Craig Calcaterra

Rob Manfred
Associated Press

Rob Manfred fires a warning shot to owners regarding opt-outs


Opt-outs are the hottest trend in high-priced baseball contracts. Sign a six-year or a seven-year deal with a player opt-out after three and, bam, the player can be a free agent again. Jason Heyward, David Price and Johnny Cueto just got opt-outs that will make them a crap-ton of money if they’re healthy and even moderately effective over the next couple of years. Zack Greinke just exercised one that made him a crap-ton more money than he would’ve gotten had he played out the full term of his deal with the Dodgers. CC Sabathia took advantage of one a couple of years ago too.

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with Ken Rosenthal yesterday, however, and said that he doesn’t quite understand them, at least from the club’s perspective:

“The logic of opt-out clauses for the club escapes me. You make an eight-year agreement with a player. He plays well, and he opts out after three. You either pay the player again or you lose him. Conversely, if the player performs poorly, he doesn’t opt out and gets the benefit of the eight-year agreement. That doesn’t strike me as a very good deal. Personally, I don’t see the logic of it. But clubs do what they do.”

Manfred is not dense. He understands perfectly why clubs agree to them: because great players with tons of leverage have demanded them and, if a club wants to sign that player, they’re going to agree to them. That’s how an arm’s-length negotiation between parties with power and agency work. If, instead of an opt-out, you imagine the item as “a case of Founder’s Breakfast Stout in my locker on the first of every month,” maybe it’d be more understandable. It’s a thing asked for and a thing granted. It’s what makes the “free” in “free market” and “free agency” make sense.

To better understand this, maybe Manfred should ask himself why clubs offer club options. A player makes a three year agreement with a club. He plays poorly, the club opts out after one, leaving the player with no real security. If he plays well, the club gets him at a lower price than if he were able to go back out on the market. I can’t recall him sounding puzzled about that.

So, if Manfred does understand what’s going on here — and I am sure he does as he is extraordinarily intelligent — what is he doing?

I suspect he’s firing a warning shot or, at the very least, delivering a message. A message from the owners who employ him and who do not or cannot afford to get into big money free agency game to the owners who have been handing out opt-outs in free agency. Telling them that they should cut it the heck out or signaling to them that their smaller-payroll brethren don’t much care for the practice. And it has to be Manfred doing this — and doing this in a general, non-specific way — because if one owner tells another owner not to do it, that starts to smell like collusion.

All of this makes sense when you remember that, historically, the biggest disputes about money in baseball haven’t really been between owners as a group on the one side and players as a group on the other. They have been between owners of different factions, with those less willing or able to spend going to war with those who are. We don’t see that too often because by the time money disputes make general news the sides have more or less gotten their members in line, but the root of most of these things — including and especially the 1994-95 strike — is a faction of owners not liking where the rich teams were taking them.

I suspect that we’re seeing the same dynamic at play in opt-outs. Manfred giving voice to some grumbling on the ownership side and, perhaps, trying to prep people that opt-outs could be an agenda item when the CBA negotiations begin.

Chipper Jones takes a special assistant job with the Atlanta Braves

Chipper Jones
Associated Press

The Braves announced yesterday that they have hired Chipper Jones as a special assistant to baseball operations. He’ll be a jack-of-all-trades, it seems, helping young players, offering hitting advice and perhaps even doing some scouting. Or, at least, assisting scouts.

When a retired player takes a coaching or front office job with a club, people tend to make the “heh, can he play too?” joke. With Chipper and the Atlanta Braves as currently constructed, I don’t think it’s a joke. I legitimately feel like, with a couple of months of getting-in-shape time, he’d be the Braves second or third best hitter. Not even lying. If they were in the AL and could I’d stump for him to actually make the club.

If you need me, I’ll be over in the corner trying to talk myself into enduring the next couple of years as a Braves fan.


Back to Seattle: the Mariners re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma after the Dodgers back away

Hisashi Iwakuma
Associated Press

The Dodgers and Hisashi Iwakuma came to an agreement on a three-year deal but the pact was never finalized. After the Dodgers didn’t like what they saw with his physical, they backed away and now Iwakuma is back where he started: with the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners re-signed Iwakuma to a one-year deal with vesting options for 2017 and 2018. Financial terms were not announced. But the announcement itself was pretty spiffy: Jerry Dipoto told everyone about it at the club’s holiday party:

The hokey-pokey Iwakuma played with the Dodgers obviously ended up working as a tremendous benefit to the Mariners. For one thing they went out and got Wade Miley from the Red Sox as, more or less, the Iwakuma replacement. Now they get Iwakuma himself back, on a deal that is way less — or at least way shorter and way lighter on guaranteed money — than they would’ve had to pay had they bid head-to-head with Los Angeles.

As for the Dodgers: if Iwakuma does break down or declines, their hesitence to finalize the deal with Iwakuma will prove to have been wise. If, however, he proves to be healthy and effective, a lot of people are going to question their approach with him. And, regardless of what happens with Iwakuma, a lot of people, right now, have to wonder who in the heck they can truly count on to be healthy, durable and effective in their rotation after Clayton Kershaw and, at best, 180 innings or so from Brett Anderson.