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.
Manny Machado San Diego Padres 3B
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.
Max Scherzer New York Mets SP
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.
Michael Conforto San Francisco Giants RF
Contract after 2023: 1 year and $18 million
Michael Conforto's opt out is conditional. He must have at least 350 plate appearances in 2023 to be able to trigger it, and that's no sure thing seeing how he missed the entire 2022 season with shoulder surgery. Still only 29, Conforto has spent much of his career as a bona fide middle of the order bat, and a return to form in 2023 would set him up for a nice payday next offseason. Think something along the lines of Kyle Schwarber's four-year, $79 million contract, possibly even more. It comes down to health. If Conforto's shoulder is intact and he stays on the field, he should perform well enough to opt out and get a larger contract. If not, he has what amounts to an $18 million insurance policy with the Giants for 2024.
Super early prediction: Conforto stays healthy, has a good season, and opts out.
Marcus Stroman Chicago Cubs SP
Contract after 2023: 1 year and $21 million
Shoulder inflammation sidelined Marcus Stroman for a month lat summer, otherwise he continued to plug along as a ground ball machine who eats innings at an above-average rate. Stroman is a notch below a true ace but you needn't pitch like an ace to secure more than $21 million in free agency (20 pitchers signed for more than $21 million guaranteed this offseason). This decision is pretty straightforward. If Stroman stays healthy, he'll opt out and pursue a multi-year deal, perhaps even returning to the Cubs. If he gets hurt or has a down season, he can take the $21 million and try free agency again after 2024. Stroman turns 32 in May.
Super early prediction: Stroman opts out.
Javier Báez Detroit Tigers SS
Contract after 2023: 4 years and $98 million
After the season he just had, his first with the Tigers, it's easy to think there's no chance whatsoever Javier Báez will opt out of his contract next offseason. That isn't unreasonable, but reader, things can change so quickly in this game. Example: Stephen Strasburg. He was sitting on a good but not truly great 3.82 ERA through 25 starts in 2019, then he won World Series MVP and opted out of four years and $100 million after the season. Báez turned only 30 a few weeks ago and is incredibly talented and athletic. He's exactly the kind of high variance player who could follow up the awful season he just had with an All-Star campaign. I wouldn't call it likely, but I refuse to close the door on Báez opting out with the decision still so far away.
Super early prediction: Báez does not opt out and stays in Detroit.
Matt Carpenter San Diego Padres DH
Contract after 2023: 1 year and $5.5 million
What if Matt Carpenter really is the second coming off Barry Bonds? OK, he's not that good, but Carpenter hit .305/.412/.727 with 15 home runs in only 154 plate appearances with the Yankees last year before a foul ball broke his foot and ended his regular season, and there are swing change reasons to buy into his resurgence. This isn't a journeyman who had a few good weeks. Carpenter is a multiple time All-Star, he's finished as high as fourth in the MVP voting, he's hit as many as 36 homers in a season, he's led his league in doubles and walks, so on and so forth. Carpenter will play the entire 2023 season at age 37 and Nelson Cruz has signed over $40 million in contracts since his age 37 season (and he's still playing!). This could be a fascinating opt out case.
Super early prediction: Carpenter opts out. I'm a believer in the resurgent bat.
Josh Bell Cleveland Guardians 1B
Contract after 2023: 1 year and $16.5 million
The salary breakdown of Josh Bell's two-year, $33 million contract with the Guardians is unknown, so I'm going to assume the money is spread out evenly. A larger or smaller 2024 salary would certainly factor into the opt out decision though. Either way, Bell is entering his age-30 season and has put up a 126 OPS+ in his last 2,000 plate appearances. Free agency is unkind to defensively challenged first baseman (Bell figures to primarily DH for the Guards), so I don't think Bell will have significant contract upside next offseason. He should be able to get a two- or three-year deal worth more than the $16.5 million or so he'd leave on the table though.
Super early prediction: Bell opts out.
Eduardo Rodriguez Detroit Tigers SP
Contract after 2023: 3 years and $49 million
This one could go either way. A personal issue kept Eduardo Rodriguez away from the Tigers for three months last year, though he was generally effective when he was on the field, and he turns only 30 in April. Taijuan Walker (four years, $72 million) and Jameson Taillon (four year, $68 million) are similar to Rodriguez and they were roughly the same age this offseason that he will be next offseason. It stands to reason Rodriguez could do better than the three years and $49 million remaining on his contract as a free agent next offseason, but that's a lot of money to walk away from, and the upside is what, one or maybe two more guaranteed years based on Taillon and Walker?
Super early prediction: Rodriguez does not opt out and stays with Báez in Detroit.
Andrew Heaney Texas Rangers SP
Contract after 2023: 1 year and $13 million
The straight one-year contract is going out of style. A lot of free agents now are signing two-year contracts with an opt out, effectively making it a one-year deal with a one-year insurance policy. Shoulder injuries limited Andrew Heaney to 72 2/3 innings in 2022, but he struck out 110 batters in those 72 2/3 innings, and lefties who can do that will always be in demand. Age (32 in June) and career-long home run issues will limit Heaney's free agent contract ceiling, though something like 20 starts with a similar strikeout rate in 2023 will set him up to test the market next offseason and get 2-3 years. He could take less money in 2024 to get more guaranteed money overall.
Super early prediction: Heaney does not opt out. The shoulder and home run issues worry me.
Trey Mancini Chicago Cubs DH
Contract after 2023: 1 year and $7 million
Trey Mancini did not have the contract year he hoped to have in 2022. He won a World Series ring with the Astros, so it wasn't all bad, but he lost several homers to the new left wall at Camden Yards, then he lost his lineup spot in the postseason with Houston. Mancini will play the entire season at age 31 and a fresh start with an improved Cubs team could get him back to where he was two years ago with the Orioles. Teams typically don't spend big on players with Mancini's profile (righty hitting and righty throwing first basemen), though beating $7 million shouldn't be too difficult with a representative 2023 effort. Similar to Michael Conforto, Mancini must have 350 plate appearances in 2023 to be able to trigger the opt out.
Super early prediction: Mancini opts out.
Other players with opt outs: C Tucker Barnhart, Cubs; RHP Seth Lugo, Padres; LHP Sean Manaea, Giants; LHP Drew Smyly, Cubs; OF Jorge Soler, Marlins; RHP Ross Stripling, Giants; IF Justin Turner, Red Sox