- Twins pitching prospect Matt Canterino will undergo Tommy John surgery this month, as initially reported by SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson (Twitter link). Canterino has been plagued by elbow injuries for the better part of two seasons, limiting the right-hander to just 60 total innings since the start of the 2021 minor league season. As Twins assistant GM Jeremy Zoll told The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Betsy Helfand and other reporters, “it felt like we didn’t have any more stones to turn over, and Matt was feeling like surgery was the right call for him to try and get him back up and running from there.” Canterino was the Twins’ second-round pick in the 2019 draft, and he has an impressive 1.48 ERA and 39.16% strikeout rate over 85 career innings in pro ball. As per the normal timeline for TJ recovery, Canterino won’t be back until August 2023 at the absolute earliest, and it is quite possible he’ll be sidelined until Spring Training 2024.
Yesterday, MLBTR checked in on the status of seven players who have vesting options in their contracts for the 2023 season. Each can (or already has) lock in some guaranteed money or the right to opt out of their current deal based on their workload or finish in awards voting this year.
Over the next two days, we’ll turn our attention to players with less of a say over their contractual status. A host of contracts around the league contain club options for 2023. Some of them will be easy decisions one way or the other, while there are others that’ll be more borderline calls. With teams having to make these calls a little over two months from now, it’s worth taking a look at how these players are performing in 2022.
Today, we’ll start with the American League. We’ll follow up with a look at the Senior Circuit tomorrow.
- Jordan Lyles, SP ($11MM option, $1MM buyout)
Baltimore signed Lyles to a $7MM guarantee last winter, taking the form of a $6MM salary for 2022 and at least a $1MM buyout on next year’s option. He’s been a fine back-end starter, working to a 4.35 ERA across 130 1/3 innings. Lyles has below-average strikeout, swinging strike and ground-ball rates, but he leads the club in innings pitched and is throwing plenty of strikes. He’s also drawn strong reviews for his work in the clubhouse with the team’s younger arms. A $10MM call is borderline for a 4th/5th starter type, but the Orioles have almost nothing on the books next season and could keep him around as a veteran stabilizer.
- James Paxton, SP (team must decide on consecutive $13MM options this offseason; Paxton would have $4MM player option for 2023 if club declines)
Paxton signed a convoluted deal last winter that reflected his atypical situation. A mid-rotation caliber starter when healthy, he’s made just six starts over the past three years and hasn’t pitched in an MLB game since undergoing Tommy John surgery last April. He’s making $6MM this season and could be a rotation option for a team that’ll see each of Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill hit free agency. The club will have to decide whether to trigger consecutive $13MM options (essentially a two-year, $26MM pact) this winter. If they decline, Paxton could opt in to a $4MM salary for 2023 or test free agency. How things play out largely depends on how Paxton looks down the stretch. Manager Alex Cora recently told reporters the southpaw will throw a simulated game on Friday and could soon head out on a minor league rehab appearance (link via Chris Cotillo of MassLive).
- Hirokazu Sawamura, RP (team holds option currently valued at $3.6MM; Sawamura holds player option for 2023 currently valued at $1.8MM if club declines)
Sawamura signed a two-year, $3MM guarantee with the Red Sox over the 2020-21 offseason. The deal also included a club option for 2023 valued anywhere between $3-4MM, depending on whether Sawamura held his roster spot and based on his number of appearances. MLBTR has confirmed that escalators have already pushed the value of the club option to $3.6MM; that price escalates by an additional $100K for reaching each of 45, 50 and 60 appearances this season. (He’s presently at 43 games). If the team declines, Sawamura would have the right to trigger a player option currently valued at $1.8MM. As with the club option, the player option price escalates by $100K for reaching 45, 50 and 60 appearances. If both sides bypass their respective options, Sawamura would receive a $1MM buyout.
It seems likely that Sawamura’s team option price will fall somewhere in the $3.8MM – 3.9MM range, with a $1.8MM gap between the value of the club and player options. That’s an acceptable price to pay for a solid reliever, albeit one who’s been relied upon more in lower-leverage innings. Sawamura has a 3.14 ERA in 97 1/3 innings since coming stateside, striking out a decent 23% of opponents with a strong 51.7% ground-ball rate. He’s had issues throwing strikes consistently, but he’s an affordable power arm for a middle innings group that has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. That the Red Sox haven’t given Sawamura much high-leverage work in spite of their bullpen struggles is enough of a red flag to put this one in some doubt, but it seems likelier they’ll keep him around.
- Luis Severino, SP ($15MM option, $2.75MM buyout)
Severino barely pitched between 2019-21 because of injuries, including a Tommy John recovery. He returned to the rotation this season and pitched to an impressive 3.45 ERA through 16 starts before suffering a lat injury that’ll cost him at least two months. The injury history is a real concern, but Severino still looks like an above-average starter when healthy. He’s averaged around 96 MPH on his fastball, struck out 27.2% of opposing hitters and has a tiny 7.2% walk rate. The Yankees would have to be very pessimistic about his health outlook to buy out his age-29 season, particularly since it’s only a $12.25MM decision once the buyout price is taken into account.
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF ($13MM option, $2.5MM buyout)
Kiermaier hit .228/.281/.369 over 221 plate appearances before suffering a season-ending left hip injury. It’s the latest in a long line of major health issues for the 32-year-old, and the Rays are planning to buy out the three-time Gold Glove winner. It’s possible the team tries to circle back at a lower price point, but the career-long Ray is likely to hit the open market for the first time in his career.
- Anthony Bass, RP ($3MM option, $1MM buyout)
The Jays just acquired Bass from the Marlins at the trade deadline, fortifying their bullpen with a productive middle-innings arm. Bass has an excellent 1.49 ERA through 48 1/3 innings on the year, striking out 26.2% of opponents against just a 5.9% walk rate. It’s a career-best season at age 34, but Bass has a sub-4.00 ERA for five years running. He’s an underrated bullpen piece, and the Jays are sure to bring him back for what amounts to a $2MM decision.
- Tim Anderson, SS ($12.5MM option, $1MM buyout)
This is as easy a call as any team will have to make this winter. Anderson has been one of the game’s better players four years running. He’s an elite contact hitter and baserunner, and he’s cemented himself as the Sox’s franchise shortstop. His 2022 season has been dinged by injuries, including a recent hand ligament tear that’ll cost him most of the remaining schedule. Frustrating year aside, Anderson has hit at a quality .301/.339/.395 clip this season and been an All-Star caliber performer in prior years. The White Sox are keeping him around next year, and they can do the same in 2024 via $14MM option.
- Josh Harrison, 2B ($5.5MM option, $1.5MM buyout)
Harrison signed a one-year deal in Spring Training and got off to a dreadful start. The veteran utilityman has turned things on since the calendar flipped to June, though, and he now carries a roughly league average .242/.312/.385 line through 281 plate appearances. The Sox will have to make a $4MM call this offseason on whether to bring him back for 2023. They’ll probably look for an upgrade at second base, but that’s a reasonable enough sum to dedicate to a quality infielder off the bench. Chicago already has Leury García making decent money in that role, and they might prefer to focus their finances on adding to the back of the rotation and bringing back star first baseman José Abreu.
- Bryan Shaw, RP ($4MM option, $500K buyout)
Shaw is a longtime member of the Cleveland organization, having spent seven of his 11 MLB seasons there. He’s a durable bullpen workhorse who’s clearly a favorite of the coaching staff and front office, but his 2022 results have not been good. The 34-year-old righty owns a 5.36 ERA across 40 1/3 innings. He’s only striking out 17.7% of opponents, walking batters at an elevated 11.6% clip and has had some home run issues. The Guardians seem likely to go in another direction this offseason.
- Miguel Sanó, 1B ($14MM option, $3MM buyout)
Sanó is a longtime member of the organization who’s capable of carrying a lineup with his power at his best. His platform season has been a disaster, though, and the Twins are sure to buy out his option. The 29-year-old underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee in May. He returned briefly but went back on the 60-day injured list last week with additional knee concerns. It’s not clear whether he’ll make it back this season. Sanó has an .083/.211/.133 line in 20 games this year after slightly above-average offensive performances in 2020-21.
- Sonny Gray, SP ($13.1MM option, no buyout)
Just as Sanó’s option is certain to be bought out, Gray’s is a no-brainer to exercise. Minnesota acquired the right-hander from the Reds in Spring Training, sending last year’s first-round pick Chase Petty to Cincinnati. Gray lost some time on the injured list, but he’s posted an impressive 3.19 ERA with slightly above-average peripherals through his first 16 starts in a Twins uniform. A mid-rotation starter of his caliber is a solid bargain at the cost of his option, which played into the fairly high asking price the Twins had to relinquish in the trade.
- Dylan Bundy, SP ($11MM option, $1MM buyout)
The Twins bought low on Bundy on a one-year free agent deal, hoping he’d rebound from a dismal 2021 and look more like the mid-rotation arm he resembled in 2020. That hasn’t really transpired, as the right-hander has a 5.01 ERA through 93 1/3 innings. He’s averaging a personal-low 89.2 MPH on his fastball, and while he’s throwing plenty of strikes, that lack of velocity has been reflected in both his 18.6% strikeout rate and higher than average home run rate. It seems likely the Twins will decline the option and reallocate that $10MM elsewhere, particularly with the recent acquisition of Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda’s expected return reducing the urgency to add to the rotation next season.
- Will Smith, RP ($13MM option, $1MM buyout)
Acquired in a one-for-one deadline swap that sent Jake Odorizzi to Atlanta, Smith is having a generally disappointing year. He has a 4.17 ERA through 41 innings, striking out a personal-worst 24.1% of batters faced with a career-high 11.2% walk rate. Smith was an effective late-game arm as recently as a season ago and is still generating swinging strikes at a quality 14.2% clip, but the $12MM price tag seems likely to be too hefty given the mediocre strikeout and walk numbers.
- Stephen Piscotty, RF ($15MM option, $1MM buyout)
Piscotty has spent five seasons in Oakland after being acquired from the Cardinals heading into the 2018 campaign. He had an excellent first season in green and gold, but he’s been a well below-average hitter fours years running now. Going back to the start of 2019, Piscotty has a .231/.288/.380 line in just under 900 trips to the plate. He’s sure to be bought out and could be looking at minor league offers next winter.
- Ken Giles, RP ($9.5MM option, $500K buyout)
Seattle signed Giles to a two-year deal knowing he’d miss all of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, hopes of a year two payout have been largely derailed by a finger issue that delayed his season debut and some shoulder tightness that has kept him out of action for the past month. Giles has thrown just 4 1/3 innings in a Seattle uniform, surrendering only one hit but four walks with six strikeouts. He’s averaged 94.8 MPH on his fastball, still solid but down from the 96.9 MPH range he showed during his incredible 2019 season with the Blue Jays. There’s a non-zero chance Giles returns — he’s currently on a rehab assignment in Triple-A — and dominates down the stretch to make Seattle think about the option. For the moment, though, it’s trending towards a buyout.
- Garrett Richards, RP ($9MM option, $1MM buyout)
Texas signed the 34-year-old Richards to a one-year guarantee over the offseason, hoping he’d build off the promise he showed in a late-season bullpen stint with the Red Sox. That hasn’t panned out, as he has a 5.35 ERA across 38 2/3 innings of relief. Richards has an excellent 52.1% ground-ball rate, but he’s not missing as many bats as one would like and he’s giving up a lot of hard contact. Texas seems likely to buy him out.
- José Leclerc, RP ($6MM option, $750K buyout)
Texas signed Leclerc to an early-career extension in 2019, locking him in after a 1.56 ERA season the year before. He struggled with his control the following season, then missed virtually all of 2020-21 battling elbow issues that eventually culminated in Tommy John surgery. Leclerc returned to the mound in June but has a 4.01 ERA with a personal-low 20.4% strikeout percentage in 24 2/3 innings of generally low-leverage work. He’s still throwing hard and missing plenty of bats with his slider, so there’s a chance Texas takes an optimistic view and keeps him around. His deal also contains a $6.25MM option for 2024, so he’d be under control for multiple seasons if the Rangers are willing to give him a bit of a longer leash. This feels like it could go either way depending on how he performs down the stretch.
- Kole Calhoun, RF ($5.5MM option, no buyout)
The Rangers signing of Calhoun to a one-year deal over the winter hasn’t panned out. He’s hitting .211/.269/.363 through 350 plate appearances and is currently on the injured list with a heel issue. It’s a second straight below-average season for the veteran outfielder, who’ll be 35 in October. The Rangers will almost assuredly decline the option and look elsewhere in right field as they aim for legitimate competitiveness in 2023.
A lot has changed since the last edition of MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings. Joe Musgrove, formerly the No. 5 entrant on the list, has since signed a five-year extension with his hometown Padres, keeping him from reaching the market. Willson Contreras, the No. 9 entrant on that edition of the list, was somewhat stunningly not traded at the deadline, meaning he’ll be subject to draft-pick compensation. Jacob deGrom had yet to pitch at that point in the season but has now made a dominant pair of outings in his 2022 debut. More broadly, several players on the list or on the “honorable mention” portion of the list have altered their stock with strong play or faded.
Here’s a look at where things stand, with a reminder that this list is based on what the MLBTR team believes to be each player’s earning power in free agency — not necessarily a ranking of the “best” free agents or who’ll hold up the best over the life of a major free-agent contract.
1. Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees (Last ranked: 1): While plenty has changed since the May 25 version of these rankings, it’s business as usual for Judge, who boldly turned down a seven-year, $213.5MM extension offer back in Spring Training and now looks prescient for doing so. Judge was hitting .314/.386/.692 at the time of our last rankings and has followed that with a remarkably consistent .292/.390/.654 line in 64 games since. Judge is on pace to top Roger Maris’ 61 home runs from the 1961 season, leading the Majors not only in long balls (44) but also runs scored (93), RBIs (98), slugging percentage (.677), OPS (1.068) and wRC+ (196). He’s leading the AL with 122 hits and has even stolen a career-high 11 bases (without being caught).
Judge has been the best hitter on the planet since Opening Day, and as things currently stand, the only person who could conceivably stand in his way of winning his first AL MVP trophy would be Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani. However, great as Ohtani has been again in 2022, his offense isn’t quite what it was last year (and isn’t anywhere close to Judge’s league-leading dominance). From a pure WAR perspective, Judge has been so good this year that his value with the bat has eclipsed Ohtani’s combined value at the plate and on the mound.
Regardless, Judge is now poised to reach free agency on the heels of the finest season of his already brilliant big league career. He’ll play the 2023 season at age 31, which is about the only strike against him in free agency. Judge will receive and reject a qualifying offer from the Yankees, and even though he’d be 38 by the end of an eight-year deal, that seems plenty plausible. He could very well command the largest annual salary any position player has ever received, too, and a $300MM overall contract doesn’t seem out of the question. This is what it looks like to bet on yourself and win — in resounding, overwhelming fashion, no less.
2. Trea Turner, SS, Dodgers (LR: 3): There’s not much on the baseball field that Turner doesn’t do well. The 29-year-old is the sport’s fastest player, by measure of Statcast’s Average Sprint Speed, and he’s hitting .305/.345/.499 as of this writing. The 28 home runs he popped in 2021 might very well go down as a career-high, but Turner should finish this year around 25 dingers and has twice in the past hit 19 long balls (including in a 2019 season where he played in just 122 games).
That injury shortened ’19 campaign was the only one in the past half decade in which Turner spent significant time on the shelf. Over the past five years, he’s a .303/.358/.493 hitter who’s made a pair of All-Star teams, won a batting title and taken home a World Series ring.
By the end of a long-term deal, Turner will probably move off shortstop, but he’s a solid option there for now who’d be plenty capable of sliding over to second base at some point. Over the past three seasons, he’s been 43% better than league-average with the bat, by measure of wRC+, and this will be his fourth season of at least four wins above replacement in the past five years — with the 60-game 2020 season, when he boasted 2.8 fWAR and bWAR alike, being the lone exception.
If Turner had been born a day later, next year would technically be considered his age-29 season, but he’ll be 30 on June 30, and the July 1 cutoff is (for whatever reason) generally seen as the arbitrary turning point for a player’s age in a given year. A seven-year deal for Turner would run through age-37, and an eight-year deal through age-38. He’ll have to contend with a qualifying offer and another deep class of shortstops, but Turner is one of baseball’s most well-rounded players and figures to be compensated in line with the game’s 10 to 20 best position players.
3. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals (LR: 6): It’s difficult to directly compare Arenado’s 2022 season and the 2019 season that propelled Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245MM contract, given that Rendon’s Herculean ’19 effort came during the juiced-ball season. Offense is down league-wide now, yet Arenado stacks up favorably in terms of batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Metrics like wRC+ and OPS+, which weight for both home park and league environment, feel that Arenado’s 2022 production at the plate has actually been slightly better.
Defensively, Arenado is nearly peerless at his position. Since making his MLB debut in 2013, Arenado ranks second among all players, regardless of position, with 151 Defensive Runs Saved, trailing only Andrelton Simmons. He’s third to Francisco Lindor and Nick Ahmed in Statcast’s Outs Above Average, which tracks defensive data dating back to 2016. Arenado’s numbers aren’t inflated by early-career marks, either. He remains elite this season, ranking third in all of MLB in DRS and second in OAA. Defensive metrics and the eye test agree, as Arenado has been a human highlight reel at the hot corner for his decade-long career.
The age gap between 2022 Arenado (31) and 2019 Rendon (29) can’t be ignored. However, that should be more reflected in the length of a theoretical Arenado contract than in the annual value. It’s also, of course, worth noting that Arenado is technically under contract through 2027. He’s guaranteed $144MM in that time but has the right to opt out of the contract after the current season. Arenado forwent an opt-out clause after the 2021 season, but his 2022 campaign is the best of his career.
Even if he’s capped at a five-year deal in free agency, he should be able to trounce the current $28.8MM annual value remaining on his deal by as much as $5-7MM — and a six-year deal doesn’t seem impossible to imagine coming off such a brilliant effort. (Freddie Freeman scored a six-year deal beginning with his age-32 season, so there’s recent precedent.) Perhaps Arenado and the Cardinals will work out a compromise, and it’s always possible he decides he’s happy in St. Louis and just passes on the opt-out entirely. If he does want to test the market again, however, there could be another $20-60MM in earning power for him on top of his current deal.
4. Carlos Correa, SS, Twins (LR: 2): The 2022 season might not have gone quite as well as either Correa or the Twins hoped, but he’s still enjoying a sound all-around year, hitting .265/.343/.433 (22% better than league average, by measure of wRC+). He got out to a slow start in April and has slumped following the All-Star break, but for a three-month stretch from late April to late July, Correa hit .308/.375/.509. Provided the current slump doesn’t last too long, Correa stands a decent chance to be around 30% better than average at the plate for the second straight season and third time in four years.
Last year’s all-world defensive ratings have taken a dip thus far in 2022 — surprising for a player who has generally been a consistent source of elite glovework. He’s made five throwing errors this season, tied for his most since 2016, but Correa has been plenty sure-handed, booting just two balls hit to him. He’s spent the year throwing to Miguel Sano and a pair of makeshift first baseman who’ve converted from other positions (Luis Arraez, Jose Miranda), so perhaps some of the throwing miscues can be forgiven by a team with a better defensive outlook at first base.
If those first couple paragraphs feel like they’re filled with caveats — well, they are. The simple fact is that Correa hasn’t had as strong a season as he did in 2021 and probably shouldn’t be expected to command the type of contract many (MLBTR included) thought to be possible last offseason. That said, Correa still hasn’t even turned 28 — the age at which he’ll play nearly all of the 2023 season. His youth alone gives him the chance to command the longest contract of any free agent this winter; even a 10-year deal would run through age-37.
That type of contract may not be on the table without a huge finish, but Correa is still a plus defender and well above-average hitter with age on his side. It’s perhaps narrowly more plausible that he could opt into a second year with the Twins, take another $35.1MM salary and hope to hit free agency on the heels of a stronger platform in 2023, but his current earning power is still among the best in this year’s free-agent class.
5. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox (LR: 4): When the last version of our list was published, Bogaerts had homered just four times in 174 plate appearances while posting a below-average .135 ISO (slugging minus batting average). It was easy enough to overlook as little more than small-sample noise at the time, but Bogaerts has hit just five home runs in 267 plate appearances since that time and now has nine long balls and a tepid .141 ISO in 441 trips to the plate. That’s the worst power output we’ve seen from Bogaerts since 2017 by an overwhelming margin. From 2018-21, he belted 90 homers in 2106 plate appearances while turning in a stout .224 ISO.
Bogaerts is still hitting .311/.383/.452 on the season, but he’s also sporting a career-high .382 average on balls in play that he’s not going to sustain — particularly not when his average exit velocity, barrel rate and hard-hit rate are at their lowest or near-lowest levels since 2017.
There’s still no doubt that Bogaerts will opt out of the remaining three years and $60MM on his contract, but he’d be higher on this list if not for his power stroke going MIA. Couple that with ongoing questions about his defense — some teams are surely going to see Bogaerts as a player who needs to move off shortstop, perhaps as soon as 2023 — and the current free-agent outlook is a bit murkier than expected.
Nevertheless, Bogaerts has a long track record of excellent offense and well above-average power output. With a strong finish to the season, particularly in the power department, he should have no problem commanding a notable nine-figure deal — and something in excess of $200MM can’t be ruled out.
6. Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets (LR: 7): The No. 6 ranking here for deGrom factors in something of a best-case scenario, but this list is based on earning power, after all. If deGrom gets hurt again or struggles down the stretch, it’s possible he’ll drop off the list entirely. The latter of those two scenarios seems unlikely, though, as deGrom hasn’t “struggled” since 2017. He’s been dominant through his first two starts of the 2022 season, averaging 99.2 mph with his fastball and holding opponents to three runs on four hits and a walk with 18 punchouts through 10 2/3 innings.
Dating back to 2018, deGrom has a comical 1.95 ERA in 591 2/3 innings with a 34.9% strikeout rate against a 5.3% walk rate. When healthy, deGrom is simply unmatched in terms of starting pitching dominance over that period. He ranks second among all Major League pitchers with 24 wins above replacement dating back to 2018, per FanGraphs, despite the fact that he’s made only 93 starts in that time. Max Scherzer tops the list but has started 24 more games and logged 143 2/3 more innings — about an extra 75% of a season’s worth of work.
If deGrom finishes the season with no red flags, the bidding should be furious. He’ll turn 35 next June, making him nearly three full years younger than Scherzer was when he secured his record-setting three-year, $130MM deal from the Mets. DeGrom could justifiably look to top that AAV on a multi-year deal, and he’s too good for the bidding to stop at two years. The biggest question surrounding deGrom is just how many years someone will be willing to guarantee. A three-year pact in excess of Scherzer’s seems doable, and a fourth year ought to be on the table as well.
7. Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves (LR: Not Ranked): Long a plus defender at shortstop, Swanson is having another strong year with the glove and a career year with the bat. He’s followed up a career-high 27 home runs in 2021 with a .292/.348/.461 showing through 463 trips to the plate. He’s been the beneficiary of a .375 average on balls in play that he surely won’t sustain over a larger sample, but Swanson is also making hard contact at a career-best 44.7% clip and elevating the ball more than he has in years past.
A greater walk rate than his current 7.3% clip or lower strikeout rate than his 26.3% mark would raise Swanson’s floor, but his glove alone will make him an above-average regular and he’s well on his way to his second straight 25-homer season. Add in that Swanson will play all of next season at 29 years old, and a nine-figure deal seems likely. Both Trevor Story and Javier Baez landed six-year, $140MM pacts last winter at the same age. Swanson will have to contend with a qualifying offer and with some more decorated shortstop options ahead of him on the market, but he’ll be in high demand all the same.
8. Carlos Rodon, LHP, Giants (LR: 8): Rodon was the best pitcher in baseball through late July in 2021, but he was capped to five innings per appearance (at most) down the stretch as he battled shoulder fatigue and diminished velocity. For a pitcher with Rodon’s injury history, that limited interest in him to the point that he took a two-year, $44MM deal with a chance to opt out following the 2022 season — provided he reached 110 frames.
Rodon has not only reached 110 innings — he’s shot past it with career-best velocity (95.8 mph average fastball) and another sub-3.00 ERA (2.95 through 128 1/3 frames thus far). Rodon is averaging just shy of six innings per outing and boasts a 31.2% strikeout rate against a 7.6% walk rate. He’s reached double-digit strikeouts in six of his 22 starts and held opponents to three or fewer runs in 18 of 22 tries.
Rodon’s fastball in his past eight starts is down about one mile per hour over his average from his first 14 starts, but it’s still been a healthy 95.1 mph in that stretch. That said, he threw a complete game on July 9, worked seven shutout innings on July 31, and averaged a resurgent 96 mph with his heater in his most recent outing. At least so far, Rodon doesn’t appear to be fading at all. If he can avoid the type of late swoon he experienced in 2021, he ought to find four- and five-year offers at superior annual values to this contract’s $22MM AAV. He’ll receive a qualifying offer and surely reject it, which isn’t ideal, but he has the best combination of age (30 all of next season) and 2022 performance of any starter on this year’s market.
9. Justin Verlander, RHP, Astros (LR: Not Ranked): Simply returning to make a full season’s worth of starts would’ve been a feat for a 39-year-old who had pitched just six innings since the end of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. Verlander, of course, is no ordinary 39-year-old, and he’s not only returned but positioned himself as a front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award.
It’s a jaw-dropping feat, even for one of this generation’s best. Verlander has a 1.73 ERA with a 25.5% strikeout rate against a minuscule 4.6% walk rate. He’s averaging nearly 6 2/3 innings per start, sitting 95.1 mph with his heater — his second-best mark since way back in 2011 — and has thrown a quality start in 16 of his 20 appearances this year. Verlander hasn’t yielded more than one earned run in a start since June 18 and has held opponents to one or zero earned runs in a stunning 15 of 20 starts.
He’ll turn 40 in February, but Verlander has a legitimate case to break Max Scherzer’s $43.33MM AAV, particularly if he’s looking at a two-year deal. He’s said he wants to pitch into his mid-40s and looks as good as ever, though, so we shouldn’t discount the possibility that a team shrugs and goes to three guaranteed years for this generation’s most prolific workhorse. Verlander unlocked a $25MM player option when he reached 130 innings pitched, but he should be able to crush that in free agency even if he prefers to work out an extension with Houston.
10. Edwin Diaz, RHP, Mets (LR: Not Ranked): It’s been six years since Mark Melancon (four years, $62MM), Kenley Jansen (five years, $80MM) and Aroldis Chapman (five years, $85MM) each set new records for relief contracts in the same offseason. Diaz, the most dominant reliever in baseball this season, will have a chance to topple that Chapman record when he heads into free agency in advance of his age-29 season.
After a nightmarish first season in Queens, Diaz has righted the ship and become a spectacle in the best kind of way. He’s averaging 99.1 mph on his heater this season, has punched out 52.9% of his opponents and has an entrance more befitting of a professional wrestler than a Major League closer.
Diaz’s Baseball Savant profile looks like a video game cheat code. He’s leading the Majors in expected ERA, expected wOBA, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage, strikeout rate, whiff rate and ranks in the 99th percentile in average exit velocity, opponents’ chase rate, opponents’ barrel rate and fastball velocity. Diaz last allowed an earned run on June 18, and in 18 innings since that time he’s posted a 38-to-1 K/BB ratio while yielding just seven hits.
The 2022 version of Edwin Diaz might be the best reliever we’ve seen since Mariano Rivera. He’ll be hit with a qualifying offer, but it’s doubtful the teams pursuing him are going to even care about that. It’d be a surprise if Diaz doesn’t set a new contract record for relief pitchers this winter, and he could be baseball’s first nine-figure reliever.
Newly acquired Nationals lefty MacKenzie Gore will resume throwing this Friday, manager Dave Martinez told reporters this weekend (Twitter link via Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post). Gore, the former No. 3 overall draft pick and top pitching prospect in the sport, has been sidelined since July 25 due to elbow soreness. A previous MRI did not reveal structural damage, however, and the Nats were clearly comfortable with Gore’s medical records upon reviewing them in advance of the Juan Soto blockbuster that sent him from San Diego to Washington. Presumably, he’ll require a minor league rehab stint before jumping into the big league mix for the Nationals, but Friday’s throwing session will be an important first step to monitor as he begins that progression. Assuming good health, Gore looks poised to play a pivotal long-term role in the Nationals’ rotation, joining Josiah Gray (acquired in last summer’s Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deal) as a building block acquired at the deadline.
Gore absolutely overpowered opponents through early June, pitching to a 1.50 ERA with a 30% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate across the first 48 innings of his career. He’s been tagged for 27 runs in 22 innings since that time, however, working with diminished velocity along the way. Gore only pitched 50 1/3 innings last year (plus some work at the team’s Spring Training complex while going through a mechanical reset), so workload was always expected to be something of an issue in 2022. The Nationals have not made clear the extent to which they’ll monitor his innings moving forward.
Some more health situations to monitor around the league…
- Rockies outfielder Kris Bryant is currently in a walking boot due to a case of plantar fasciitis, and there’s no timetable for his return to the field, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes within a broader look at another disappointing season for the Rockies. Colorado signed Bryant to a seven-year, $182MM contract over the winter but have thus far received just 42 games and 181 plate appearances from the former Rookie of the Year and NL MVP. Bryant’s power was MIA early in the year while playing through a back injury that required two IL stints, but he did bat .330/.398/.567 with 13 extra-base hits (five homers, eight doubles) in 108 plate appearances between his most recent trips to the injured list.
- Cardinals righty Jack Flaherty believes issues with his mechanics led to his latest trip to the injured list, per MLB.com. The starter spent most of the season on the injured list due shoulder problems, returning to make three starts in June before returning to the 60-day IL. That means he’s ineligible to return until late August, though he has started throwing this week, trying to iron out those mechanical issues and potentially starting a rehab assignment soon. “You start doing things incorrectly for a while and then you repeat it over and over again — eventually something is going to flare up,” Flaherty says. “The goal was to clean things up and sharpen things up so that that doesn’t happen. That’s what we’ve been working on, so hopefully things stay that way.” If he can return before the season is out, he could provide a boost to the rotation down the stretch, though the Cards added Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery at the deadline to proactively address the situation.
- The Twins expect righties Josh Winder and Bailey Ober to begin throwing bullpen sessions Tuesday, tweets Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com. Winder has been widely regarded as a top-100 prospect this year and has given Minnesota 45 1/3 frames of 3.77 ERA ball in his big league debut, but shoulder troubles have slowed him of late (as has been the case in past seasons as well). Ober has made 27 starts for the Twins dating back to 2021, pitching to a 4.14 ERA along the way and serving as a generally solid back-of-the-rotation arm. He’s been out since June 1 due to a groin strain that proved more severe than originally believed. The Twins remain hopeful that each of Winder, Ober, outfielder Trevor Larnach and right-hander Kenta Maeda (recovering from 2021 Tommy John surgery) will be able to return in September, tweets Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Meanwhile, Darren Wolfson of SKOR North tweets that right-hander Randy Dobnak will head out on a minor league rehab assignment Thursday, giving the Twins some additional depth on the horizon.
Aug. 8: The Twins have released Duffey, per the transaction log at MLB.com.
Aug. 5: The Twins have designated right-handed reliever Tyler Duffey for assignment, as first reported by Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Twitter link). Right-hander Cole Sands is being recalled from Triple-A St. Paul to take Duffey’s spot on the roster (and, seemingly, in the bullpen for now). Minnesota has yet to formally announce the move.
Duffey, a fifth-round pick by the Twins back in 2012, has had an up-and-down career in Minnesota. Debuting as a starter back in 2015, he quickly looked as though he could hold that role down for the foreseeable future, pitching to a 3.10 ERA with solid strikeout and walk rates as a rookie that year. However, Duffey was clobbered for a ghastly 6.33 ERA in 133 innings the following year and moved to the bullpen in 2017.
It took some time, but by the 2019 season, Duffey had become an indispensable member of the Twins’ bullpen. He logged 57 2/3 innings of 2.50 ERA ball and punched out a whopping 34.5% of his opponents against a 5.9% walk rate that season. From July 28 through Sept. 25 in 2019, Duffey went 26 straight appearances without allowing a run — a total of 23 2/3 innings during which he posted a scintillating 40-to-5 K/BB ratio. He followed that year with an even better showing in the shortened 2020 season (1.88 ERA in 24 innings), and while his numbers took a step back in 2021 they were still quite solid (3.18 ERA, 3.49 FIP in 62 1/3 innings).
All in all, from 2019-21, Duffey logged 144 innings with a 2.69 ERA (3.16 FIP), a 29.8% strikeout rate, an 8.2% walk rate and a 44.4% ground-ball rate. By and large, he was an effective late-inning reliever on whom the Twins relied with regularity.
This season, however, has been another story entirely. Duffey owns a 4.91 ERA and has already yielded eight home runs in just 44 innings of work (1.64 HR/9). The fastball that averaged 94 mph in 2019 is now averaging 92.3 mph, and he’s seen his strikeout rate plummet to 21.1% while his 8.1% walk rate is more than two percentage points higher than it was during that 2019 peak.
Much as he did in 2019, Duffey had an impressive run this summer when he rattled off 15 2/3 shutout innings with a 12-to-3 K/BB ratio from June 17 through July 23, but that hot streak has been bookended by nightmarish bouts of home runs yielded in leverage spots. Duffey has yielded multiple runs in 20% of his appearances this season (eight of 40), including five different outings where he’s been tagged for three runs. Since that promising run from mid-June through late July, Duffey has yielded seven runs on six hits (two homers) and four walks with three strikeouts in a total of 4 1/3 innings.
Minnesota’s bullpen has been the team’s greatest flaw this season, and Duffey’s wild inconsistency has played a significant part in that Achilles heel. He’s earning $3.8MM in his final season of club control before free agency, meaning any club who claimed him — he can’t be traded now that the deadline has passed — would be on the hook for the remaining $1.28MM on this year’s salary. Because of that, he’ll likely go unclaimed, and even if the Twins attempt to outright him to Triple-A St. Paul, he can reject the assignment and retain the rights to that salary, as is his right as a player with five-plus years of MLB service time.
As for the 25-year-old Sands, he’s been rocked for 16 runs in 16 1/3 Major League innings during this season’s debut, but he has a better minor league track record. Like Duffey, he’s a former fifth-round pick (Florida State University, 2018) with a history of solid minor league performances. While it’s true that Sands has been hit hard in St. Paul this season (5.59 ERA in 48 1/3 frames), he posted a brilliant 2.46 ERA through 80 1/3 Double-A frames last year and also notched a sub-3.00 ERA in his first full pro season with the Twins back in 2019.
Sands has worked primarily as a starter in his career, so it’ll be intriguing to see if, similar to Duffey earlier in his career, Sands’ stuff will play up in the ’pen and allow him to seize a role there moving forward. Alternatively, he could simply operate in a long relief role until lefty Jovani Moran returns from the injured list and then head back to St. Paul where he’d continue working as a starter and serve as rotation depth both this year and next.
Kirilloff, 24, was a highly-touted prospect, getting selected by the Twins 15th overall in 2016. As he worked his way toward the big leagues, he was considered to be among the top 35 prospects in baseball for three straight years from 2019 to 2021.
However, he’s been repeatedly dogged by issues in his wrist, even going back to his time in the minors. After making his MLB debut in early 2021, he landed on the IL in May of that year with a wrist sprain. He returned a few weeks later but went to the IL again in July with wrist ligament year, which ended up finishing his season. Here in 2022, he landed on the shelf in April due to wrist inflammation and returned in May, though a wrist contusion sent him to the IL yet again in August.
Through 104 games at this point in his career, Kirilloff hasn’t impressed much, putting up a line of .251/.295/.398. That amounts to a wRC+ of just 90, 10% below league average, though it’s fair to wonder how much these persistent wrist issues are preventing him from reaching his full potential.
Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com relays some more details from Kirilloff about the surgery, which he first discussed as a possibility back in May. It will apparently involve manually breaking his ulna, shortening it to create more space, and then inserting a plate and screws.
Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic relays word from manager Rocco Baldelli about the situation. “Anytime you’re talking about shaving a bone down or shortening a bone, that’s a substantial procedure,” Baldelli said. “But we’re hopeful that by getting it down now it gives us a chance to use the offseason to get right, to start swinging the bat again, to feel good, and to start getting ready for next year.”
Kirilloff and the Twins will be hoping that the surgery pays dividends in the long run. In the short term, the club will likely be using Luis Arraez and Jose Miranda to cover first base, with Miguel Sano having been recently placed on the 60-day IL. As for the outfield picture, Byron Buxton is dealing with a sore knee and has been DHing, last taking the field about a week ago. Max Kepler just returned from the IL and can have one slot, with Nick Gordon likely taking another on most days, with Jake Cave and Gilberto Celestino also in the mix.
- The Twins activated outfielder Max Kepler from the 10-day injured list, and optioned outfielder Mark Contreras to Triple-A. Kepler is making a relatively quick return from a fracture in his right baby toe, after he was hit by a pitch on July 24. Kepler has generated 2.0 fWAR over his 85 games this season, thanks to solid defense and an above-average (113 wRC+) offensive line of .244/.344/.390 in 337 plate appearances.
The Twins have released reliever Joe Smith, per Betsy Halfand of the Pioneer Press (via Twitter). The 38-year-old side-slinger appeared in 34 games for the Twins this season, pitching to a palatable 4.61 ERA. His usage was fairly protected, however, compiling only 27 1/3 total innings in that time, and his peripheral numbers suggest a performance that doesn’t exactly fall in line with his prolific career. Smith’s 6.29 FIP was the worst such mark of his career, and his hard hit percentage rose to 42.1 percent, well-above the league average mark of 35.7 percent.
Still, it’s certainly possible that, by pedigree alone, Smith catches on somewhere to finish out the season. Smith has appeared in every season since 2007 (except for 2020, for which he opted out), taking turns with the Guardians, Mets, Angels, Blue Jays, Astros, Cubs, and Mariners before suiting up for the Twins. His most stable function came as a setup man for the Guardians from 2009 to 2013, but particularly the final three seasons of that stretch in which he averaged 71 appearances and just under 66 frames with a 2.42 ERA/3.33 FIP and almost 21 holds per campaign.
In addition, right-handers Aaron Sanchez and Jharel Cotton have both cleared waivers and accepted assignments to Triple-A St. Paul, per The Athletic’s Dan Hayes (via Twitter). The pair could serve as depth for the rest of the season as the Twins make a push for the playoffs.
Cotton, 30, made 25 appearances covering 30 innings for the Twins this season, posting a disjointed 2.83 ERA/5.48 FIP, 21.5 percent strikeout rate, 11.1 percent walk rate, and 29.5 percent groundball rate. Sanchez, 30, made one start for the Twins and previously made seven starts for the Nationals. In total, the veteran has registered a 7.68 ERA/4.93 FIP over 36 1/3 innings for the two clubs combined.
Frankly, the Twins have enough pitching depth in Triple-A right now with players like Devin Smeltzer, Josh Winder, and Jovani Moran – all of whom remain on the 40-man roster – that the greater possibility is that Sanchez and Cotton simply help cover the innings load in St. Paul for the rest of the season. Not to mention, Minnesota has a number of arms on the injured list that could still return to bolster the Major League crew.
Godoy, 27, appeared in two games with Minnesota this season. The lefty-hitting backstop has otherwise the year at Triple-A St. Paul, hitting .197/.272/.299 through 151 plate appearances. That’s obviously not great output, but he’s a well-regarded receiver. A former Cardinals and Mariners farmhand, he owns a .271/.351/.361 line through parts of ten minor league seasons.
He’ll replace Davis as the #2 catcher behind Jason Delay. The journeyman was selected onto the Bucs’ roster yesterday when Tyler Heineman went on the injured list. Davis, 32, has appeared in parts of four major league seasons but has only 22 games under his belt. He’s spent the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, hitting .282/.358/.320 in 35 games.
Twins reliever Jorge Alcalá has undergone arthroscopic debridement surgery on his throwing elbow, the club announced (relayed by Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune). He’s done for the season, but the Twins anticipate he’ll be ready for Spring Training next year.
Aclalá made just two appearances in 2022, with elbow issues virtually wiping out the year. He first landed on the injured list five days into the season with elbow inflammation, then experienced a setback in June. The issues have deprived the Twins of one of their better relief arms, a pitcher who worked his way into higher-leverage work down the stretch last season. Alcalá tossed a career-high 59 2/3 innings in 2021, posting a 3.92 ERA with an above-average 26.6% strikeout rate and a tiny 5.7% walk percentage.
Had the 27-year-old been healthy and able to replicate that kind of production this season, perhaps the Twins would have a bit more than a one-game cushion over the Guardians in the AL Central. Minnesota’s bullpen has blown 19 leads, fourth-most in the majors. Aside from star rookie Jhoan Durán and converted starter Griffin Jax, the group has struggled. That led to a pair of deadline pickups to fortify the back end, with Minnesota landing All-Star closer Jorge López from the Orioles and veteran righty Michael Fulmer from the division-rival Tigers.
Alcalá entered the season with more than two years of major league service time. He’ll collect a full year for his time on the IL, meaning he’ll surpass the three-year threshold and be eligible for arbitration for the first time next winter. Alcalá is controllable through the end of the 2025 campaign.