Next year’s free-agent class is a legitimately star-studded group even when focusing only on true free agents who’ll hit the market due to service time or an expiring contract. But the class has the potential to become even stronger depending on the play of this year’s collection of veterans who have opt-out clauses and player options in their contracts.
Their performance over the next five months will determine whether they opt for another trip to the free-agent market or simply stick with the remaining salary guaranteed to them on their existing deals.
We’re about a sixth of the way through the season, so it’s worth taking an early look at how this group is faring…
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals (can opt out of remaining six years, $179MM): Arenado, who was always a better hitter at Coors Field, is yet another example of the manner in which home/road splits are overstated with regard to Rockies players. The 30-year-old is now playing his home games at Busch Stadium and still raking at a .279/.336/.507 clip with top-notch defense at the hot corner. Arenado has stated that he plans “to be a Cardinal the rest of the way” and said there is a “very, very high” chance that will forgo the opt-out clause in his contract. After the Cardinals tacked a year and $15MM onto the original five years and $164MM he had remaining on the deal, there’s less incentive for him to test the market.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Dodgers (can opt out of remaining two years, $62MM): While some might balk at the notion of Bauer opting out when he’s guaranteed a whopping $45MM next year on this front-loaded contract, the opt-out wouldn’t really be about 2022 — it’d be about improving upon the total guarantee. Right now, if Bauer were to suffer an injury in 2022, he’d have a $17MM player option for the 2023 season. If he opts out this winter, however, he could aim to negotiate something similar to or greater than his original three-year, $102MM guarantee with the Dodgers. Bauer could still secure a huge salary in year one of a new contract but give himself a greater safety net against injury or decline. He also won’t have a qualifying offer to deal with this time and would be entering what most expect to be a market with more teams willing to spend. With a 2.50 ERA, 34.7 percent strikeout rate and 7.3 percent walk rate, the current NL strikeout leader is enjoying the kind of start that will make him think about it.