As the World Series comes to a close, players and teams alike are facing difficult questions on their immediate future. Before the free agency madness begins, here are the five most intriguing option decisions that could shake the offseason landscape:
SP Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Player option: 3 years, $67 million left on deal
In a light starting pitching market this winter, Tanaka may choose to opt out of his contract with the Yankees to pursue a lucrative deal elsewhere. Signed out of Japan for 7 years, $155 million in 2014, Tanaka has lived up to his ace status with a 52-28 record and 3.56 ERA across four big-league seasons. However, the Yankees right-hander did falter slightly in 2017, unraveling a career-worst 4.74 ERA and 2.1 BB/9 in 178.1 innings. Yet because of the market's lack of starting pitching depth, Tanaka may still command a sizable sum this offseason. The Yankees' postseason success may play into Tanaka's decision, as New York's bright future may entice the righty to stay with the formidable contender.
The Yankees have announced that they will not pursue Tanaka as a free agent, should he choose to opt out of the player option.
SP Johnny Cueto, Giants
Player option: 4 years, $84 million left on deal
Cueto finds himself in a similar position as Tanaka: he's still owed a lot of money, but could capitalize on the weak market. Cueto signed with the Giants for 6 years, $121 million before 2016, and began his San Francisco tenure on a high note. The Dominican native went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 1.093 WHIP for the Giants in 2016, earning him a sixth-place finish in the NL Cy Young race. But 2017 was a struggle for the ten-year veteran, who labored to a 4.52 ERA and a career-worst 1.446 WHIP across 147.1 innings.
Another factor in Cueto's decision is his desire, or lack thereof, to stay in San Francisco; the Giants finished with an NL-worst 64-98 record, and Cueto may be looking for a fresh start in a new organization. But at 32 years old, Cueto might forgo a risk/reward scenario and accept the guaranteed money owed to him by the Giants.
OF Michael Brantley, Indians
Club option: $10 million, with $1 million buyout
It's impossible to deny Michael Brantley's MVP-level talent. The nine-year veteran made the All-Star team this season, led the American League in doubles as recently as 2015, and won his first Silver Slugger a year prior. Yet Brantley's ongoing injury troubles have severely altered his career, limiting him to just 101 games over the past two seasons. The longtime-Indians outfielder underwent ankle surgery earlier this month, and his 2018 opening day hopes are already in danger. While Cleveland's outfield production wasn't stellar in 2017, the club has enough in-house options to make Brantley expendable. Still searching for their first World Series title since 1948, the Indians may absorb the $1 million buyout and use Brantley's money toward another free agent splash. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Cleveland picked up Brantley’s option Saturday, meaning he will return to the club next season)
2B Logan Forsythe, Dodgers
Club option: $8.5 million, with $1 million buyout
The Dodgers are likely to hold onto Forsythe for 2018, especially with Chase Utley's departure for free agency. But Forsythe's Dodger's career is interesting to consider nonetheless. been an underwhelming addition for Los Angeles so far, hitting just .224/.351/.327 over 439 plate appearances in his first season as a Dodger. Los Angeles paid a hefty price for the seven-year veteran, dealing top pitching prospect Jose De Leon to the Rays in a one-for-one swap. While the jury is still out on De Leon, the Dodgers appear to have missed on this one. While Forsythe's defense is strong, he didn't figure into a top-of-the-order presence like the Dodgers had hoped.
Despite hitting for just an 82 OPS+ last season, Forsythe's $8 million price is relatively cheap for a serviceable major league piece (not to mention the Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball). Forsythe is expected to stay with Los Angeles as the everyday second baseman in 2018, though he'll need to improve on his 2017 campaign as he heads into free agency next winter.
C Matt Wieters, Nationals
Player option: $10.5 million
Wieter's 2017 season was a disaster in DC, as the veteran backstop struggled to an abysmal 63 OPS+ in 465 plate appearances. While Wieters was not initially expected to stay in Washington post-2017, his horrid year may force the 31-year-old to reconsider. Wieters' decline is occurring rapidly, and his OPS has dropped each of the last four seasons, bottoming out at .632 last year.
Defensive metrics do grade out nicely for the nine-year veteran, but that won't be enough to land Wieters a large contract this offseason. All signs point toward Wieters picking up his 2018 player option to remain with the Nationals, but his role with the club going forward remains murky. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Wieters exercised his player option Saturday and will return to the Nationals next season.)