The 2022-23 offseason saw several mid-tier free agents sign similar two-year contracts, each of which featured an opt-out after the 2023 campaign. Josh Bell and Michael Conforto’s deals with the Guardians and Giants are two examples on the position player side of things, but the majority of these deals were offered to starting pitchers, such as Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling in San Francisco. Left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Seth Lugo also signed similar deals with the Cubs and Padres, respectively, that allowed them to return to the open market this offseason if they so chose.
Many of those option decisions are fairly clear-cut, but one decision stands out as particularly intriguing: that of Rangers lefty Andrew Heaney, who can opt-out of the final year of his contract to test the open market again. Heaney signed in Texas last offseason on the heels of a brilliant season with the Dodgers where he was limited to just 72 2/3 innings by injury. When on the field, however, Heaney was nothing short of excellent with a 3.10 ERA, 35.5% strikeout rate, and 3.75 FIP in 16 appearances, including 14 starts.
While Heaney managed to stay healthy in 2023, his results took a turn for the worse. His strikeout rate plummeted to 23.6% while his walk rate climbed from 6.1% last year to 9.4% this season. Those slips in Heaney’s peripheral numbers saw him post a 4.15 ERA that was just above league average (95 ERA-) with a 4.66 FIP that was a touch worse than league average (106 FIP-). That being said, Heaney made 34 appearances in 2023 with 28 starts, a noteworthy display of durability for a player who had cracked 130 innings of work in a season just once in his career entering 2023.
Though Heaney managed to post the second-highest innings total of his career this year, his 147 1/3 innings pitched this season fell just shy of the 150 inning threshold at which point his 2024 salary would have escalated from $13MM to $20MM. Had Heaney reached the 150-inning threshold to escalate his option, opting in would have been an easy choice after he guaranteed himself just $25MM last offseason despite strong results with the Dodgers.
That base $13MM figure, however, presents a more interesting conundrum. Looking at last year’s free agent class, 35 starting pitchers signed big league deals in free agency last offseason. Among them, 21 signed for $13MM or more, including players coming off similarly league average seasons like Manaea, Lugo, Jordan Lyles and Noah Syndergaard. Like Lugo, Heaney would be entering free agency ahead of his age-33 season, while Syndergaard entered the open market with a similarly checkered injury history. Syndergaard received a one-year, $13MM deal from the Dodgers last offseason, while Lugo’s two-year pact guaranteed him $15MM.
Ultimately, it seems very reasonable to expect Heaney to be able to exceed his 2024 salary with the Rangers on the open market in terms of total guarantee on a multi-year pact, though it seems somewhat unlikely that he’d be able to garner that much in terms of AAV without accepting another short-term deal like the one he signed last offseason. If Heaney simply opts in, he could return to the Rangers and hope for another healthy season with stronger results in 2024, setting him up for a much more substantial payday next offseason. On the other hand, if Heaney’s health fails him again as it has in seasons’ past, he could find a much less robust market for his services next offseason as he could potentially be marketing his age-34 campaign coming off another injury-marred season.
Where do MLBTR readers land on the matter? If you were in Heaney’s shoes, would you opt in to the final year of the deal in Texas in hopes of a stronger platform season next year? Or would you return to the open market in search of a larger total guarantee? Have your say in the poll below.
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