In a month full of surprising free agent moves, perhaps the most eye-opening of all was the news that the Los Angeles Dodgers granted newly signed pitcher Scott Kazmir an opt-out after the first year of his three-year contract.
The Orioles were interested in Kazmir, to be sure, but they have no interest in opt-outs, which are rapidly becoming the most desired bauble on every free agent’s shopping list.
Opt-outs aren’t exactly new. Scott Boras negotiated one for Alex Rodriguez when he signed with Texas last decade. A-Rod used the opt-out to negotiate the absurd 10-year contract that still has two years to run.
But, this offseason, Zack Greinke opted out of his deal with the Dodgers to sign a megacontract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. That came right after David Price got the right to leave the Boston Red Sox after three years of his seven-year, $213 million deal.
Opt-outs are commonplace in the NBA, too, and every big name player seemingly has one. In baseball, Jason Heyward negotiated two opt-outs in his new deal with the Chicago Cubs.
Kazmir’s contract for three years and $48 million isn’t shocking. As was written yesterday, he compares statistically with Ubaldo Jimenez, and he got a four-year, $50 million contract two free agent seasons ago.
But, what is shocking is that a left-hander who has a 98-90 record was able to negotiate the right to sell himself next year in a free agent class likely to have many fewer appetizing choices than this year’s.
Earlier this month at FanFest, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was asked about Heyward’s deal.
“These contracts that have outs, I don’t understand these contracts, because if the players don’t perform well, it’s not like they’re returning huge sums of money they’re getting. If they do well, they’re allowed to become free agents,” Duquette said. “I don’t really understand that type of structure. That type of structure wouldn’t work for the Orioles. I know that.”
Duquette’s disdain for opt-outs is understandable and widely shared, but it will be interesting to see if the club will bend on its policy.
For years, the club refused to give four year contracts to free agent pitchers. Two years ago, they relented and gave one to Jimenez and earlier this month granted one to Darren O’Day.
Kazmir’s signing gives the Dodgers a projected rotation of five left-handers, and increases the Orioles chances that they’ll have an all right-handed rotation.
Of course, the team could also reunite with Wei-Yin Chen, who may be the best pitcher still on the market, but his current demands are far beyond what the Orioles are willing to pay.
Many thought the Dodgers were a likely landing spot for Chen. Arizona, Kansas City and San Diego all have expressed interest in Chen, too.
The Orioles remain interested in Yovanni Gallardo, but now that Kazmir got that opt-out, perhaps he wants one, too.
If Chen and Gallardo go elsewhere, the Orioles are likely to go the one-year route and sign a pitcher with question marks. Doug Fister, Mat Latos and Cliff Lee have all been mentioned.
Isn’t it interesting that as 2015 ends, the Orioles have yet to officially lose a free agent?
They re-signed O’Day and Matt Wieters, are engaged with Chris Davis, and have some level of interest in Chen. Gerardo Parra is reportedly waiting for other outfielders to sign, but he has some teams interested, and Steve Pearce is lurking—waiting for the right January offer.
Of all those, Pearce was initially seen as the most likely to return to the Orioles, and he still may. He won’t get an opt-out.
With six weeks to go before spring training begins, the Orioles will still look for that elusive fifth starter, try and secure the two remaining question marks in the lineup and sign their many arbitration-eligible players to contracts.
In the first two months of free agency, the Orioles brought back the two free agents, added Mark Trumbo in a trade that cost them little and signed South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim to play left field, but they still have much, much more to do.
NOTE: Matt Wieters and his wife Maria are matching donations of up to $20,000 through midnight tonight made to BARCS (The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter).