The length of the season, prorated salaries and protocols for health and safety are finally all set in place, but Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are still negotiating the manner in which contractual options, performance incentives/bonuses and escalator clauses will be handled, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required).
Fortunately, an agreement is believed to be “within reach,” per Rosenthal. The league had initially sought to prorate the value of 2021 options using the same formula as 2020 salaries, although the MLBPA obviously pushed back against that notion. There’s still some debate over the handling of vesting options — particularly those that are triggered by reaching a set number of games pitched or plate appearances over the life of multiple seasons. The two sides also must determine how those options would be treated in the event that the season is canceled at any point due to health concerns.
There aren’t too many vesting options in MLB this year, although some of the notable ones include:
- Jon Lester, LHP, Cubs: Lester’s $25MM mutual option ($10MM buyout) for the 2021 season would become guaranteed with 200 innings pitched in a normal season.
- J.A. Happ, LHP, Yankees: Happ’s $17MM club option for the 2021 season would’ve become guaranteed upon making 27 starts or totaling 165 innings in 2020.
- Andrew Miller, LHP, Cardinals: Miller’s $12MM club option for 2021 would have been guaranteed if he totaled 110 games between 2019-20. As Rosenthal explores, there are various ways to interpret how many more games he’d need to pitch to trigger that option — some more beneficial to Miller and others to the Cardinals.
- Charlie Morton, RHP, Rays: Morton’s option is another that comes with a multi-year criteria. His contract calls for a $15MM club option in 2021 if he spends fewer than 30 days on the injured list between 2019-20. The option value decreases if he spends additional time on the injured list. Morton avoided the IL entirely last year. Unlike Miller, who surely hopes the number of appearances he needs to make in 2020 can be prorated, it’d be beneficial to Morton for that number (30) to remain as is. That seems unlikely, but the disparity between the clauses of Miller and Morton illustrates that this isn’t exactly straightforward for the player side. The value of his option
- Kelvin Herrera, RHP, White Sox: Herrera, too, needed 110 games between 2019-20 for his $10MM club option to become guaranteed. He pitched in 57 games last year, leaving him 53 shy of his target.
- Wade Davis, RHP, Rockies: Davis’ $15MM mutual option would’ve converted to a $15MM player option in the event that he finished 30 games. He’d only need to finish out 11-12 games in the shortened 2020 season if the two sides go with a strictly prorated interpretation of the qualifiers.
- Bryan Shaw, RHP, Rockies: Shaw has the same 110-game target for 2019-20 that Miller and Herrera have. He pitched 70 times in 2019 and needed just 40 appearances in 2020 to lock in a $9MM salary for the 2021 campaign.
- Jake McGee, LHP, Rockies: With 60 games pitched or 40 games finished in 2020, McGee would’ve locked in a $9MM salary for the 2021 season. His contract also allowed the option to vest with a with 110 games between 2019-20, but he only pitched in 45 contests last year.
- Stephen Vogt, C, Diamondbacks: Vogt’s contract included a $3MM club option that not only vests but increases to a $3.5MM base upon starting 45 games and appearing n a total of 75 games overall.
- Dee Gordon, 2B/SS/OF, Mariners: Gordon would’ve been guaranteed a $14MM salary for the 2021 season with 600 plate appearances this year. That, of course, was extremely unlikely in the first place, though.
Beyond those options, there are myriad escalator clauses throughout baseball that could be impacted by the shortened schedule. It’s fairly common for club options and/or future salaries to be boosted by steady performance — particularly among players returning from injury. Take Dellin Betances, for instance. His contract with the Mets calls for the value of next year’s $6MM player option to increase by $800K upon pitching in 40 games. He’d receive additional $1MM boosts to that figure for appearing in 50, 60 and 70 games apiece.
The league and the union are also still discussing potential retention bonuses for six-year veterans on non-guaranteed deals. In a typical year, any player with six-plus years of service who finished the preceding season on a 40-man roster qualifies as an Article XX(B) free agent. Such players must either be added to the 40-man roster, released five days prior to Opening Day or paid a $100K retention bonus to remain with the club in the minor leagues. Many players in that situation are released and quickly re-signed to a new minor league deal, but that won’t be possible in 2020 due to the fact that players who are removed from a team’s 60-man pool become ineligible to return to that team this season.