Player contract options are an interesting part of any team’s offseason moves. You can pick up the option and keep the player or decline the option, pay any buyout clauses and spend the remaining money elsewhere. The Tampa Rays have four team options to decide upon. How should they handle them?
Ben Zobrist ($7.0 million option, no buyout): Is there any question about this one? Zobrist is coming off somewhat of a down year but was still an All-Star, managing a .275/.354/.402 line with 36 doubles, 12 homers, 71 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. He’s an important part of the Rays offense and he looked great as the Rays’ made him into their starting second baseman, making just 4 errors all season on his way to a .993 fielding percentage. The trade that made Zobrist a Ray is already regarded as one of the biggest steals in history, and the extension they signed him to after 2009 could be even better. PICK UP THE OPTION
Yunel Escobar ($5.0 million option, no buyout). The other half of the Rays’ double play combo from 2013 is another no-brainer. Escobar had a Gold Glove-worthy season defensively, making just 7 errors for a .989 fielding percentage that led AL shortstops. That’s just 11 errors between Escobar and Zobrist, and that certainly has nothing to do with poor range as we saw both players making spectacular plays all season. How could we ever forget Escobar’s incredible backhand flip to start to a double play? At the plate, Escobar started out the year in a funk but picked up his hitting as the season went on and became an important weapon, managing a .256/.332/.366 line overall. He was not the problem child many predicted him to be. PICK UP THE OPTION
Juan Carlos Oviedo AKA Leo Nunez ($2.0 million option, $0.3 million buyout): The Rays signed him knowing that he was coming off Tommy John Surgery, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he never pitched an inning for the team at any leve. He did play a bit in instructional league, but that was it. I never liked these medical mystery contracts. If there is something I am missing and he is back to Leo Nunez form, it’s a good deal. Otherwise, pass. TAKE THE BUYOUT.
David DeJesus ($6.5 million option, $1.5 million buyout): Now we get into the hard stuff. DeJesus came over at the end of the season and was an important contributor to the Rays drive to the postseason. However, he’s a .275 hitter with very little power who can’t hit left handed pitching and the Rays are his fourth team in the last four years. At $6.5 million, he would make a good fourth outfielder for a big market team but he’s not the answer in left field for the Rays. TAKE THE BUYOUT.
The Rays always seem to have a roster in flux–it is always tough to deal with free agents and options when you’re a low-budget team. This year, though, but they are fortunate to have affordable options on two quality ballplayers in Zobrist and Escobar and at least a chance to assess whether to retain DeJesus and Oviedo. That’s an enviable position for any team and it will be interesting to see exactly what the Rays do.