If the first few days of the offseason are any indication, free agency is going to be anywhere from incredibly slow to a bloodbath for the players. For example, the Cardinals declined to pick up a very reasonable club option to keep Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong.
It was more of the same as the weekend progressed. The Cubs unsurprisingly declined to pick up their end of a mutual option on Jon Lester. The Indians declined to pick up Brad Hand’s club option after they were unable to find a taker for it on waivers (it would’ve saved them the $1 million buyout). The Rangers also declined Corey Kluber’s club option. The Pirates reportedly declined their $11 million option on right-hander Chris Archer.
Perhaps a glimmer of hope for the players? The Cubs are likely to pick up Anthony Rizzo’s $16.5 million club option at some point this weekend, reports Russell Dorsey of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Lester and Kluber under normal circumstances wouldn’t have been picked up anyway. Lester had a 4.46 ERA in 2019 and 5.16 in 2020 and he’s heading to his age-37 season. The option was for $25 million (don’t feel bad for Lester as there is a $10 million buyout). Kluber is heading to his age-35 season with tons of wear on his arm and he only threw 36 2/3 innings combined in the past two years with injuries ending both seasons. The option was for $18 million.
The jarring one for the players union has to be Hand. Cleveland put him on waivers in hopes that another team would claim his $10 million salary for 2021 just so the club wouldn’t have to pay the $1 million buyout. There were no takers. Hand, 30, led the majors with 16 saves in 16 chances this season. He had a 2.05 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 29 strikeouts against four walks in 22 innings.
If we weren’t coming off a 60-game season without any fans until the NLCS, roughly 29 teams would’ve placed a claim on Hand. Instead, he slipped through everyone and the Indians cut bait. He’s now a free agent and should be highly sought after, albeit at a price far below what he’s worth.
And then there’s Rizzo. It’s pretty well known the Cubs are looking to shed salary this offseason and nearly every big name with a team or mutual option has already been cut loose or is headed that way. Instead, it looks like the Cubs will retain Rizzo. He’s 31 and coming off a season in which he hit .222/.342/.414 (103 OPS+) with six doubles, 11 homers, 24 RBI and 26 runs in 243 plate appearances. Those numbers don’t look great, but it was a weird and short season. Also, Rizzo goes beyond numbers here. He was with the Cubs when they were still rebuilding and he’s built a kinship with Cubs fandom all these years. He’s a “heart-and-soul” guy.
The Marlins did grab Starling Marte’s $12.5 million option, though.
As such, is Rizzo a glimmer of hope or more an exception to the rule when it comes to players in free agency or with options getting paid this offseason? We’ve already seen some head-scratching declinations like Wong and Jedd Gyorko. And now the Hand situation paints an even more dire picture.