In recent years, several teams have included player opt-out clauses when signing veterans to minor league contracts. Generally these contracts allow the player to opt out of his deal or ask for his release on a given date (usually before Opening Day or sometime in May or June) if he is not on a Major League roster by that day. Some of the veterans on such contracts last season included the likes of Russell Branyan, Miguel Batista, Dave Bush, Eric Chavez and Brett Tomko.
These opt-outs are usually included as a sign of respect for veterans and a gesture towards giving them opportunity to sign elsewhere, rather than possibly spend a season in the minors for a team that has no plans or room for them. A clause in the new collective bargaining agreement, however, has made such arrangements mandatory for veterans who have accrued a certain amount of playing time, and also gives these players a financial boost for their troubles.
Matthew Eddy of Baseball America outlines the situation for these "Article XX(B) free agents," or players who had a Major League contract expire at the end of the previous season and who have at least six years of Major League service time. If such a player signs a minor league deal, the signing team must make a decision about his fate by five days before Opening Day. The team can either put the player on the 25-man roster (thus guaranteeing his minor league deal and in most cases raising its value), release him outright (costing the team nothing) or, if the club chooses to send him down to the minors, the player receives a $100K bonus and an automatic opt-out date of June 1.
The $100K bonus may seem small by the standards of baseball salaries, but keep in mind that most of these minor league deals are worth well under $1MM in guaranteed money. Eddy quotes one executive who says the bonus could make low-level Article XX(B) free agents "too rich for our blood," since the automatic opt-out clause means the player could just leave and the club will have gotten no real return for that $100K. Teams are looking for the lowest possible expenditure for these low-cost veterans, if a team is weighing whether to add a player with 6+ years of service time or one with less than six years of service time, that possible $100K outlay could be the tiebreaker.
Thanks to Eddy for compiling this list of 32 players who could be waived on March 30 (five days before this year's officially-designated Opening Day), or who could receive their $100K bonus and opt-out clause if they're not on their club's Major League roster.
Yankees: Russell Branyan
Blue Jays: Omar Vizquel
Angels: Jason Isringhausen
Mariners: Kevin Millwood
Mets: Miguel Batista
Pirates: Juan Cruz
Giants: Ramon Ortiz