Major League Baseball will kick off the 2023 regular season on Thursday, March 30, or in less than a week's time. But before teams can finalize their rosters, they could partake in one last round of free-agent shopping this weekend. That's because Saturday, or five days before Opening Day, is an important date on MLB's calendar as it pertains to a specific class of player.
MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLB Players Association gives Article XX(B) free agents who signed a minor-league deal the ability to opt out of their contracts at various points of the season if they're not added to the active roster. You might ask, what is an Article XX(B) free agent? It's a fancy way of saying "true free agent" -- or, someone who has more than six years of service time and finished last season on an active roster or injured list.
The fine folks at MLB Trade Rumors have put together a more comprehensive list of players who could once again hit the open market this weekend. We here at CBS Sports wanted to highlight eight opt-out candidates, explaining their virtues and guessing at which teams could have interest in their services. This exercise is art, not science, so don't hold it against us if these players stay put. (We request that you note the players are presented in alphabetical order.)
1. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Kansas City Royals
Bradley Jr. was never known for his offensive prowess, but his bat has trended in the wrong direction the last few years. For perspective, consider that he's posted a 45 OPS+ in his last 798 trips to the plate in the majors; Mario Mendoza's career OPS+ was 41. Bradley Jr. does remain a high-caliber defender, with Statcast grading him in the 90th percentile or better last season in outfielder "jumps" and arm strength. He would make sense in a deep reserve role if the Royals decide to pass on adding him to their roster.
Most sensible suitor: It's unclear if Brandon Nimmo will be able to suit up for the Mets come Opening Day after recently spraining his knee and ankle on a slide. If the Mets want to take the conservative route with Nimmo, they could do worse than adding Bradley Jr. for a few weeks out of the gate.
2. Kole Calhoun, OF, Seattle Mariners
Calhoun's ball-tracking data remains strong, as he ranked in the 82nd percentile in average exit velocity last season. Unfortunately, his raw numbers have tanked the last two years, and he's become more prone to both chasing and whiffing. A non-contender could do worse than giving him one last chance at proving he can turn his process into results. The worst-case scenario is he helps improve their draft-lottery positioning with some miserable play.
Most sensible suitor: The Athletics could achieve the desired effect by keeping and playing Rule 5 pick Ryan Noda. We'll name them here anyway, on the off chance they decide they'd rather have the profile in a more seasoned package.
3. Ben Gamel, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Gamel isn't the most exciting player on two wheels, but he's been roughly a league-average hitter against right-handed pitching during the Pandemic Era and deserves a crack as someone's fourth or fifth outfielder as a result. The Rays, for their part, will presumably carry the optionless Luke Raley on their roster, making it tough to see a pathway for Gamel to make the cut.
Most sensible suitor: The Giants will open the season without Luis González, Mitch Haniger, and Austin Slater. They could roll with Rule 5 pick Blake Sabol and non-roster invitee Bryce Johnson as their reserve outfielders, but we think Gamel would represent an upgrade.
4. Yuli Gurriel, 1B, Miami Marlins
Gurriel's contact-heavy profile seems pitch-perfect for the Marlins. We're including him anyway because he's sporting a .301 OPS in spring training (albeit in a super small sample) and he might find himself on the wrong end of a numbers game. Few 38-year-old, multi-time World Series champions want to return to riding minor-league buses. As such, we think the Marlins-Gurriel relationship, however idyllic on paper, might end sourly. Or, as Raphael Saadiq sang: "Falling in love can be easy, staying in love is too tricky."
Most sensible suitor: The Phillies could make sense if they're willing to overlook the stylistic clash Gurriel represents versus Hoskins. Otherwise, maybe the Astros bring back Gurriel until Michael Brantley is healthy?
5. César Hernández, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Hernández's bat has rested comfortably on the "below-average" side in four of the past five seasons, and he's a definitive minus with the glove. That makes him a tough sell as a regular, even on a team with no playoff aspirations. Still, he commands the strike zone and his speed could give him a little extra value under the new rules. He's a true switch-hitter, too, in the sense that he's about equally productive against lefties and righties alike. You could do worse.
Most sensible suitor: The Astros will be without Jose Altuve for at least two months after he fractured his thumb. Houston can roll with David Hensley as their primary starter while slotting in Hernández on occasion. That arrangement would also allow them to deploy Mauricio Dubón in a utility role.
6. Sandy León, C, Texas Rangers
León is your classic all-glove catcher. He can't hit (his career OPS+ is 59), but he tends to grade well as a framer and he keeps getting jobs as a result. The Rangers have a ton of catchers in camp, including Jonah Heim, Mitch Garver, and Sam Huff. It stands to reason that León will take his mitt elsewhere.
Most sensible suitor: The Diamondbacks will be without backstop Carson Kelly after he fractured his forearm earlier this week. Gabriel Moreno will get the bulk of the starts behind the plate, but the D-Backs may prefer having a veteran backup like León -- whose time in Boston overlapped with some of Arizona's top executives -- instead of in-house option Jose Herrera.
7. Kevin Plawecki, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
Plawecki has bounced around the league as a serviceable backup. He ranked in the 67th percentile in framing last season, but his best skill appears to be making friends based on the reaction his former Red Sox teammates had to him being cut late last season. Plawecki has reportedly already cleared out his Pirates locker, suggesting he's going to be making some new pals soon.
Most sensible suitor: Is it boring to double-up on the Diamondbacks? Yeah, probably. You would do the same though.
8. Luke Voit, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
A few years have passed since Voit received down ballot consideration for the Most Valuable Player Award. It's clear that he's no longer that caliber of hitter (his whiff rate these days is Galloian), but he can still wallop the ball. Both his average and max exit velocity last season ranked in the 66th percentile or higher, and he's posted a 107 OPS+ over the last two years. The Brewers have Keston Hiura on hand if they want to watch a right-handed hitter with zero defensive value do the whole "feast-or-famine" thing, suggesting to us that Voit will be one of the veterans to take advantage of his opt-out clause.
Most sensible suitor: The Phillies just lost Rhys Hoskins for the season. They've publicly signaled their willingness to roll with Darick Hall, but Voit is essentially the direct-to-streaming version of Hoskins and he could be inserted into a timeshare with Hall to reduce their exposure risks.