MLB free company: How opt-out clauses became no-brainers for players to decline

MLB free company: How opt-out clauses became no-brainers for players to decline

Word from baseball’s ownership side is they took a huge financial hit during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and that means those losses will be passed to the players in terms of options for 2021 and free agency. The opt-out clause on existing contracts, however, is one saving grace from the player side. 

Specifically, we’re expecting free agency to be awful from a player perspective. While Anthony Rizzo and Starling Marte have had club options picked up, the following players have had club options declined: Brad Hand, Charlie Morton, Carlos Santana, Ryan Braun, Adam Eaton, Brett Gardner, Edwin Encarnacion, Howie Kendrick, Kolten Wong, Jon Lester, Corey Kluber, Jedd Gyorko, Daniel Murphy, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos and more. 

Remember, though, how opt-out clauses became all the rage a few years back? The owners are likely kicking themselves, collectively, in looking at how things shake out this offseason. 

Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million extension with the Marlins that runs from 2015-27. He was traded to the Yankees before the 2018 season. He had an opt-out clause ahead of the 2021 season and could have become a free agent this winter. Instead, he will remain with the Yankees. There is still $208 million left on Stanton’s deal through 2027 with a $25 million club option for 2028 (which has a $10 million buyout, so Stanton will get at least $218 million on the deal). It’s an absolute no-brainer for Stanton to remain with the Yankees and stay on this deal. It also hurts the Marlins some. They now owe the Yankees $30 million since Stanton didn’t opt out, though that won’t be paid until 2026-28 in six installments of $5 million each.  

Former Marlins president David Samson discussed Stanton’s contract and other opt-out decisions on his podcast, Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen below:

Even if the 2020 season went off as a full, normal season, it’s unlikely Stanton could have come close to such a deal on the open market, given his issues staying on the field. He played just 18 games in 2019 and only 23 of 60 in the 2020 regular season. When he plays, he’s one of the best sluggers in baseball, but he’s now north of 30 with a spotty injury history. 

Stanton wasn’t the only one with an opt-out clause to stay put. 

J.D. Martinez signed a five-year, $109.95 million deal with the Red Sox before the 2018 season. They won the World Series in 2018 while he was an All-Star and finished fourth in AL MVP voting that year, so the contract was perfectly fine. It’s just that with the state of the Red Sox right now and J.D. coming off a season in which he hit .213/.291/.389 at age 33, they’d probably prefer he just walk. Instead, Martinez has not opted out of his contract and is owed $38.7 million for the next two seasons. 

Nick Castellanos signed a four-year, $64 million deal with the Reds before last season. He had an opt-out clause after just one year, but he’s also staying put after hitting .225/.298/.486 (102 OPS+) with 14 homers, 34 RBI and -0.2 WAR in 60 games. 

In previous years, the opt-out clauses were hit or miss. Let’s look at last year. Stephen Strasburg opted out and the Nationals retained him with a bigger deal. Yu Darvish decided not to opt out and it looks like a steal for the Cubs. On the flip-side, Jason Heyward didn’t opt out and he isn’t going anywhere until his eight years are up in Chicago. Elvis Andrus and Jake Arrieta also stayed put. So did Kenley Jansen, though the Dodgers are fine with that right about now. 

Overall, in looking at the landscape of the league after the 2020 season, I wouldn’t expect to see many more big-time contracts heavy with opt-out clauses on the player end. Instead, expect teams to push more for the club options. It remains to be seen if the players accept them, but the hunch is that’s the way things are headed. Right now, the opt-out clauses are far too club friendly for owners to continue handing them out. 

About Author

Deon Kayden

Deon Kayden is an American sportswriter and media personality. He has also authored numerous baseball books.

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