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Opt-outs of the present and the future

It's the hottest trend in baseball contracts. Now you too can be prepared to look hip for free agency!

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It used to be that a no-trade clause was the sexiest thing a player could have worked into his contract. In addition to making millions of dollars, a player would be assured that it would be highly unlikely that their life would be uprooted and shipped to another city along with his bat and glove. Times have changed. Now all the cool kids are getting opt-out clauses in their contracts, and you're left standing in the corner with your no-trade clause and Tamagotchi pet. It's hard to keep up with trends, isn't it?

Eight free agents have been given nine opt-out clauses so far this winter, with one more possibly heading Dexter Fowler's way. Opt-outs are the new vogue of free agency because they're a way of giving the players value (the opportunity to secure better contracts) that doesn't come in the form of dollars. However, opt-outs can also benefit the team beyond possible monetary savings during the signing of the contract. If a player is very good at baseball for a few years and decides to opt out, a team can theoretically be saved from having dead weight on the roster when that player ages and breaks down with injuries. It's an attempt at managing risk that can backfire if the player is unexpectedly bad before the opt-out clause can be activated or simply gets hurt. Barring a radical shift in ownership philosophy, it's likely that opt-outs will be prominent components of major free agent contracts for the foreseeable future. Here is every free agent given an opt-out clause so far this winter, along with the general terms of their contract.

  • David Price: $217 milliion, 7 years, opt-out after 3rd year
  • Jason Heyward: $184 million, 8 years, opt-outs after 3rd and 4th years
  • Johnny Cueto: $130 million, 6 years, opt-out after 2nd year
  • Justin Upton: #132.75 million, 6 years, opt-out after 2nd year
  • Wei-Yin Chen: $80 million, 5 years, opt-out after 2nd year
  • Ian Kennedy: $70 million, 5 years, opt-out after 2nd year
  • Yoenis Cespedes: $75 million, 3 years, opt-out after 1st year
  • Scott Kazmir: $48 million, 3 years, opt-out after 1st year
The opt-outs are placed no later than after the second year in any contract that runs for six or fewer years, and Heyward's clauses are acceptably late in his contract due to his youth. Cespedes' case is also a bit special due to the fact that he'll have made $27.5 million in one season if he decides to leave the Mets, and the deal is designed to be monetarily rewarding in a very short period of time. The recipients are also all relatively young. Kazmir is the oldest at 32, but he's also quite talented and his opt-out comes very quickly. These clauses, as said earlier, will continue to find their ways into the contracts of top-flight free agents. So what does that mean for the class of 2016?

As you may have heard by now, the 2016 class isn't exactly exciting. There's Stephen Strasburg, of course, and a pair of mid-30s sluggers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Carlos Gomez is also an interesting player if he has a strong 2016. Beyond that there's... 38-year old Adrian Beltre? Justin Turner? Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon? Potentially Cespedes? James Shields? Aroldis Chapman, if he doesn't get suspended for more than 45 games? Matt Weiters?

Nearly every single big player in this class, outside of Jansen and Melancon, has a serious question mark on their ledger. Sure, the big sluggers from Toronto are exciting, but just how much money are they going to make at that point on the aging curve? How long a contract will teams be comfortable giving to Beltre? Will Strasburg finally put together a healthy season in his walk year?

Out of all of these players, only Strasburg and Gomez jump out as players that could receive opt-outs. Cespedes could also pull it off if he hits the open market again, and how the market views Turner should be interesting. However, all of these position players will be over 30, and though Strasburg will be just 28, his history of health problems could hinder some teams from being too fond of the idea of giving him such a clause in his contract.

If we're looking for a potential opt-out bonanza, look no further than the fabled class of 2018. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will both hit the market that winter, as will Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Andrew McCutchen, Dallas Keuchel and Josh Donaldson. Price and Heyward can both choose to jump in, as can Clayton Kershaw.

Harper and Machado will both be quite young, and barring catastrophic injuries or severe drop-offs in production, they're both going to get paid incredible amounts of money. There's almost no way to accurately predict Harper's contract because of his youth. A $400 million deal isn't entirely out of the question for Harper, and nobody would bat an eye if there were opt-out clauses every three years of the deal. As for Fernandez and Harvey, both will have Tommy John surgery on their ledgers, but a string of healthy years between now and then will do wonders for their causes.

With free agent prices constantly on the rise, it's not surprising that the opt-out clause is growing in popularity. Free agents will get richer and richer as long as money keeps flowing into baseball, and it will be interesting to see if revenue sharing is a main focal point of the next collective bargaining agreement between the players' union and the league. If the players are given a bigger piece of the pie, it could lead to teams giving lower-quality free agents opt-out clauses in their contracts too. If you thought that this winter's market was weird, just wait. The future is wild.


Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also covers the Yankees at BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.