Opt-out clauses in player contracts often bewilder fans and sometimes wreak havoc, as did Alex Rodriguez when he exercised his during the 2007 World Series. Now they could wreak either benefit or havoc when players don’t exercise them. Consider these who’ve decided to stay put rather than opt out:
* Masahiro Tanaka—The Yankees right hander could have opted out of the final three years of his deal. Instead, he chose not to exercise the option. That takes a top of the line starting pitcher off the winter market. It also gives the Yankees a kind of hometown discount since Tanaka could have commanded more on the open market than the $67 million he’s due on the final three years.
Tanaka had a solid 2017 until he struggled a spell working through a small UCL tear; then, he struck out 118 over his final 101 2/3 regular season innings and was lights out in three postseason starts. (Two runs, ten hits.) But his leaving the open market to stay with the Yankees means possibly bigger paydays coming for free agent starters Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Yu Darvish, and Lance Lynn.
* Johnny Cueto—The Giants’ righthander could have opted out of four final years/$84 million on his deal but elected to stay. But after a first year in San Francisco in which he lived up to his deal and reputation, Cueto cratered in 2017, abetted by issues with blisters and a flexor strain. He had the second worst ERA of his career (4.52) and his 2017 walk rate (almost four per nine innings) was also his second-worst.
That would have meant a small market for Cueto this winter, but it might not have affected the markets for Arrieta, Cobb, Darvish, and Lynn.
The Giants are only hoping Madison Bumgarner comes all the way back to form in 2018 (don’t think for one moment that they won’t pick up his $12 million 2018 club option and think long term about him) and Cueto has a big bounceback, which at age 31 he’s plenty capable of having. With Jeff Samardzija in the number three rotation slot and Matt Moore at number four, the Giants are looking at a possible number five competition between two comparatively inexperienced arms, Ty Blach and Chris Stratton.
Cueto’s opt-in solves one problem. The Giants may look for slightly more experienced back-of-the-rotation help.
* Justin Upton—Rather than opt out of the deal he originally signed with the Tigers, Upton re-signed with the Angels, to whom the Tigers traded him this year. The Angels basically extended his incumbent deal by a year in return for him tearing up the opt-out. It secures Upton for five years in Anaheim and gives the Angels badly needed lineup protection for Mike Trout. It also gives Upton $105 million for the next five years in Angels silks.
If Upton had hit the open market, he might have nudged himself to near the top of a not-that-great class next to Lorenzo Cain (Royals) among available outfielders.