season in the final year of his two-year, $19 million deal. After hitting .288 with 14 homers, 73 RBIs and a .768 OPS in his debut season with the Mets, Ramos hit just .239 with a .684 OPS in '20. Teams pursuing the 33-year-old Ramos will be hoping to land the version who slashed .298/.343/.483 from 2016-18 and averaged 16 homers and 62 RBIs in just 102 games per season.
Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians
Contract: $17.5 million club option ($500,000 buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Santana worked an AL-leading 47 walks while playing in all 60 games this season, but his numbers dipped across the board following his bounceback All-Star season in 2019. He slashed just .199/.349/.350 with eight homers and 30 RBIs after hitting .281/.397/.515 with 34 home runs and a career-high 93 RBIs in '19. Santana will turn 35 years old in April.
Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
Contract: $12.5 million club option ($1 million buyout) UPDATE: Option declined
Wong earned an NL Gold Glove Award in 2019 and is once again a candidate after continuing his stellar defensive play this season. The 30-year-old second baseman took a small step back offensively, hitting just .265 with a .675 OPS, but he still served as the Cardinals' primary leadoff hitter. It's certainly possible the two sides work out a deal to keep Wong in St. Louis next season, but his elite defense and speed (24 stolen bases in '19) could make him a highly pursued free agent.
Other players with options in this category include: Roberto Pérez, C (CLE); Chase Anderson, RHP (TOR); Mike Zunino, C (TB); Eric Thames, 1B/OF (WSH); Brandon Kintzler, RHP (MIA); Robinson Chirinos, C (NYM); Gio González, LHP (CHW); Mike Leake, RHP (ARI); Dee Strange-Gordon, 2B (SEA); David Robertson, RHP (PHI); David Phelps, RHP (PHI); Héctor Rondón, RHP (ARI); Todd Frazier, 3B (NYM); Aníbal Sánchez, RHP (WSH); Sergio Romo, RHP (MIN); J.A. Happ (NYY)
UNLIKELY TO BECOME FREE AGENTS
Nick Castellanos, OF, Reds
Contract: Three years, $48 million (player opt-out) UPDATE: Castellanos will remain with Cincinnati
Castellanos came out swinging in his debut season in Cincinnati, hitting .340/.411/.840 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in his first 14 games. Had he maintained that MVP-caliber performance, he may have actually considered exercising his opt-out. Instead, Castellanos (who turns 29 in March) scuffled down the stretch and finished the year with a .225/.298/.486 slash line to go with 14 homers in 60 games.
José Iglesias, SS, Orioles
Contract: $3.5 million club option ($500,000 buyout) UPDATE: Option picked up
Iglesias, who turns 31 in January, will be back with the O's in 2021 after the club exercised his option. Iglesias was one of the Orioles' most productive hitters last season, posting a .373 average to go with three homers and a .956 OPS despite playing through various injuries. He also steadied the infield defense when healthy enough to play shortstop.
Starling Marte, OF, Marlins
Contract: $12.5 million club option ($1 million buyout) UPDATE: Option picked up
When Miami acquired Marte in a blockbuster deal with the D-backs on Aug. 31, the front office expressed publicly that he was “not a rental.” Even after parting ways with president of baseball operations Michael Hill following the season, Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter made it official that Miami will bring back the 32-year-old Marte for the 2021 season.
J.D. Martinez, DH, Red Sox
Contract: Two years, $38.75 million (player opt-out) UPDATE: Martinez will reportedly remain with Boston
Martinez chose not to exercise his opt-out clause following a sensational 2019 season, so it is not shocking that he declined to do so again (per a report by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman) after the worst season of his career in '20. The 33-year-old hit just .213 with seven homers and a .680 OPS in 54 games for the Red Sox. That's a far cry from his first two seasons in Boston, when Martinez slashed a combined .317/.395/.593 while averaging 40 homers and 118 RBIs. If he can rediscover that form in '21, Martinez might consider exercising his opt-out next offseason before the final year of his deal.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
Contract: $14.5 million club option ($2 million buyout) UPDATE: Option picked up
It always seemed like a safe bet that the Cubs would pick up Rizzo's option for 2021 -- and they may even explore an extension with the veteran first baseman. Rizzo hit just .222 with a .755 OPS this season, but the three-time All-Star and two-time NL Gold Glove Award winner clubbed 11 homers in just 58 games -- and still outperformed fellow Cubs stars Kris Bryant and Javier Báez, each of whom had extensive struggles at the plate.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Yankees
Contract: Seven years, $218 million (player opt-out)
Stanton put on an absolute show in the 2020 postseason, crushing six homers in just seven games, including setting a Yankees franchise record by homering in five consecutive playoff games. Still, he has played in just 41 regular-season games over the past two seasons and turns 31 in November. It seems safe to assume he will enjoy the security of his seven-year, $218 million deal for the time being.
Other players with options in this category include: Merrill Kelly, RHP (ARI); Martín Pérez, LHP (BOS); Leury García, OF (CHW); Mitch Moreland, 1B (SD); Darren O'Day