I previously broke down Columbus Crew's player's out of contract (and eligible for MLS Free Agency) at the end of the season, but the Crew also have seven players eligible for free agency with club options in their contracts. Those players are: Jalil Anibaba, Evan Bush, Erik Hurtado, Perry Kitchen, Artur Lima, Jonathan Mensah, and Pedro Santos.
To be eligible for MLS Free Agency, a player must be at least 24 years old and have at least five years of MLS experience (and be out of contract or have their club option declined).
Artur Lima, a 26-year old defensive midfielder, is currently rehabbing from an injury as he attempts to return in the homestretch of the season for the Crew. He has yet to score or pick up an assist this season, but that's not where Artur does his damage. He is completing 86.3% of his passes as a part of a strong midfield and defensive unit.
Artur also has 15 interceptions and has played 32 accurate long balls. He has started all 13 of his appearances this season (playing 1,088 minutes). Artur went down with a leg injury in May and has missed ever since. He could be nearing a return (which would be a big boost to the Crew and their playoff push). I think Lima will have his option picked up and be back next season. Even though his cap-hit this season is sizeable ($564,000), I think he's worth it.
Columbus Crew have some contract decisions to make this winter
Jonathan Mensah, a 32-year old defender, is a key piece to one of the best defensive units in the league. He is making $1m this season and is a TAM player (which is obviously expensive) but he is usually worth it. On the year, Mensah has scored one goal with one assist, while completing 87.5% of his passes. He also leads all Crew field players with 72 accurate long balls. He's made 19 appearances (all starts), totalling 1,710 minutes on the season. While he is expensive and ageing, Mensah is way too important to cut loose. He one of the key pieces of the Crew's core in my opinion and will likely be back next season.
Pedro Santos, a 34-year old defender/winger, is another important piece to the Crew's defense. Santos has racked up numerous statistics this season with one goal, two assists, 75.9% passing,14 key passes, 42 successful tackles (14 more than anyone else on the team), and 38 fouls drawn (2nd on the team). He's started 20 times this year and has played 1,675 minutes. His versatility is also a plus for the team. I think there's a good chance he is brought back (even with a cap hit of $625,000 this season) unless the club just believes that his age will cost him (which I doubt they will)
Erik Hurtado, a 31-year old forward, might be the most interesting decision for Columbus to make. On the year he has scored three goals, while completing 77.4% of his passes, across eight appearances (three starts). He's played 317 minutes on the season . He is making just $84,000 (the league minimum), which is definitely to his benefit. Hurtado is in an interesting position.
The addition of Cucho has pushed Hurtado further down the pecking order up top. He is still a viable option and a solid backup. On the season, he is scoring 0.85 goals per 90 which is a good mark (although with a small sample size). With a league minimum cap-charge believe that there is a very good chance that Hurtado's option is picked up. The most interesting thing to see will be whether the Crew want to open up minutes for young Jacen Russell-Rowe (although I think if that's the case then the Crew should pick up Hurtado's option and try to trade him to another team within MLS in order to pick up assets).
Jalil Anibaba, a 33-year old defender, has found himself struggling for consistent playing time along the Crew's backline. He has a cap-hit of just $150,000 this season, which is working in his favor. On the year, he is completing 83.9% of his passes across four appearances/three starts (221 minutes). I think there's a good chance that the Crew move on from Anibaba as he is nearing his mid-30's and has yet to carve out a consistent spot in the rotation this season.
Evan Bush, a 36-year old goalkeeper, has been Columbus' main backup between the sticks this season although he has yet to be called into action. The best thing Bush has going for him is that he is making just $84,000 (again, the minimum roster charge). I doubt he is brought back though, especially with young Patrick Schulte (Columbus' 1st round draft pick in the 2022 MLS Superdraft) developing behind entrenched starter Eloy Room. I think the Crew will turn the backup duties over to Schulte for the time being.
Perry Kitchen, a 30-year old midfielder, has struggled to find his way onto the pitch this season. The former highly-touted midfielder for DC United who went to Europe in his mid-20's has now found himself stuck very low on the depth chart in a crowded midfield for the Crew. After dealing with an injury-riddled season a year ago, Kitchen has yet to appear in a match this season. With a cap-hit of $300,000 this season, I honestly doubt Kitchen will be back next season, I believe his option will be denied as he will likely look for a chance of scenery and a fresh-start elsewhere.
Overall, I predict that Artur, Mensah, and Santos have their options picked up. I predict Hurtado will also has his option picked up, but he will be traded to a more forward-needy team. Then I predict that Anibaba, Bush, and Kitchen have their options declined.
The Crew are hot right now in MLS play as they look to push towards the playoffs after a rough start to the season. How the Crew finish could be a major determining factor into whether they try to run it back with this core or attempt to begin to rebuild/retool.