Cardinals decline team option for Kolten Wong
Wednesday was a somewhat busy first day of the offseason around baseball, with many teams making their option decisions right away. Perhaps the most jarring was in St. Louis, where the Cardinals declined Kolten Wong’s $12.5 million option for 2021. There are two directions from which I want to look at this. The first is the symbolism this move provides for the offseason to come. Spending is going to be abysmal. The Cardinals are a marquee franchise that are coming off a playoff berth and should be building up for a run at the division next year. Wong, meanwhile, will spend all of next season as a 30-year-old, and while his 92 wRC+ was a bit down this year, in the previous three seasons he’s been at least average and above-average in two of them. He also provides good defense and can make an impact on the bases. For a contending team, $12.5 million — really $11.5 million considering his $1 million buyout — should not be restrictive. That it was viewed as such does note bode well for players this winter.
As far as the Red Sox go, Wong should absolutely be added to their list of potential targets this winter. Boston has a clear hole at second base, and while there is a chance they just stick with what they have — i.e. some combination of Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis and Yairo Muñoz, perhaps with some C.J. Chatham, Jonathan Araúz and maybe Jeter Downs late in the year — that’s a big risk. Theoretically you can get a league-average player’s worth of production from that group with someone eventually stepping up, but that is often much easier said than done. You don’t know how long it will take you to actually find the guy who will step up. With Wong, you get someone who has been an above-average player by fWAR four years in a row. Even this past season he was on pace for over a three-win season over a full year. He immediately becomes the second-best free agent available at his position behind DJ LeMaheiu.
Rangers to decline option on Corey Kluber
This one wasn’t quite as surprising. The Rangers ended up as one of the worst teams in baseball this year, but if you remember last winter they made some big moves to improve their pitching staff. The highlight of those moves was acquiring former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in a trade with Cleveland. Just a year later, they’ve made him a free agent after declining his $18 million option for 2021.
Kluber has been fighting injuries over the last couple of years, only tossing one inning in 2020 before things came to an end due to a shoulder strain. In 2019, the injury was a bit more fluky as he missed a big chunk of the year with a fractured forearm after being hit with a line drive back to the mound. The result has been just 36 2⁄3 innings over the last two seasons. In 2019, he pitched to a 5.80 ERA in a small sample size, though the peripherals suggested he should have been better, albeit still not near his elite peak.
The Red Sox obviously need pitching help, so the fit here is a natural one. Like Wong, though, I would expect the market to be crowded. Kluber won’t get a huge deal coming off of two big injuries and entering his age-35 season, but there is still enough perceived upside here that a lot of contending teams should be lining up to give him a one-year (or one-plus-one type) deal. I’d be surprised if the Red Sox were not among them, but unless they blow other teams out of the water salary wise (something I would not expect them to do for someone like Kluber), I suspect he’d want a team with either a better chance to win or a better track record in getting the most out of pitchers. Or both.
Marlins to pick up 2021 option for Starling Marte
In a day filled mostly with news about teams declining to pick up options on their soon-to-be free agents, the biggest name who was kept for 2021 was Starling Marte, whose option will be picked up by the Marlins. Marte was acquired by Miami at the trade deadline in a deal with Arizona. As a former Pirate before going to Arizona and then the Marlins this past year, Marte has never gotten a huge stage but he’s long been a steady, above-average player. He can play center field, he’s one of the better base stealers in the game, and he can hit. In 2020, he finished with a 109 wRC+ despite a relative lack of power, and that comes after years with marks of 112 and 119.
If he had hit free agency, he would’ve been an interested center field target for the Red Sox, who need to fill the shoes of Jackie Bradley Jr. in some fashion. Marte certainly would’ve been an upgrade, though a more expensive one, too. While he’s not going to be on the open market, I also wouldn’t be totally shocked if he was available in trade this winter. Miami did make the postseason last summer, but they are still the Marlins and probably still a year or two away from really being willing to push in. I don’t think they’ll give Marte away or anything, but the free agent market is weak. A team that needs a center fielder, like, say, the Red Sox, could be willing to give up a solid prospect package to get Marte in the fold.
Twins decline option on Sergio Romo
It seems like Sergio Romo is a free agent every year at this point, and that will be the case again this year after the Twins have declined his $5 million option for 2021. The veteran righty has been someone I have wanted the Red Sox to target for a few years now, and I will bark up that tree yet again this year. He’s not a top-tier option and I wouldn’t want him to be their best addition to the bullpen, but Romo is great against righties, a tremendous veteran to have in the clubhouse, and has been at least solid, if not better than that, consistently for about a decade now. This isn’t a marquee signing that would break the bank, but it could be the kind of mid-tier deal that can make a huge difference over 162 games.