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What’s With all the Opt-Out Clauses?

January 22, 2016

images.jpg     “Goddamnit, the Senator wants ANOTHER bribe? Used to be, once you bought a politician, he STAYED bought.”–From the satirical film Used Cars, the favourite movie of a guy who lived in Residence with Mendoza, me, and DAVID.

Justin Upton (6 years, $132M) is the latest star to sign a huge deal with an opt-out clause less than halfway through the contract. Since it became clear that Zach Greinke would likely opt out after this season, Giancarlo Stanton worked this in Miami last year and of course David Price has an opt-out with the Sawx.

Mendoza can’t quite fathom it–he pointed this out a few years ago when Juan Uribe left the Giants to sign with the hated-rival Dodgers. “After he retires, where is Uribe going to buy a car dealership and sell cars to his team’s fans? He’s burning his bridges.”

Sure, Stanton and Price won’t need to work in a car lot after they retire. Uribe shouldn’t either. And Southern California Coolness might mean that Dodgers fans don’t care that Greinke signed with the Snakes. But the Best Fans in Baseball sure don’t like Jason Heyward signing with the Cubs as we showed here:

I’ve got s suspicion that opt-out clauses are just the latest piece of bling that everybody thinks they need to have to show they’ve Arrived. Sure, they have value on the player side, and they’re more of a status symbol than the cash value they’d be worth. (Say with no opt-out Upton goes 6-for-$140M… the opt-out clause is “cooler” than that extra eight mill…)

Actually using one, however, could hurt a player’s endorsements, both now and in retirement. We all know how Red Sox Nation, for instance, throws people under the bus when they decide to leave or get run out by the front office.

I’m not saying players shouldn’t have free agency, or shouldn’t be allowed to have opt-out clauses. But if I was an agent advising my client, I’d tell him to get to a large-market team (if he’s not drafted by one) and try to stay there. It’s not just Mariano Rivera or (ugh) Derek Jeter who can snap their fingers and have New York fall to its knees… it’s going to be the same for David Wright. Jacoby Ellsbury… not so much.

Extra Bags, Audio Edition: We close with Bob Newhart, a guy who kept is brand (the stammering everyman surrounded by the absurd) intact his whole career. Here’s Newhart as a board game marketer being pitched by inventor-of-baseball Abner Doubleday:



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