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 Friday as 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.
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 MLBPA has to be Hand. Cleveland put him on waivers in hopes that another team would claim his $10 million salary for 2021 just so they 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.
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.