Understanding the Off Season of Baseball
With the free agency market hot, there are lots of conversations spinning around options, non-tendering of players, and what classifies as a free agent. I thought I’d take pen to paper and share some ideas. As you will see, throughout this off season, there will be a number of articles that will be discussing baseball fandom and the business of baseball.
This year there are a number of high priced free agents looking for big dollars and multi year deals. The free agency market this year is focused around “All Rise” Aaron Judge, Jacob deGrom, and what will classify as the short stop class with Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, Carlos Correa, and Xander Bogaerts. Each of these players are seeking high dollar amounts with multi year deals.
Let’s understand how options and non tendering work. Usually, when a successful player is offered a contract, it will be laced with some type of option. There are two ways these options work. One is a player option. The second is a Club option. With the player option, the player can choose to continue his contract beyond what was offered to him for a set price. An example would be that Aaron Judge may accept the nine year $360 million dollar contract with the Yankees, with the tenth year as a player option for $27 million. I’m just using those figures to illustrate a point, not saying the Yankees have offered him the tenth year as a player option. What this means is Aaron Judge will play 9 years with the Yankees with a $360 million dollar price tag, but if this players option was offered to him and he wants to play another season, he can exercise his player option for that $27 million dollars.
The Club option works in the opposite direction. The Club can choose to offer additional funds to the player at a set amount and choose to exercise that at the end of the contract. An example of a Club option this season is Justin Turner for the Dodgers. His Club option for this season was $16 million dollars, meaning the Dodgers could exercise that option and pay him $16 million for this season or decline it and allow Justin Turner to test the free agency market. I’ve spoken to many Dodger fans who feel as though the Dodgers should have exercised that option, but the business of baseball says that might be a little bit steep of a price tag for his age and performance.
This off season there has also been a lot of discussion around what non tendering a player means. A player is owed a specific dollar amount and the Club can choose to pay it at a certain point in the contract or decline it. When it is declined, the player becomes a free agent which allows them to negotiate with other teams for a higher price tag or longer contract. This year there was a lot of talk about former MVP, Cody Bellinger, getting non tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cody was scheduled to make $18.2 million dollars this season and based on his last three years performance, hitting .239 in 2020, .190 in 2021, and .210 in 2022, it was not in the Dodgers best interest to pay $18 million dollars based on that performance. A number of other players were also non tendered this year, allowing them to seek better opportunities for themselves.
As much as every fan would like to have an All Star/first ballot Hall of Fame inductee at every position, it just isn’t economically feasible. From an economic perspective, each team needs to look at the space that they have before the luxury tax to the MLB kicks in, then they evaluate positions that they feel need to be filled at the best price point possible for the team. As we know, if there isn’t money there, there isn’t a team. Often time, what Clubs do is they will offer incentive based contracts predominantly with pitcher and/or Club options giving the ownership the ability to make changes at the end of longer contracts. In today’s game, numbers are drastically different than they were 30 years ago and it has become expensive. Free agents, like Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Carlos Corea, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman can all demand multi year deals at hundreds of millions of dollars of guaranteed money. You don’t have to look very hard to see that you can have some of the best players in the game and still not win. The Angels have proven this point the last couple of seasons with Mike Trout and Shohei Otani. The hard part for us fans is to separate out the emotion of the fandom and the business of baseball because it’s so difficult when our team loses players we love.
At the end of the day, regardless of the money, it still comes down to how you play the game. Pitching will always be the key to the success of any Club, as well as how they can do the little things, like execute bunts, hit and run plays, and limit the mental errors on the field. As a fan, this is an exciting time of year because even though there are no games being played right now, we have the ability to watch our teams next moves and how they will build for the future. This time of year is always exciting to me and I look forward to seeing what Clubs will do, who these big dollar amounts will bring, and how longer term contracts will play out.
Bill Perkins, Top Fan Rivalry