Back in January, I wrote an article in which I approximated the dollar value of the opt-out clauses in the contracts for David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Jason Heyward. Since then, five more contracts with opt-outs have been signed, so I have extended this analysis to put values on these opt-outs as well. These include contracts for Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, and Wei-Yin Chen. Remember, these values are approximations of what these contracts would have cost without opt-outs. (Please reference the above-linked post for further explanation of the methodology.)
Too many people talk as though opt-outs are just bad decisions on the part of teams, without considering how much more expensive contracts would be without them. This logic would imply that no financial firm should ever sell a put—of course they should, but only at the right price.
The earlier three contracts were larger than almost all of the five more recent contracts. Other than Justin Upton, the other recent contracts were under $100 million, so the opt-out values are generally lower than the $17-22 million that I found for Price, Cueto, and Heyward. However, all five opt-out values all range between 10 and 15 percent of the full contract value, similar to the prior three deals.
The following table shows the assumptions surrounding the opt-outs, like the one in January’s article. (Mobile app users can click here to see it.)
Yoenis Cespedes received a three-year contract for $75 million, but it is really a $27.5 million one-year contract with a player option of a two-year, $47.5 million deal. Few players actually sign one-year deals for that much money, but as we saw a decade ago with Roger Clemens, one-year deals for superstars have an AAV much higher than the AAV superstars receive on longer deals. In this case, Cespedes would probably have been worth about $31.7 million on a one-year deal. At this stage, a reasonable estimate of Cespedes’ value for 2017-18 would be around $55.1 million. However, like with all of these deals, we know that it is very likely that Cespedes’ market value will change significantly by next year. Chances are that if he is good enough to opt-out, then he will have had a strong 2016 campaign, and his market value will be higher. I estimate this would be around $68.2 million for 2017-18 in that case. If he does not opt-out, then he probably has disappointed in 2016 and probably has lowered his two-year value for 2017-18 down to $36.9 million. With an estimated 60% chance of opting out, that puts Cespedes’ opt-out at about $11.8 million. In other words, a regular three-year deal for Cespedes would be for $86.8 million instead of $75 million.
Justin Upton’s contract six-year, $132.5 million contract with the Tigers amounts to a two-year, $44.25 million deal with a four-year, $85 million player option. As a relatively young free agent, Upton has the potential to remain very valuable by the time he reaches his opt-out, but as a unique talent he is a risk to regress to the mean significantly—there is more room for him to fall than mediocre players. I estimate that if he has opted out after 2017, he has played well enough over 2016-17 that his market value will be about $119.1 million over 2018-21, and if he has not opted out then it stands to reason he has played poorly enough that his market value for 2018-21 would be about $52.2 million. Further, I estimate that he has a 58 percent chance to opt out. As a result, Upton’s opt-out is worth about $19.7 million, meaning that his value in a six-year deal without an opt-out would be $152.2 million.
Scott Kazmir had a relatively small deal for one that included an opt-out. His deal amounts to a $16 million one-year deal with $32 million two-year player option. I estimate that if he has opted out after this year, then he must have played well enough in 2016 that his market value for 2017-18 probably reached around $44.1 million. On the other hand, if he has played poorly enough that he does not opt out, then I estimate his market value for 2017-18 must have fallen to around $21.7 million. I think there is a 46 percent chance he opts out. As a result, his opt-out value is only worth $5 million—so a regular three-year deal without an opt-out would probably have been for about $53 million.
Ian Kennedy’s $70 million five-year contract is actually a $27 million two-year deal with a three-year, $43 million player option. His contract values him significantly higher than his Steamer or especially his ZiPS projection on FanGraphs would suggest, making it challenging to estimate his value. However, it is safe to assume that the Royals are placing more value on him than the projection systems and that they probably expect that his 2016 value is higher. Furthermore, there must have been at least some pressure for another team (real or imagined) that caused the Royals to believe they had to offer as much as they did. So we need to estimate the equivalent value of a contract based on the what the Royals paid, rather than what ZiPS or Steamer (and up to 28 other teams potentially) seem to think. Based on this, if he has opted out after 2017, then there is a good chance that the Royals (and potentially the other team they imagined themselves outbidding) were right about him, but if he does not then there is a good chance the projection systems were right. I estimate that his value over 2018-20 would only be $15 million conditional on not opting out, while it would be about $57.7 million if he played well enough to justify opting out. I think the Royals estimate a 44 percent chance that he will opt out (again, another team bidding presumably thought something similar), making his opt-out value about $7.1 million. A five-year deal without an opt-out would probably be worth about $77.1 million.
Wei-Yin Chen has a tricky deal. Nominally he has a 5 year deal worth $80 million, but it is really a $28 million deal over two years, with a player option for $52 million over the following three years. However, if he does not opt out, then the team has an option for 2021 that will actually vest if he pitches a sufficient number of innings and is healthy. Putting a value on a vesting option that is conditional on having a low value after 2017 is tricky, but I believe I have come up with a reasonable estimate. I think that if he does opt out, his value for 2018-20 is probably about $60.4 million, while his conditional value if he plays poorly enough to not opt out would be $21.3 million over 2018-20. His vesting option at the end is essentially worth under $2 million to the team. I think that on a normal five-year contract for 2016-20, Chen would have gotten about $82 million, which means his opt-out value was about $12 million.
As these deals become more common, it becomes more important to properly value these put options. I estimate that these five deals would each have cost about 10 to 15 percent more for teams if they did not provide the players with opt-out clauses. Players with more years post opt-out and higher talent levels will generally have a larger value to opting out, while the inverse is true for players with fewer years post opt-out who are less talented. While these opt-outs are risky, they definitely provide an opportunity for teams to save money relative to mutually guaranteed longer contracts.