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Imagine Mike Trout declaring himself a free agent . . . tomorrow

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From the “fun thought experiment on a slow news day” file comes an article from Nathaniel Grow over at FanGraphs. Though it’s not purely a thought experiment because it’s based on a fair reading that Grow, a lawyer, makes of California labor law. The upshot, though I encourage you to read the entire article because there are a lot of twists and turns to it, is that a statute exists in California which, theoretically, could allow Mike Trout to declare himself a free agent right now, despite the fact that he’s under contract with the Angels through 2020.

The idea is that in California you can only be forced to stay in an employment contract for seven years, even if the terms are longer. You can keep your contract if you want, but you can opt-out once you get to seven years. Trout hasn’t been under his current deal for seven years, but as Grow notes, at least one California court has held that the time includes being under the employer’s control prior to the current contract or renewal. When you include Trout’ time in the minors and as a big-leaguer with no right of free agency, we’re past seven years already.

Trout isn’t the only one who could be affected by this — there are a handful of players on California teams who have been under team control for at least seven years — but he’s the most notable. Others would include Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey.

Where this becomes a true thought experiment, as opposed to something that would happen, is when you think about it practically. As Grow notes, any effort by a player to invoke this California law would likely be met by legal action from his team and Major League Baseball. It would quickly become a big, big deal and a big, big distraction. A guy like Mike Trout — who is already making over a hundred million dollars and stands to make hundreds of millions more — simply doesn’t have the incentive to do such a thing. Yes, a couple of hundred million is at stake, but so too is Trout’s legacy, which I assume he’d prefer to be about baseball rather than a labor precedent that (a) wouldn’t really impact too many people; (b) would likely be ended via legislation at some point anyway; and (c) would complicate his life for a good long while.

Even more practically, any player who tried to invoke the law would probably be traded out of California immediately, due to the team’s fear that they could wind up with nothing. Whether the trade would be held to be valid is an open question — a court could say the player immediately became a free agent upon opting out — but it just adds more layers of muck to the legal process. And could risk the player having to sit out for a good long while. Just a total mess.

So, no, I doubt this California law ever comes into play in baseball. But I do still think it’s interesting, if for no other reason than as a reminder that ballplayers don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of the labor force just like anyone else and they work in different states and are subject to different laws just like any other employees from different states are. At some point we’ll see some implications of this beyond the day-to-day stuff like tax rates and what have you.

Report: Orioles interested in Lance Lynn

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The Orioles singlehandedly kept the rumor mill churning this weekend. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the club is interested in making a play for free agent right-hander Lance Lynn, adding him to a list of potential candidates that also includes free agent righty Alex Cobb. The two are expected to command similar contracts in free agency, but Morosi notes that the Orioles may prefer Cobb based on his familiarity with the AL East.

Lynn, 30, is two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Despite missing the 2016 season, he bounced back with a respectable 11-8 record in 33 starts and complemented his efforts with a 3.43 ERA, 3.8 BB/9 and 7.4 SO/9 over 186 1/3 innings for the 2017 Cardinals. He lost several days with a blister on his pitching hand in early September, but managed to avoid any major injuries and can reasonably be expected to shoulder another heavy workload in 2018.

Lynn may not be the Orioles’ first choice to beef up their starting rotation, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be in high demand as one of very few viable starters on the market this winter. The veteran righty rejected his one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals on Thursday and will likely be seeking a multi-year contract, one that Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch estimates around five years and $100+ million. If the Orioles are willing to bite that bullet, they’ll still need to compensate the Cardinals with their third pick in next year’s draft.