The 2022-23 MLB offseason will be remembered as the winter free agency became exciting again. A record $3.8 billion has been committed to free agents thus far, among that two 11-year contracts (Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner) and one nine-year contract (Aaron Judge). That doesn't include the Carlos Correa's 13-year contract with the Giants or his 12-year contract with the Mets, both of which fell apart over concerns about his leg before he settled for a six-year deal with the Twins.
This lavish offseason was made possible in part by opt out clauses. Opt outs have been around a long time, though only now have they become widespread. They started to become popular when CC Sabathia initially signed with the Yankees in December 2008. His seven-year contract included an opt out after the third year, which he later leveraged into an extension. Bogaerts, Correa, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodón, and Justin Verlander used opt out clauses to test the open market this offseason, among other, and they all ranked among our top available free agents.
"With the year that I have had, my health and my being at the best moment of my career at 28, that is the right decision," Correa told the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día about opting out in October. He walked away from two years and $70.2 million and instead signed a six-year deal worth $200 million guaranteed, with club/vesting options that could push it to $270 million. It's not what he agreed to with the Giants and Mets, but Correa still came out well ahead after opting out. Opt outs aren't going away anytime soon.
With that in mind, here are the 10 most interesting and most important looming opt out decisions heading into 2023, ranked in order of just how interesting and important they are. It should be noted that while opt out clauses and player options are technically different things, they are functionally the same and will be treated as such here. If the player has the ability to exit his contract and become a free agent next winter, he's included here.
Contract after 2023: 5 years and $150 million
This will be arguably the most significant opt out decision in baseball history. Manny Machado has performed at an MVP level the last three years, including finishing third in the voting in 2020 and second in 2022, and he's averaged an incredible 5.8 WAR per 162 games in his career. He is very much on the Hall of Fame track, and, if he does opt out after the season, Machado will hit free agency at roughly the same age Aaron Judge was this offseason. He'll do so with a better track record of durability and while playing a more premium position. It's hard to imagine Machado not opting out if he has another typical Machado season. The Padres almost seemed to prepare for the possibility in signing Xander Bogaerts, who is expected to move to third base down the road. If Machado opts out, San Diego could make an effort to re-sign him, or they could pivot and try to sign Juan Soto to a long-term extension. Soto is six years younger than Machado, after all.
Super early prediction: Machado's opting out.
Contract after 2023: 1 year and $43.3 million
Jacob deGrom opted out of his contract this offseason and signed elsewhere (Rangers) as a free agent. Could the Mets be headed for a similar situation with Max Scherzer? Scherzer has been much more durable than deGrom in recent years, though he turns 39 in July, and securing a larger payday next winter may be difficult. That said, Justin Verlander turns 40 next month and he just got a two-year deal at the same annual salary as Scherzer. All he had to do was win the Cy Young. Should Scherzer repeat his 2022 season, in which he threw 145 1/3 Cy Young-caliber innings around nagging oblique injuries, I would expect him to opt out. That's an awful lot of money for a player approaching 40 though. I would say opting out is likely but not a stone cold lock.
Super early prediction: Scherzer opts out.