Home MLB Rounding the Bases: Options, Hot Stove news and more

Rounding the Bases: Options, Hot Stove news and more

by Matt Smith

MLBLogoBaseballGB is guided by three main aims and experience has proved that so long as we keep them in mind, seemingly simple ideas can be the foundation of features that are enjoyable and interesting to read and very rewarding to write. 

That  leads me to the first instalment of the latest such new feature in which I will round up the main news from the previous seven days or so over the offseason.  It’s a straightforward premise, but one that I think will be well worth building on.  British newcomers to the sport will be able to keep up-to-date with the important news topics (not least the “who’s gone where” part of the offseason that can become confusing if you don’t stay on top of it), while established fans can treat it as a useful reference to check and a starting point for discussion. 

An ‘Options’ overview

The Hot Stove is officially bubbling as players are filing for free agency, teams are making decisions on contract options and trades are being discussed.  My Baseball Basics for Brits volume on ‘Players: Development, Contracts and Transactions’ will hopefully help to explain the rudiments of how player contracts work in MLB, including why so many players (relative to Premiership football, for example)become free agents.  However, one thing that I didn’t cover in that volume is ‘contract options’ and right now they are a key topic.

Essentially they refer to a part of a player’s contract in which one party (sometimes both) has the option to extend the contract in line with the specified terms (i.e. how much money the player will be paid).  It will be referred to as a ‘club option’ or a ‘player option’ and the relevant party either ‘exercises’ the option or ‘declines’ it. 

The decision will normally be based on immediately understandable logic.  For instance, a team will exercise their option on a player if they want to keep them and are happy with the financial commitment this will entail, or decline the option if either of these two conditions are not met.  That’s an important point because in some cases the news story will state that a team has declined an option, but the team may still want to keep the player.  For instance, the Rockies have just declined their 2010 option on reliever Rafael Betancourt even though ideally they would like to keep him.  Colorado would have been contracted to pay Betancourt a 2010 salary of $5.4m if they had exercised the option and they didn’t want to pay that much.  Therefore they declined the option and hope to come to a new agreement.  Obviously the risk for the Rockies is that another team may value Betancourt more highly than they do and will be prepared to offer him a better deal. 

If a club declines an option, they will normally have to pay a buyout fee as part of the process.  So, the White Sox declined their $12m option on Jermaine Dye and had to pay him $950k as a result, just as the Orioles declined their $8m option on Melvin Mora and he got $1m as a result (nice work if you can get it).

In terms of contract options being exercised this offseason, the main ones have been:

  • the Red Sox exercised their 2010 option on catcher Victor Martinez,
  • The D-Backs exercised their 2010 option on pitcher Brandon Webb,
  • the Twins exercised their 2011 option on outfielder Michael Cuddyer,
  • the Rays exercised their 2010 option on outfielder Carl Crawford,
  • the Phillies exercised their 2010 option on pitcher Cliff Lee,
  • Manny Ramirez exercised his 2010 option to stay with the Dodgers,
  • Jason Varitek exercised his 2010 option to stay with the Red Sox.

All of these were fairly predictable, although Varitek might have decided to decline his option once the Red Sox had brought back Martinez.  At this stage in Varitek’s career, accepting a reduced role on a contender looks like the right decision.  The Cuddyer deal is different to the rest as he was already under contract for 2010 and the option related to 2011.  The Twins had to make a decision on this option within five days of the end of the 2009 World Series as per the contract they signed with him in January 2008.

Note: contract details are from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Other Hot Stove news

Of all the moves during the 08/09 offseason, the Angels’ acquisition of Bobby Abreu on a one-year deal for a guaranteed $5m was one of the very best.  They received an excellent return on that initial investment and Abreu enjoyed his time with the club so much that he decided to avoid the free agent circus and signed a two-year extension with the Angels that includes an option for 2012.  That’s a good start to what could be a challenging offseason for the Angels, with John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero all hitting the free agent market.

Other players who have decided to prolong their stays with their current clubs include Tim Hudson (who signed a three-year extension with the Braves), Freddy Sanchez (two-year extension with the Giants), Jack Wilson (two-year extension with the Mariners) and Ken Griffey Jr (one-year extension with the Mariners).  The latter move is of debatable worth to Seattle in terms of on-field production from the future Hall-of-Famer, so the success of the deal lies in what he offers to the organization more broadly (valued as a great presence in the clubhouse and in drawing extra fans to Safeco Field) alongside the cost in terms of the financial investment (which reportedly largely rests on incentives) and a roster spot. 

The free agent market hasn’t moved much as yet (no surprises there), but there has been a few trades to keep us occupied.  The Pirates acquired Akinori Iwamura from the Rays in a rare deal that sees Pittsburgh obtaining a Major League regular rather than trading one away.  The Red Sox decided to take a punt on Jeremy Hermida, picking him up from the Marlins for two left-handed pitchers (Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez).  Boston can easily afford his arbitration salary and if they can somehow tap into Hermida’s much-touted potential then it could be a great bargain move.  In the AL Central, the Royals and White Sox agreed to an intra-division trade (Chicago received Mark Teahen for Chris Getz and Josh Fields) that doesn’t seem to help either a great deal, while the Twins have added shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Brewers in a trade that sees Carlos Gomez heading to Milwaukee.  The one surprise with the move was that Hardy wasn’t traded for the pitching talent that the Brewers clearly need; however acquiring Gomez allows them to let centre fielder Mike Cameron depart as a free agent and the money saved may make a subsequent deal (or deals) for a pitcher more possible.

Nationals new manager

The Washington Nationals appointed a new full-time manager this week and, as expected, this resulted in the interim manager Jim Riggleman getting the job on a permanent basis.  The Nationals’ win-loss record did improve once Riggleman took over from Manny Acta at the All-Star break and he will now have to prove that this wasn’t just the temporary impact of having a new face in charge.  There will be more details on the Nationals in my review of the NL East tomorrow.

Gold Gloves

The first group of 2009 awards was announced with gold gloves being handed out to the AL and NL players deemed to be the best fielders at their respective positions.  They have caused much debate as fans argue over players who were unfairly overlooked (Franklin Gutierrez being a prime example) and those whose awards look more like a reflection on reputation and/or their batting rather than how they fielded in 2009 (Torii Hunter, Derek Jeter and Orlando Hudson). 

Joe commented on how fielding differs fundamentally from pitching and hitting in his great recent article and this is reflected by the fact that fielding statistics still seem to be a work-in-progress.  Certainly judging a player’s worth in fielding percentage and errors alone doesn’t even begin to resemble an accurate assessment.  Most people seem to agree that the answer lies in capturing data via a series of cameras and that sort of analysis for MLB games might not be too far off. 

GM’s meet in Chicago

The thirty General Managers met for two days in Chicago this week; however it wasn’t a very newsworthy event with topics such as expanding the use of instant replay not being discussed formally.  They will meet again for the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis between 7 and 10 December.

You may also like


Chico November 15, 2009 - 10:23 pm

Matt: Interesting to note that the GM’s are meeting in Chi Town and Indy and not in Palm Springs, Caly or Florida or Ariz. They are meeting in non resort type venues in the Midwest to save money in a down economy. Chico

Chico November 15, 2009 - 10:41 pm

Matt: The Sox/KC trade while not earth shaking in scope, brought some interesting discussion on the Southside of Chicago and in KC. Teahen will play 3rd, while Gordon (“bacon”) Beckham, AL Rookie of the Year, moves to 2nd to replace Getz. Alexi Ramirez remains at SS. Teahen has a fine glove and should hit well as a lefthanded stick at U.S. Cellular Field. Getz (University of Michigan grad)has 40 stolen base potential. Josh Fields, a power hitter should flourish in KC in my opinion. As a White Sox fan, I hated to see him go. He is a well liked, polite former quarterback from Oklahoma State University. In my opinion, both teams will benefit from the trade. Chico

Matthew Crawshaw November 16, 2009 - 6:56 am Reply
Matt Smith November 16, 2009 - 7:10 am

Chico – it’s a fair point that bringing in Teahan will have a knock-on effect for the Sox (Beckham’s going to be a consistent All-Star, although as an A’s fan I’m hoping Andrew Bailey pips him for AL ROY!). We’ll see what Getz and Fields are able to do, but my initial thought is that they’re not much of an upgrade over the players the Royals already have.

Matthew – the Lackey situation is an interesting one because he’s the top pitching free agent, yet his performances have gone down the last two years while his injury list has increased. He probably wants a 5 year deal and that might prove to be a big risk, although when he’s on top form then he’s definitely one of the better starters in baseball.

Joe Gray November 17, 2009 - 10:41 pm

This is going to be a great feature – and it’s good to see some Mariners mentioned. I’m happy with the Wilson deal, not unhappy with the Junior deal, and generally so much happier to be a Mariners fan than I was 2 years ago. The organization is now finally set up to make decisions that increase the Mariners’ chance of winning things in the future.

One thing I’m not happy about is Gutierrez being overlooked for that gold glove. He’s so good they could have kept Ibanez as a second DH and played a two-man outfield.

Chico November 18, 2009 - 2:36 am

Matt: Congratulations on Bailey. I don’t disagree with his selection. But for Beckham to finish 5th? The guys on the MLB Channel even said it was ridiculous for a guy like Beckham with his rookie leading hitting categories to be 5th. What hurt him is that he didn’t get called up until early June. Imagine his numbers if he had been there all year. And he had to learn a new position at the MLB level. Amazing. Beckham won the ROY from the Players and the Sporting News. Most years the winner of those two win the Writers award. Many, many writers have played little baseball and don’t know more than a lot of fans. I’d much rather be honored by my peers than a lot of know nothing writers. Again congrats to an Oakland player!

Matt Smith November 18, 2009 - 7:14 am

Joe – the Wilson deal seems part of a concerted effort to make the M’s strong defensively (Gutierrez being another example), which is definitely a good idea. Seattle also got a big break when Kenji Johjima decided to void his contract and head back to Japan. The extension they gave him didn’t make any sense and he has really let them off the hook.

Chico – I’ll write a bit more about the ROY award on Sunday, but as you wrote, Beckham’s bid was badly hurt by the number of games he played. I’m glad that Bailey won though as he did have an incredible season.

Joe Gray November 18, 2009 - 10:48 am

If we didn’t have the Silva contract burdening our payroll we’d be in amzaing shape. With that, we’re still quite limited.

If I was running a team, I’d happily have replacement-level bats at catcher, shortstop, and centre-fielder in the AL to get star gloves at these positions. I think you can still win the World Series with above-replacement-level bats at only six positions in your line-up.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.