By RONALD BLUM
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Jon Lester, Corey Kluber and Brad Hand were among 15 more major leaguers who became free agents Friday when teams declined their 2021 options, many the victims of budget cuts following a regular season without fans due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Also cut loose were Milwaukee infielders Jedd Gyorko and Eric Sogard, Chicago White Sox designated hitter Edwin Encarnación and left-hander Gio González, and Philadelphia relievers David Robertson, Héctor Neris and David Phelps.
AL champion Tampa Bay declined 2021 options on right-hander Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino but say it remains hopeful of re-signing them.
There are 175 players who became free agents following the World Series and about 15 more can go free this weekend. Among the remaining decisions are on player options by Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, Boston designated hitter JD Martinez, Cincinnati outfielder Nick Castellanos and Mets reliever Dellin Betances.
Teams must decide by 5 p.m. Sunday whether to make $18.9 million qualifying offers to eligible former players who went free.
Lester gets a $10 million buyout from the Chicago Cubs that completes a $155 million, six-year contract rather than a $25 million mutual option. The 36-year-old left-hander was 3-3 with a 5.16 ERA in 12 starts this year with 42 strikeouts and 17 walks. He earned a prorated $5,555,556 from his scheduled $15 million salary.
He was 77-44 with a 3.64 ERA in 171 starts over six seasons with the Cubs, in 2016 helping them win the first World Series in 108 years. He was 3-3 with a 2.44 ERA and .201 opponents’ batting average in the postseason.
Milwaukee turned down Gyorko and Sogard, a day after declining a $15 million option on 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun.
Gyorko and Sogard each had $4.5 million options. Gyorko gets a $1 million buyout and Sogard $500,000.
The 32-year-old Gyorko hit .248 with nine homers and 17 RBIs in 42 games and 135 at-bats. Sogard, who turns 35 on May 22, hit .209 with one homer, 10 RBIs and a .560 OPS in 43 games.
“I think there’s a recognition that flexibility is important right now, and we don’t know what the next couple of months are going to look like,” general manager David Stearns said. “We don’t know what the environment is going to be as we do plan for a spring training in the 2021 season. So we have to remain flexible. And that desire for flexibility has likely contributed to some of the decisions we’ve seen throughout the industry over the last couple of days.”
Cleveland declined Hand’s $10 million option and also turned down first baseman Carlos Santana ($17.5 million). The Indians did exercise a $5.5 million option for catcher Roberto Pérez. Cleveland owes buyouts of $1 million to Hand and $500,000 to Carlos Santana.
“With Brad it was a really difficult decision,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “He’s been such a critical part of our team for the last few seasons. He did an extraordinary job in his role as a closer and also was a leader in the clubhouse, specifically within the bullpen group.
“In the end, we did take some time to explore the trade market for Brad and weren’t able to find a fit for him. Again, a very difficult decision.”
Antonetti had pointed toward the moves and a substantial cut in payroll earlier this month due to the team’s financial hit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. There could be other, bigger moves as the Indians consider trading All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor before his final season under contract.
“It’s very early to tell and I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of sense to forecast things,” Antonetti said. “What we’ve been focused on are the decisions we have in front of us and engaging with teams to help inform those decisions.”
Hand went 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA and went 16 for 16 in save chances in the 60-game season.
Santana struggled in his second season back in Cleveland after leaving as a free agent in 2018. The switch-hitter batted a career-low .199 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 60 games. Antonetti said it’s possible the club could re-sign the 34-year-old Santana, who has spent 10 seasons with the Indians.
Pérez was slowed by a shoulder injury for most the season, and the injury may have contributed to him batting just .165 with one homer and five RBIs in 32 games.
The White Sox declined a $12 million option for Encarnación and a $7 million option for González, who will receive a $500,000. Chicago exercised a $3.5 million option on utilityman Leury García.
Toronto exercised a $1.5 million option on reliever Rafael Dolis and declined a $9.5 million option on right-hander Chase Anderson, who gets a $500,000 buyout. The 32-year-old Anderson was 1-2 with a 7.22 ERA in seven starts and three relief appearances last season.
Reliever Cam Bedrosian cleared waivers and elected to become a free agent instead of accepting an outright assignment from the Los Angeles Angels.
The right-hander has spent his entire career with the Angels, who drafted him in the first round in 2010. He reached the majors in 2014 and spent seven seasons in Los Angeles’ bullpen, recording a 3.70 ERA over 277 2/3 innings. Bedrosian, who has nine career saves, briefly served as the Angels’ closer for two stints in 2017.
Kluber, whose option was for $18 million, lasted just one inning in his only start in the third game of the season before a shoulder injury ended his year.
Kluber gets a $1 million buyout, and the club has said it is interested in re-signing Kluber to a less expensive deal. The Rangers acquired the two-time Cy Young Award winner from Cleveland last offseason in a trade that sent hard-throwing reliever Emmanuel Clase to the Indians.
Morton, who turns 37 next month, was due to earn $15 million. Zunino’s option was for $4.5 million. Both played keys roles in the Rays reaching the World Series, where Tampa Bay lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
Morton was 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA this postseason, losing Game 3 of the World Series. He was 2-2 with a 4.74 ERA during the season.
“We’re going to continue talking,” general manager Erik Neander said. “Charlie’s been very open about the uncertainty in his future and where he’s at. Frankly, I felt it was best to let him catch his breath, let him process, let him make some decisions with his family and have those conversations to give us a little more time. I would love nothing more than to have Charlie back as part of our club next year.”
Zunino, who started 18 of 20 postseason games, including the last 10.
“The intangible benefits of him … and the work he did behind the plate were a huge reason for our success as well,” Neander said.
The New York Yankees exercised two option years on reliever Zack Britton worth $27 million and declined 2021 options on outfielder Brett Gardner and pitcher J.A. Happ. Gardner gets a $2.5 million buyout rather than a $10 million salary. Happ’s $17 million option did not have a buyout.
Britton, a 32-year-old left-hander, was 1-2 with a 1.89 ERA in 20 appearances, getting eight saves and filling the closer role when Aroldis Chapman was sidelined by COVID-19.
Pitcher Jimmy Nelson’s $2 million option was declined by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who owe a $500,000 buyout. Nelson missed the season with a back injury that needed surgery,
Philadelphia declined options on relievers Robertson and Phelps, who can go free this weekend.
Robertson was signed to a $23 million, two-year deal prior to the 2019 season but pitched in just seven games due to Tommy John surgery. His contract included a $12 million option for 2021 with a $2 million buyout.
Phelps was acquired from Milwaukee on Aug. 31, and his performance crumbled immediately. He had a 2.77 ERA in 12 games before the trade and a 12.91 ERA in 10 appearances after. Phelps’ option was for $4.5 million and included a $250,000 buyout.