clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Johnny Cueto's opt-out clause shouldn't bother the Giants

If Johnny Cueto leaves in two years, that means the Giants will have gotten their money's worth.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Opt-out clauses are all the rage in baseball. That's just what these players do, Jerry, they just opt out. Everyone's opting out for the weekend. Rock out with your opt out. As such, the Giants gave Johnny Cueto an opt out after two years, which means if he's excellent over the next two seasons, he's either gone or they'll have to pay him even more. But if he's a bust, the Giants are still on the hook for the entire six-year deal.

Commissioner Manfred isn't a fan of this trend.

"The logic of opt-out clauses for the club escapes me," Manfred told FOX Sports on Thursday night. "You make an eight-year agreement with a player. He plays well, and he opts out after three. You either pay the player again or you lose him.

"Conversely, if the player performs poorly, he doesn't opt out and gets the benefit of the eight-year agreement. That doesn't strike me as a very good deal. Personally, I don't see the logic of it. But clubs do what they do."

It doesn't make sense on the surface, no. But let's look at the pros and cons of the traditional contract and compare them with the pros and cons of the opt-out contract.

Traditional contract

Pro: If the player turns out to be a bargain, the team gets those bargain rates for the life of the deal.

This is the benefit that's lost with an opt-out clause. If Madison Bumgarner had an opt-out clause this offseason, the Giants' big acquisition would have been a more expensive Bumgarner. As is, they get to pay pitchers like Cueto and Jeff Samardzija more because of those bargain rates. It's not fair, but it's not new, either.

Con: If the player turns out to be a bust, the team is on the hook for the entire contract.

Giants fans are familiar with this one, from Barry Zito to Aaron Rowand. The Giants couldn't opt out. I'm sure they had their lawyers look into it and everything.

Opt-out contract

Pro: If the player performs so well that he opts out, the team doesn't have to pay for the back end of the contract, where most of the risk is.

This is a good thing. The Giants didn't sign Cueto to a six-year deal because they're expecting him to be an ace in 2021. They signed him to that deal because he could get it on the open market, and the Giants valued his short-term value enough to accept the risks of an expensive 35-year-old pitcher.

If he has an excellent two years, guess what the Giants get? An excellent pitcher for two years without the risks of an expensive 35-year-old pitcher at the end. Everyone wins!

Con: If the player turns out to be a bust, the team is on the hook for the entire contract.

Wait, that's the same danged con from the first one. The other con is that if Cueto is so good he opts out, well, the Giants are down one Cueto. Except that's ignoring that they also have an open roster spot and a lot more money to spend. They can choose to pursue him again. They can choose to pursue someone else. They can extend their own pitchers.

Now, if Cueto opts out, it's unlikely that the Giants will be able to replace someone of his quality with a four-year, $84 million contract, so it's not all gravy. They'll either have to spend more, sign a lesser pitcher, trade away some prospects, or trust their younger pitchers. But they also won't be on the hook for a 32-, 33-, 34-, or 35-year-old pitcher at over $20 million a year.

The Yankees' mistake wasn't giving CC Sabathia an opt-out clause. They could have walked away from that deal after getting three tremendous seasons and paying below market rate. The four years after that, when Sabathia was going to be 31-34, were going to be someone else's problem. The Yankees' mistake was making sure they were the team assuming that risk, then adding another year on top of that.

This is something of a hot-button issue among baseball nerds, and there are folks who strongly disagree. But the biggest downside to every contract is that the team will have to pay the entire contract to a pitcher who isn't worth it. That's still true with a traditional contract. If you're telling me that the biggest downside specific to an opt-out deal is that another team might get the chance to absorb the risk of a pitcher entering his mid-30s, and the consolation prize is that the Giants get two fantastic years and exactly what they paid for, I'm just not that scared.

If Johnny Cueto decides to opt out in two years, the Giants will be very, very happy with their decision to sign him in the first place. Don't fear the opt-out clause. It's only a problem if the free agent risk pays off.