Players and teams had until the end of Friday to exercise their options, whether it was a team option, a player option, or a mutual option. That included Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos, who chose to stay with the organization for at least the 2021 season. If a team or a player decided to turn down the option, the player becomes a free agent.

Teams signaled before the season even ended that they weren’t going to be spending money in the offseason on free agents. With the last few days of seeing how teams have been declining nearly every option on players that they can, it’s become evident just how much money they are trying to save after a season with no fans in the stands.

Take Brad Hand for example. Since the start of 2016 he’s posted a 2.70 ERA with 104 saves, 434 strikeouts, a 1.07 WHIP, and a 157 ERA+ in 320.0 innings pitched. Last season with Cleveland he posted a 2.05 ERA in 22.0 innings with four walks and 29 strikeouts. The Indians declined his option for $10M, and every team in baseball could have had him for that same price as he went through waivers in the process, and not a single team felt one of the best relievers in baseball was worth that price heading into this offseason.

All of these options being declined has changed the free agent class in ways that maybe we didn’t foresee back when spring training began. And with the impending non-tender date coming up in just over a month, the free agent market will likely get stronger as players who would normally never be non-tendered due to small raises (in comparison to what they’d get as free agents) become available to every team.

There have been some good players who have not had their options picked up and become free agents. Charlie Morton had his option declined by Tampa Bay at $15M. In 2019 he finished 3rd in the Cy Young Award voting. Last season he threw just 38.0 innings for the Rays, then threw 20.0 more innings in the postseason with five walks and 23 strikeouts to go with a 3.15 ERA.

Where the Reds, or any other team could separate themselves is by going out and spending money this offseason to add talent. Most teams have signaled they aren’t going to spend. They are opting instead to cut talent rather than pay for it. Is it likely that the Cincinnati Reds would look to add payroll? History doesn’t suggest that they would. But history didn’t suggest they would go out and sign Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos, or Shogo Akiyama last offseason. History also didn’t suggest that they would go out and trade for a Trevor Bauer in July two seasons ago. But those things did happen.

There’s an old saying in some other sport about zigging when others are zagging. This offseason seems to be the one where the team that chooses to zig spend when everyone else is zagging cutting payroll, that team could really put themselves in a situation to get out in front of their division. Maybe it could be the Reds if Bob Castellini and the minority members of the ownership group are willing to write the checks. Whoever it is that does decide that they can make it work, though, could really stand out from the pack this winter and have that investment pay off in 2021.

19 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    The Brad Hand situation is baffling to me, but it’s also telling of what is to come. How many years ago did we lock in Coco for $10M per year (4 year deal if I recall)? And nobody bit on him … nobody?

  2. LDS

    I suppose one could argue there’s implicit collusion occurring. The CV-19 lock downs have given the owners an excuse to rein in the big contract offers and to cut spending generally. And with threats of yet another year of lock downs, perhaps it’s rational. Or maybe it’s an attempt to avoid the scenario that is allegedly playing out in the NBA (billions lost). For the Reds, it would seem like a risky move. What will fans do, once “normal” baseball resumes, if they believe the team isn’t committed to winning? They should go all-in on signing the best balance of talent they can acquire at reasonable prices.

    • Mark Moore

      Collusion allegations will always be circling. They have in recent years without the weirdness the pandemic brought. They will heading into the CBA for certain. Can be very hard to prove lacking hard evidence as it’s all circumstantial.

      I think all this places exponential weight on the CBA negotiations. I have no idea or guess where it’s headed. I just hope we get to play in 2021, even if it’s a shorter season similar to 2020. And I hope the Reds put themselves in a position to have a chance.

    • Davy13

      It is easy to believe that the owners are taking advantage of CV-19 to not sign players (ahem “collude”). But can you blame them, where there is a massive loss of revenue this season and a potential monumental loss of revenue next season in the hundreds of millions or over a billion dollars? This is not collusion. This is treading water.

  3. doofus

    “To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.” ~Sun Tzu

  4. SultanofSwaff

    Yes, for a team willing to spend, there is opportunity galore to markedly improve your team at a discounted rate compared to prior years.

  5. Mark Moore

    MLBTR just posted their 25 FA predictions. I’m more than a little surprised to see several 4 and 5-year deals predicted given the massive uncertainty we’re facing. One lock is Gausman taking the $18.9M 1-year QO because he’d be idiotic not to do that.

    They have Bauer at 4 years, $128M to the Dodgers, but I think we may see a 2-3 year at AAV $35 with an opt out like we’ve been saying.

    They do think we’ll land Didi G at $39M for 3 years. Not my choice, but I would be OK with that in the end. Simmons predicted to NYY for 1 year, $12M (which I think we should top).

    • LDS

      Interesting choices in their predictions. Expecting big spending from the Dodgers and little from the Reds. And they are probably right.

      • TR

        The Reds surprised the ‘knowing ones’ during last years offseason but it didn’t bring home the prize.

      • Robert Manfred

        Prize? You mean that piece of metal I hand out to an owner?

  6. Moses

    Doug, I totally agree that there will be some unique buy low opportunities this year for any owners looking to spend, but I was surprised to read “every team in baseball could have had him for that same price as he went through waivers in the process.” Are you sure that’s true? I thought options were:
    •Accept: remain on team for x dollars
    •Decline: immediately become a free agent, usually with a few million extra bucks
    The suggestion that any team could assume the contract seems incorrect. In my gut, I would think that most players would not accept a team option because they could end up playing somewhere where they didn’t want to play. I always thought that the option was only for the team that held it, not in essence for the entire league. Could you double check this? Because I think Hand gets grabbed by at least a few teams at $10 mil, even in this crazy year…

    • Bob M


      The Indians actually placed him on outright waivers first, hoping someone would claim him and take the Indians off the hook for the $1MM buyout on his team option. Each team had the chance to claim him at that point and all passed. Once he cleared waivers the Indians declined his $10MM option, paid him his $1MM buyout, and he’s now a free agent.

  7. FreeHouse

    How about a Blake Treinen? A hard sinker baller with playoff experience.

  8. RedsGettingBetter

    Since WS finished I have thought about Reds should land Gregorius or Simmons for SS on 2-year contract and no more than $30M. But I wonder if a SP such as Jake Arrieta or Mike Minor could help to alleviate Bauer’s going…

  9. Chris

    Let Bauer go (I hate to say that), and go after Morgan, Hand, and Gregorious.

    • Chris

      The more I look at this, I’m not so sure about Morgan. I didn’t realize he fell off so much from 2019.