We’re roughly a third of the way through the 2023 season. Players have had a couple months to build something of a performance track record that’ll play a role in their future contracts. With that in mind, MLBTR will take a look over the coming days at players whose contracts contain team or mutual options to gauge the early trajectory for those upcoming decisions.
The Braves and Morton have had a productive relationship for the past few years. He’s signed a series of successive one-year contracts and served as an effective mid-rotation presence. A home run spike resulted in a 4.34 ERA last season but the Braves remained confident in Morton’s still-strong velocity and strikeout and walk numbers. They’ve gotten exactly what they’ve expected from the 39-year-old. He has a 3.59 ERA with a solid 24.5% strikeout rate and is still averaging north of 95 MPH on his fastball. If Morton maintains this form for a full season and wants to continue playing, it stands to reason Atlanta would have interest in bringing him back.
Rosario re-signed on a two-year contract after his 2021 postseason heroics helped Atlanta to a title. He’s always been a streaky performer, however, and the past two seasons haven’t been effective. Rosario hit just .212/.259/.328 in 80 games last year. There was some hope a corrective eye surgery could enable a bounceback but he’s only been slightly better in 2023. Rosario carries a .239/.269/.405 line in 171 trips to the plate. The Braves could pursue left field upgrades via trade this summer and are likely to cut Rosario loose at the end of the season.
d’Arnaud has been a quality catcher for Atlanta for the past few seasons. Last year’s .268/.319/.472 showing didn’t stop the Braves from a blockbuster acquisition of Sean Murphy, who is playing at a down-ballot MVP pace through two months. That pushed d’Arnaud into a backup/designated hitter role for which he’s arguably overqualified.
A concussion has limited d’Arnaud to 17 games thus far. He’s hitting .297/.318/.406 over 66 trips to the plate. An $8MM price point is solid value if the veteran continues to perform at his recent levels. Even with Murphy entrenched as Atlanta’s franchise backstop, the Braves were comfortable keeping d’Arnaud around as a highly-priced #2 option. They could do so again in 2024 or exercise the option and look to trade him this winter, as the Brewers did with second baseman Kolten Wong last offseason.
McHugh inked a two-year free agent deal over the 2021-22 offseason. He was brilliant in year one, throwing 69 1/3 innings of 2.60 ERA ball with a 27.6% strikeout rate. He hasn’t come close to that form through this season’s first couple months. McHugh’s 3.54 ERA through 20 1/3 frames is respectable, but he’s punched out a meager 11.6% of opponents against a personal-worst 10.5% walk rate. The option price isn’t exorbitant and McHugh could yet pitch his way into it being exercised. He’ll need to miss more bats, though.
It’s a somewhat similar story with Yates. He signed a buy-low free agent deal in the middle of a Tommy John rehab during the 2021-22 offseason. Yates made a brief return late last season but hasn’t gotten an extended stretch of action until 2023. He’s missing bats on a solid 12.7% of his offerings and has an above-average 29.1% strikeout rate.
The righty’s control hasn’t come back yet, however. He’s walked 17.4% of opposing hitters and is relying on a .214 batting average on balls in play to keep his ERA at 3.26. Whether he can dial in the strike-throwing as he gets more reps probably determines if the Braves keep him around on a net $4.5MM decision.
Cueto signed an $8.5MM guarantee with Miami on the heels of a bounceback showing with the White Sox. It was an odd fit on a Marlins club with ample rotation depth and it hasn’t yet panned out. The 37-year-old got through just one inning in his season debut before suffering a biceps injury. He subsequently sprained his left ankle while on a minor league rehab stint and is on the 60-day injured list. Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald relayed on Tuesday that he’s up to 40 pitches in a bullpen session. A return probably isn’t too far off, but Cueto hasn’t made an impact thus far.
Miami acquired Barnes from the Red Sox in a change-of-scenery swap for Richard Bleier at the end of January. He’s off to a fine but not overwhelming start in his new environs. Over 21 innings, the righty reliever has a 3.43 ERA with near-average strikeout and walk numbers. His average fastball velocity is at a career-low 93.3 MPH, though, and he’s only getting swinging strikes at an 8% clip. Barnes looks more like a competent middle reliever than an All-Star closer at this stage of his career. The $5.75MM gap between the option value and the buyout price will probably prove a little too much for the Marlins.
New York Mets
Canha had a productive first season in Queens after signing a two-year free agent deal. He hit .266/.367/.403 over 542 plate appearances last year. He’s been off to a slower start in 2023, posting a .242/.324/.386 line with four homers — a league average performance by measure of wRC+. Canha picked things up in May after a tough April and still holds an everyday corner outfield role, although he’s increasingly hitting at the bottom of the lineup.
The $9.5MM gap between the option value and the buyout isn’t a huge price to pay for a solid everyday outfielder. That’s especially true for the Mets. This one remains to be determined based on Canha’s summer performance.
Escobar was another two-year signee just prior to the lockout. He was coming off a 28-homer showing in 2021 and has some defensive flexibility. Escobar has hit at a roughly league average level as a Met, showing his typical blend of above-average power with low walk totals. That includes a .244/.289/.433 showing over 98 plate appearances this year.
Brett Baty has taken over the primary third base job, pushing Escobar into a depth role off the bench. He’s a solid utility option and by all accounts a beloved clubhouse presence but the net $8.5MM call is likely pricey for a player in that kind of role.
Acquired from the Rays over the offseason, Raley has been a solid situational bullpen arm in Queens. He owns a 2.95 ERA over 18 1/3 innings with better than average strikeout and walk numbers (25.6% and 7.7%, respectively). Raley doesn’t throw especially hard but he misses bats at a league average clip. He’s been hit around by left-handed hitters in a small sample this year but kept them to a .155/.200/.282 line in 76 plate appearances in 2022. The $4.25MM call is a reasonable price point for an effective middle innings arm. If Raley keeps up this pace, there’s a decent chance the Mets bring him back.
Note: Víctor Robles and Jon Berti each signed arbitration contracts that contained 2024 club options. They’d remain eligible for arbitration next season even if the options are declined and have accordingly been excluded from this list.