Though none of this will have a direct impact on the Cubs (yet), it might be a good idea to track the players involved in option decisions for 2022. That could mean an old foe will no longer be with a rival team or that a constant nemesis will return to post half of his homers for the season in just a handful of games against the Cubs. It could even mean someone worthwhile is back on the market.
We’ll keep this updated over the next few days as these decisions come due.
Nick Castellanos opts out
Still a fan favorite from his time in Chicago following a last-second deadline deal in 2019, Castellanos chose to opt out of the remaining two years and $34 million of his deal in Cincinnati. The outfielder had an opt-out clause following his first season there in 2020, but came back after disappointing production stifled his value a bit.
Castellanos bounced back in a big way to hit .309/.362/.576, mashing a career-high 34 home runs and adding 38 doubles to post a 140 wRC+ on the year. That latter mark is easily the best of his career and it’s only 12 points below what he did with the Cubs over just two months.
Turning 30 in March will keep him from getting a monster deal of 10 years or anything like that, but Big Stick Nick is a consistent offensive performer who will be in serious demand. The big knock on Castellanos has been his defense, which won’t be much of an issue if the new CBA includes the universal DH. However, that value-add will be largely offset by qualifying offer penalties.
There still appears to be mutual interest between Castellanos and the Cubs, it’s just a matter of whether the front office can swallow the loss of a high second-round pick and $500K in international bonus money. Plus, what if they’re really interested in one of the market’s top shortstops, which would mean additional penalties?
Andrew Chafin declines option
The lefty reliever turned down his $5.25 million mutual option with the Athletics and will take a $500K buyout to become a free agent. Oakland appears to be going cheap in an even bigger way than usual, going so far as to let former manager Bob Melvin join the Padres sans compensation. Like Castellanos, Chafin quickly endeared himself to Cubs fans and seemed to truly enjoy his time in Chicago.
He won’t have a qualifying offer attached, which is good, but he’s probably looking for multiple years and might not be the best fit for the Cubs unless they’re serious about turning things around quickly. I’ll say this: Having The Sherriff and Nicky Two Bags both back in Chicago would be a genius stroke of much-needed PR.
Avisaíl García declines option
García had a $12 million mutual option to return to the Brewers, but just concluded one of the best seasons of his career and will look for a longer commitment as he heads into his age-31 season. This weakens a Brewers lineup that really needs a lot of work, making the Cubs’ task just a little less daunting.
Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez have options declined
Though no longer the fearsome a duo they once were, these two terrorized the Cubs off and on for several years. Decreasing performance meant there was no way St. Louis was going to pay $18.5 million for Carpenter or $17 million for Martinez. This actually hurts the Cubs because the Cards will inevitably replace them with much better players no one has ever heard of.
Brett Gardner, Darren O’Day decline mutual options
Neither of these players really make sense for the Cubs unless the front office is looking to fill out the roster with aged, buy-low veterans. Wait, that’s actually a very real possibility. The 38-year-old Gardner has been mentioned in connection to the Cubs in the past, but that’s when he wasn’t quite as long in the tooth.
A fiery, vocal leader and Yankee lifer, Gardner has managed to post solid run-production numbers throughout his career and still has a decent glove in the outfield. He declined a $2.3 million player option and the Yankees bought him out for $1.15 million rather than picking up his $7.15 million option, though they also declined an option on him last year and still ended up brining him back.
O’Day just turned 39 and had his worst season in a decade as injuries limited him to just 10.2 innings over 12 appearances in his first season with the Yankees. That came after logging just 16.1 innings in the shortened 2020 campaign and a mere 5.1 innings in 2019 due to a right forearm injury. Some might see O’Day’s age and questionable health as red flags, but he’s also put less mileage on that arm.
Speaking of which, he’s a submariner who relies on a funky delivery rather than velocity to post very good strikeout rates with relatively few walks throughout his career. O’Day declined his $1.4 million option and the Yankees turned down their $3.3 million option, so he could actually be a decent target. While the Cubs need power arms, they also like a little funk and deception in the bullpen.
Kyle Schwarber declines option
The former Cubs slugger has declined his mutual option of $11.5 million with the Red Sox and cannot be saddled with a qualifying offer because he was traded to Boston this season. He’s coming off of an excellent season that would have been even better had a hamstring injury not limited him to 471 plate appearances.
Schwarber set the league on fire with Nationals and was hitting homers at an incredible pace as the leadoff hitter before the hammy seized up. He got back to the same squattier, more athletic stance that had brought him success in the past, through why he had to get back to it at all is a mystery. It’s also an indictment of the Cubs’ hitting instruction, but there’s no use litigating it here.
He was an on-base monster with Boston, walking at a 19.6% clip to boost him to a .435 OBP as he slugged .532 with a 161 wRC+ over 168 plate appearances. Then he clubbed three homers for the Red Sox in the postseason, including a soul-crushing blast against Gerrit Cole during the Wild Card elimination of the Yankees. Schwarber played first base for the Sox during the playoffs and the universal DH would increase his value even further.
Joc Pederson declines option
Coincidentally enough, the man the Cubs signed to replace Schwarber has declined his end of a $10 million mutual option and will take a $2.5 million buyout to hit free agency. Pederson certainly benefited from the trade to the Braves, winning his second World Series — and first legitimate one — in as many seasons.
He’s entering his age-30 season and played subpar defense in addition to below-average offensive production, but this is probably his last best shot at a multi-year deal. Pederson benefits from a personality that makes him a glue guy in the clubhouse, which is still something teams value. He also hit better against lefties than righties, posting a .266 average with a 98 wRC+ to at least partially alleviate concerns that he’s merely a platoon player.
Padres exercise Pierce Johnson‘s option, decline Jake Marisnick‘s
Former Cub Johnson will earn $3 million next season after the Padres picked up his option. The righty appeared in 63 games and posted big enough strikeout numbers to make up for a few too many walks. Marisnick had a $4 million option that the Padres chose not to exercise, so he’ll head to free agency with a $500K buyout.
Following a hot start with the Cubs, Marisnick missed nearly a whole month due to a hamstring injury and never regained his form at the plate. He had a .973 OPS with four homers and a 152 wRC+ through 60 plate appearances, then finished with a .525 OPS with one homer and a 45 wRC+ over his last 138 PAs.
Mark Melancon declines option
Rather than include this one with the other two, I decided to separate it out because it was a player choice rather than the team. Melancon chose to take a $1 million buyout over a $5 million salary and now goes to the market after a solid season that saw him save 39 games with a 2.23 ERA in 64 total appearances. He’ll be 37 in March, but he’s not a power pitcher and that cutter/curve combo still plays.
Even though he’s probably not a Cubs target, I put him on the list because it seems like he’s been linked to them several times in the past.
White Sox exercise option on Craig Kimbrel
The White Sox have picked up their $16 million option on erstwhile closer Craig Kimbrel and will almost certainly try to trade him after the failed experiment of using him as a setup man for Liam Hendriks. The Cubs definitely won that trade even before Nick Madrigal has suited up for them, but the Sox can still try to recoup a little value with a move.
The issue is that Kimbrel’s performance down the stretch was far worse than what he’d done on the other side of town, which was nothing short of dominant. Even if teams believe he can still be an elite closer, the Sox may have to eat some money to get any kind of significant return.
More to come…