Each year, the free-agent class is impacted by the performance of players with vesting options (as is the financial future of players with said provisions in their contract). For those unfamiliar with the option, a vesting option is typically (though not always) a club option that can automatically trigger based on the player’s health and/or performance. Meeting pre-determined criteria for games played, innings pitched and plate appearances are the most common ways of triggering a vesting option. Some also require that a player avoid the DL at the end of the season and/or for a certain number of games over the course of the year.
Here’s a look at all of the 2018 player options that can automatically trigger based on the players’ 2017 performance…
- Matt Cain: The 2017 campaign is the final season of a six-year, $127.5MM extension that Cain signed with the Giants on April 2, 2012. Prior to that point, Cain had been one of the most durable and efficient starters in the NL, but injuries have completely derailed Cain’s career since that 2012 season. Cain hasn’t thrown more than 90 1/3 innings since 2013, and so far he’s delivered just a 4.64 ERA in 455 1/3 innings over the five extra years of control the Giants bought out. If he can reach 200 innings this season and is not on the disabled list due to elbow or shoulder troubles to end the year, his $21.5MM club option would become guaranteed. However, he’s averaging fewer than 5 1/3 innings per start in 2017, and his previous health woes make that decidedly unlikely. His option comes with a $7.5MM buyout, which seems like an inevitable outcome.
- Andre Ethier: Ethier batted .273/.351/.429 through the first three seasons of his five-year, $85MM extension (including particularly strong efforts in 2013 and 2015), but he played in just 16 games last season and has been on the disabled list for the entire 2017 season (herniated disk in his lower back). His $17.5MM club option would automatically vest with 550 plate appearances this season, but that’s obviously not going to happen, so he’ll receive a $2.5MM buyout instead.
- Matt Garza: Garza’s four-year, $50MM contract with the Brewers contained one of the more convoluted vesting options in recent memory. Injury concerns surrounding Garza allowed the club to land a team option valued at a base of just $5MM. However, had Garza made 110 starts over the contract’s four years, pitched 115 innings in 2017 and avoided the DL at the end of the 2017 season, the option would’ve become guaranteed at $13MM. On the other side of the coin, the Brewers would’ve been able to pick it up at just $1MM had Garza missed 130 or more days during any single season of the contract. Neither of those scenarios will play out at this point, though. All of that is a long-winded way of saying that Garza’s option won’t be vesting at $13MM and will come at a potentially reasonable rate of $5MM.
- Gio Gonzalez: Gonzalez’s five-year, $42MM extension came with a $12MM club option for the 2017 season (which was exercised) and a $12MM club/vesting option for the 2018 campaign. If the left-hander reaches 180 innings this season, he’ll be locked in at $12MM next season. For a player as durable as Gonzalez, who averaged 31 starts per year from 2010-16, that seems simple enough. But, Gonzalez has had difficulty working deep into games and has not crossed the 180-inning threshold since 2013. This season, though, he’s already racked up 44 1/3 innings through seven starts — an average of about 6 1/3 frames per outing. He’d need only 29 starts at that pace to trigger the option. And even if he doesn’t sustain that innings pace, if he can avoid the DL and average even 5 1/3 to 5 2/3 innings per start for the rest of the year, he’d accrue enough innings to guarantee that option. Of course, if Gonzalez delivers anything close to the 3.57 ERA he’s turned in through parts of six seasons as a National, the team will likely pick up the option even if it doesn’t vest.
- J.J. Hardy: Hardy decided to forgo the open market at the end of the 2014 season, instead re-upping with Orioles in early October on a three-year, $40MM deal. His contract comes with a $14MM club option ($2MM buyout) that could automatically vest in the event that Hardy reaches 600 plate appearances this season. Hardy, however, has reached that total just twice in six previous seasons with the Orioles, and he’s hitting a mere .196/.232/.252 through his first 113 plate appearances in 2017. Based on his recent health track record, it could be considered unlikely that he stays healthy enough to trigger the option. But if he does remain healthy and doesn’t turn things around at the plate, the O’s won’t have a hard time justifying a reduction in playing time to prevent the option from vesting.
- Greg Holland: Holland signed a one-year, $7MM deal with a mutual option for the 2018 season, though so long as he remains healthy it’s effectively a two-year, $22MM contract with a player option/opt-out provision. Holland’s $10MM mutual option becomes a $15MM player option if he appears in 50 total games or finishes 30 games in 2017. He’s come out of the gate roaring as a dominant closer in Colorado, just as he was in Kansas City. Holland has already finished 14 games, meaning he needs just 16 more to trigger that player option and secure the right to re-enter the open market. An injury seems like the only thing that will stand in Holland’s way, as he’s currently sporting a 1.29 ERA with a 17-to-5 K/BB ratio, a career-best 51.6 percent ground-ball rate and a 93.9 mph average fastball through his first 14 innings.
- Hisashi Iwakuma: After injury concerns stemming from Iwakuma’s physical caused the Dodgers to back out of a reported three-year, $45MM agreement in the 2015-16 offseason, Iwakuma instead returned to the Mariners on a one-year deal with a pair of vesting options. Iwakuma needed 162 innings to trigger his 2017 option, and he needed either 162 innings in 2017 or 324 innings between 2016-17 to trigger his $10MM option for the 2018 season. The 36-year-old racked up 199 innings last year, meaning he now needs just 125 innings in 2017, though he must also avoid the disabled list at season’s end as well. Iwakuma has barely averaged five innings per outing (31 through six starts), but he also needs just 94 more innings this year for that option to kick in.
- Ricky Nolasco: Nolasco’s option isn’t a standard vesting option, but his $13MM club option would become a player option with 400 innings pitched between 2016-17. The 34-year-old logged 197 2/3 innings last year, meaning he’d need 202 1/3 innings in 2017 in order to convert his option. That’s a total that Nolasco has reached only twice in his career, and he’s not on pace to approach that number through his first seven starts of the season. If Nolasco were to make the same number of starts as last season (32), he’d need to average nearly 6 2/3 innings per outing for the rest of the season to reach that level. If he ties his career-high with 33 starts, he’d need to average 6 1/3 frames through season’s end. It’s technically possible that Nolasco does end up with a $13MM player option, but the likelier scenario is that the Halos will choose between a $13MM club option and a $1MM buyout. (Thanks to MLBTR commenters paytoplay and jdobson1822 for pointing out Nolasco’s option.)
Cot’s Contracts was used in the creation of this post.