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Opt-out clauses gives veterans some leverage

June 18, 2011

Lefty Andrew Miller had an opt-out clause that he didn't need to exercise once Boston agreed to call him up and give him a big league start.

PAWTUCKET – As a safeguard, veteran players signing minor-league contracts often include opt-out clauses. Call it a creative response by agents in making sure their clients have the best chance of making it to the parent club.
Andrew Miller received a crash course in this cut-and-dry process earlier in the week. For those unfamiliar, Miller had a clause in his contract that would have granted him free agency Wednesday. The rangy lefthander let the deadline pass after being told by the Red Sox that he would soon be promoted to the major-league roster.
“If a player thinks he’s playing well but isn’t getting an opportunity with that particular organization, he can go elsewhere and try to find a job maybe in the big leagues or one that has a better chance of reaching the bigs,” said Miller, who was officially announced as Monday’s starter against San Diego at Fenway Park. “This is the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this, but it seems pretty common. Fortunately for myself the Red Sox were on the same page just like we’ve been since the offseason when I signed over here.”
To a degree an opt-out clause allows a player to feel what it’s like to have job security. Such a perk would be regarded as highly unusual in most working environments, but not at advanced minor-league levels, where roster turnover is paramount.
“If there’s no room at the top and players get stuck at Triple-A, they just have nowhere to go,” recalled veteran baseball agent Alan Nero about what the process was like in the old days. “Typically we negotiate not only an out in the middle of the season, say June 15, but we negotiate outs so players can go to a foreign league in Japan or Taiwan.
“As agents we desperately went to give our players some possibilities,” Nero continued. “Especially when a player is out of options and out of out-rights.”
Since he bargains for a living, Nero knows he faces a tough task every time he broaches the idea of including a solid opt-out clause. Needless to say it’s a major sticking point, one that could serve as a potential dealbreaker.
“There are a lot of organizations that won’t do it,” said the Rhode Island native. “They won’t give the player flexibility. Nor will they give up control.”
While things can ultimately be spun in the team’s favor, opt-out clauses are generally seen as player friendly. If Miller’s current situation didn’t work out, he could have easily followed the lead of starting pitcher Brian Gordon and hooked on with another team. Gordon was a minor-league gem with Lehigh Valley, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, posting a 5-0 record with an ERA of just 1.14.
With no openings in Philadelphia’s starting rotation, Gordon, a converted outfielder, opted out. The New York Yankees wasted little time in scooping the 32-year-old up, as Thursday marked Gordon’s first-ever start in the majors.
Miller understood that the possibility of changing teams midway through the season, a la Gordon, existed.
“It’s a business and it’s a part of the game,” he said. “It seems a player will ask for some sort of leverage in case the situation doesn’t look like its playing out the way they want.
“I knew that I had (an opt-out clause) when I signed the contract and had another slated to come up at some point later on in the year,” Miller added. “It’s basically in there to protect the player if a certain situation comes up. It certainly worked out great for Gordon.”
Said Nero, “Teams will also tell you very philosophically that they won’t stand in a player’s way in case a team calls. Guess what? The phone might not ring that way.”
Hence why opt-out clauses are tailored to fit the needs of players.

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