Jose Lopez’s Option
As we mentioned yesterday, Thursday is the deadline for options in contracts to be exercised, meaning that the Mariners have one more day to make the call on their options for Erik Bedard, Russell Branyan, and Jose Lopez. Expect all three to be declined – Bedard is an absolute lock to have his $8 million option turned down, while Branyan ($5 million) and Lopez ($4.5 million) are just likely.
However, the Branyan and Lopez situations are different. When the Mariners decline Branyan’s option, he’ll become a free agent, and can negotiate with other clubs beginning on Sunday. Lopez, however, has only accrued five years of service time, one short of the minimum needed to reach free agency. If the Mariners decide to buy out the option year on his contract for $250,000, he will be arbitration eligible, meaning that he’ll still be property of the club. Declining his option will not cut him loose.
If the organization just wants to dump him into the free agent pool, they would have to non-tender him, and that deadline is a month away. So, while I expect the team to pay the buyout on Lopez’s deal on Thursday, he’ll still be a Mariner for a month or so while they gauge the trade market for him and decide what to do with their enigmatic infielder. My guess? They’ll find a trade partner and deal him later in the month for something of marginal value.
Even as a 5th year arbitration eligible guy, Lopez won’t be able to command a big raise coming off the worst year of his career. The system works off historic comparables and prior year salary, and Lopez won’t be able to use either to extract a significant paycheck. He’d get some credit for being an everyday player, I’d estimate that he’s looking at a payout in the $3 to $4 million range, and probably on the lower end of that given his poor 2010 season and $2.3 million salary a year ago. He’d get a raise simply for being a full-time player, but not a big one.
That’s why there’s no real reason for the M’s to pick up Lopez’s option. By paying the buyout, they give him a chance for some trade value, as there are going to be teams who see a 27-year-old infielder who is a year removed from hitting 25 home runs as a guy worth risking $3 million on, especially ones with parks more friendly to right-handed hitters. The Mariners won’t find a team willing to give up much for him, but I’d guess that they’ll have a team or two interested in taking him off their hands once they decline his option.
There is one more option, of course – the Mariners could just keep him, hope he gets off to a better start next year, and then try to trade him next summer if Dustin Ackley is ready to take over at second base. For $3 million or so, they won’t free up a ton of money by getting rid of him, and it’s not like they’ll be able to sign a star to replace him. However, I’m a supporter of Initiative E-5 and Proposition 643 – I just don’t have any interest in watching Lopez play for the Mariners anymore. If you’re not sure why, read this.
Dustin Ackley is the future at second base. Chone Figgins was pretty lousy there last year, and has historically been much better defensively at third. I don’t see the point in forcing Figgins to continue to struggle at a position he’s not very good at for a few months, then ask him to switch positions mid-season. If you bring back Lopez, that’s your plan. I think the team is better off spending $3 million on a middle infielder who can share second base with Ackley once he comes up, spell Jack Wilson at shortstop on the days that his (insert body part here) hurts, and allow Figgins to start 2011 back at third base where he belongs.
I think the team feels the same way, and I doubt we see Lopez on the roster next year. But when they turn down his option on Thursday, they won’t be cutting him loose. That won’t happen for another few weeks.