19 February 2018

Player Opt-Out Clauses Could (Have) Really Help(ed) the Orioles This Offseason

The Orioles finally did something last week by signing Andrew Cashner to a 2-year, $16 million deal. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the deal also includes a $10 million vesting option if Cashner throws 340 innings over those two yers. That option turns into a player option if he pitches at least 360 innings. As the article points out, Cashner has only topped 170 innings twice over his career, and has only exceeded 180 innings once, so it’s unlikely that those options will come into play.

This article isn’t going to focus on the Cashner deal though (we covered that here and here). Don’t get me wrong, I think the deal is fine, and it certainly fills a need, though the Orioles have more roster holes to fill, even as players have reported to spring training. The semi-inclusion of the player option in Cashner’s contract actually got me thinking about player opt out clauses in contracts over the past few seasons. The Orioles front office has been pretty adamant about not wanting to include opt-out clauses in their contracts, so I definitely don’t expect them to act on this, but at this point in the off-season, handing out a few multi-year deals with opt-outs after year 1 would be a great strategy to round out the roster. In my opinion, it would be beneficial for both the team and certain players that could help them in 2018.

From the team’s perspective, 2018 is arguably the last season where the Oriole’s competitive window is open to contend. I say arguably, because it really does depend on who (if anyone) they sign to round out the starting rotation. We’ve talked about which players will most likely not be on the major league roster next season so many times that there is no need to lay it out again. And without much immediate help coming from the farm system, the post 2018 landscape doesn’t look too promising at the moment.

With that in mind, the team probably would not like to be committed to many long-term (and likely expensive) contracts during what will almost certainly be very lean years. This makes perfect sense. Not only do they not want to be spending a lot of money during multiple losing seasons, but it’s essential during those bad years to “play the kids” so the front office can get a good idea of which players should stick around for the team’s next competitive window. During the rebuilding process, available roster spot(s) can almost be more important than the veteran salary commitment. Offering players a long-term contract with an opt-out after the first year provides a path for an increased chance at 2018 contention, while also providing an opportunity for that contract to not exceed one year.

Obviously the 2017-18 offseason has been unique in that there have been a lot of players that are still not signed. Regardless of the reason, at the core, those players remain unsigned because they are not getting offers they feel are in line what they’re worth. So from the player’s perspective, a multi-year deal with an opt-out after year 1 seems like a good option, This provides them the opportunity to test the market again next year, while also providing a backup plan should they underperform in 2018. It may even be beneficial to both parties to front load the deals in the first year. In that case, the players maximize their earnings in 2018 (and make the Orioles more competitive), while incentivizing those players to opt out given that the salaries in years 2 through x would likely be lower than fair market value.

I would imagine that a contract structure such as this may be intriguing options to some of the players still left on the market who could help the Orioles, such as a Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. The Orioles could even take this option to someone like Mike Moustakas. With Manny Machado’s move to SS confirmed, signing Moustakas would be an upgrade at 3B. This would move Tim Beckham to a super utility role, one which he is much more likely in which to succeed (I believe Matt Perez suggested signing Moustakas in his 2018 blueprint).

Of course there are downsides to handing out contracts with opt-out clauses after year one. The first is that if everyone has a down year, they all decide to stick around after 2018. This puts the Orioles on the hook for another couple of years in which they likely won’t be competitive. However, if they can be frontloaded, those out years wouldn’t hurt as badly. Additionally, players with upcoming opt-outs will have their trade values diminished in 2018, due to the acquiring team not knowing exactly how many years of that player they’re getting.

Giving out contracts with player opt-outs after year 1 is definitely not without risk, but this offseason, the Orioles and some players were/are both in unique situations where this contract structure may be mutually beneficial. If the Orioles are truly serious about contending in 2018 (and other than publicly saying so, I’m not sure that they are), then this idea should not be off the table, despite the front office’s disdain for doing such things. Maybe if someone mentioned to the front office that player opt-outs are essentially the same as player options they wouldn’t be opposed to it. I mean, they did just kind of give one of those to Andrew Cashner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. How stupid can the Orioles be? Dyson just signed for 2/7.5. He was projected to be worth twice that much. The O's could have offered 2/15 and still have had enough to sign a big SP. We all agree that Dyson is the man that the O's should have. Why can't they see it??? What is wrong with these people?