Brian Duensing Ponders Opt Outs and Home

Brian Duensing’s baseball future is tenuous. The 33-year-old southpaw is currently an Oriole, but his time in Baltimore could be short. Signed off the scrap heap a few weeks ago, he’s failed to impress in five outings. He could easily be the odd man out the next time a roster move is made.

Duensing was cast aside by his long-time team over the winter. A member of the Minnesota organization since being drafted out of the University of Nebraska in 2005, Duensing hit the open market when the Twins “opted to go in another direction.” It didn’t come as a shock. He’s never been overpowering, and last year he was more underwhelming than ever. His ERA was 4.25 and his 4.4 strikeout rate was a career low.

Free agency didn’t go as he’d hoped. Quality offers weren’t forthcoming, and opt-out clauses have subsequently become a meaningful part of his life. There’s a chance he will remain an Oriole, but he could just as easily be elsewhere in the not-too-distant future. He might be wearing a new uniform in a new city. He might be at his home in Omaha, with his wife at his side and three toddlers in tow.


Duensing on first-time free agency and his future: “This was the first time I was a free agent. I was somewhat excited to see what would happen, but it didn’t really pan out like I’d hoped. I ended up signing with Kansas City, a non-roster minor-league deal, and then didn’t make the team out of spring training. I began the season in Omaha. That’s where I’m from, so I was able to live at home with the wife and the kids.

“When I signed with Kansas City, I told my wife that if I don’t make the team, it could be a blessing or it could be a curse. At first, it was a blessing. This was the first time I’ve been in Omaha at that time of year for about 10 years. It was nice to be around the kids and sleeping in my own bed.

“It started to become a bit of a curse. I didn’t want to become complacent with where I was at. I was throwing the ball well, but was bypassed (for a call-up) three times. I had a May 15 opt out in my contract, which I took.

“When you opt out, the team has 48 hours to either put you on the 25-man roster or grant you your release. You’re basically gambling on yourself. You decide to see what’s out there, and it might be something better, or it might be something worse. You could even end up signing with the same team after they released you.

“Seven days after I opted out, Baltimore had an offer we liked, so we signed. I went to Norfolk for about a week before coming here. I had a 15-day opt out in my Orioles contract. It was getting close to that when I got called up.

“The Twins were never an option with any of this. They’d called the day after my wife and I had our third kid — this would have been December 2nd — to say they were going in a different direction. We were back in Omaha and actually still at the hospital. (General manager) Terry Ryan and (assistant GM) Rob Antony called and told me they appreciated everything, but it was time to move on. I respected that.

“Last year wasn’t a very good year for me, which obviously isn’t what you want going into free agency. I’d struggled the last few years, so what happened didn’t really surprise me. It’s not like I’d been throwing the ball great — my execution hadn’t been great — so the possibility kind of crept into my head a little bit.

“The Twins were the only organization I’d been with. They were all I knew, which made leaving bittersweet. I knew the chances of me staying with one organization my entire career was slim. You don’t see that very often. At the same time, it hurt a little bit to know there wasn’t a need for me anymore. I have nothing but respect for the Twins organization, but it was time to see what was out there, and where my baseball journey was going to take me next.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into free agency. It was my first time going through the process, and I kind of sat there and waited. Early in the offseason, I had my cell phone next to me at all times, thinking it could happen at any moment. The later it got, the more I realized that staring at my phone wasn’t a good idea. That only made it stressful. I decided, ‘Enough with the watching; it will happen when it happens.’

“The Royals were the first team to give me an offer. The Rangers were involved a little bit. So was San Francisco. It wasn’t like there was nothing out there.

“It finally came down to San Francisco and Kansas City, so my wife and I started going through the scenarios. If I didn’t make the team and had to go to Triple-A, where am I? San Francisco’s Triple-A team is in Sacramento. Kansas City’s is in Omaha. That became the deciding factor. If I was going to be playing in Triple-A, it might as well be at home.

“My opt out at Norfolk was short, just the 15 days, so I wasn’t too concerned with what would happen when I signed with the Orioles. I knew I could make a decision soon if things weren’t working out. I wouldn’t have to stay in Norfolk.

“If the Orioles send me back down, I can either take my assignment or opt out and become a free agent. To be honest, if that were to happen today, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d have to talk to my family, and to my agent, and go from there.

“I don’t think I’ve lost anything. My velocity is still there. If anything, the game seems to be moving fast again. It’s almost like I’m a rookie; it’s kind of like I felt when I first got called up in 2009. I don’t know if I feel pressure — I try to take that out of the equation — it’s more that I just need to slow things down a bit and focus better.

“I’m 33 years old. I don’t feel old by any means. I also know that baseball won’t be around forever. When it is finally over, we’ll be all set at home. My wife and I have done a good job with our finances, and all that. I’m sure I’d take some time off to start. Our kids are four, two, and six months, and it would be nice to spend as much time as I could with them. But I’m not ready to give it up quite yet. I still enjoy pitching.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 years ago

Interesting story on the less glamorous side of baseball. It also shows the unfairness of the rookie wage scale/arbitration. According to baseball reference, he has made $8M in his career but has been worth closer to $30M.

He says that he has done well with his finances, so I don’t feel too badly for him.

6 years ago
Reply to  fredfotch

I don’t know that Duensing is a good example of the unfairness of the wage scale. Sure, he was underpaid given his performance his first few years, but the same system meant he was basically overpaid the last few years given his performance.

If you change the system so that rookies and second year players can make more money for good performances, that money is going to come at the expense of 5th and 6th year mediocrities like Duensing. I’d guess it would be difficult to devise a system where Duensing earns significantly more than $8 mil in his career to date.

6 years ago
Reply to  tonywagner

Well, there could be arbitration for the first three years and then free agency after that. He certainly would have earned more money in such a system.

I’m not saying that he’s the best example of the unfairness, but I think he is a good illustration of a typical case. By the time he became a free agent, he was already well into his 30s and clearly on the downside of his career.

Not being able to be a free agent for 6 years is really tough for fringe MLB players. They typically don’t make the majors until they are already in their mid-late 20s, so they don’t hit free agency until they are already past their primes.

6 years ago
Reply to  fredfotch

Fair enough. Although the downside to Duensing’s career started pretty early, his second full season (age 28). Even if he got a salary boost after his age-27 performance, I think overall his career earnings might have been similar. After age 28, he probably rides the non-tender / minor league contract train, and largely misses out on his $6 mil in real-life arbitration awards. Not to mention, his age-27 performance was pretty clearly unsupported by peripherals, I think a lot of teams might hesitate to offer him arbitration after that, although unfortunately probably not the Twins. 🙂

I think some guys could benefit from a free agency clock that begins when you sign a pro contract rather than tied to MLB service time, and a clock whose length varies by signing age. Drafted at 22, debut at 26, first time arbitration at age 30, free agency at age 33, that’s not cool.

6 years ago
Reply to  tonywagner

That would be a huge disincentive for teams to draft anybody BUT college players, because the high school draftees and Latin American signees are pretty gone by the time they’re ready for the majors.