Stephen Drew And Where An Opt-Out Isn’t Insane

Camps are opening across Florida and Arizona. Baseball is happening! Yet we’re still talking about Stephen Drew (and the other remaining qualifying offer players) because he doesn’t have a job, in no small part due to a system that absolutely does not work as currently constituted. It’s endless. I’m sick of it, and so, I imagine, are you. At least we have a new wrinkle to discuss: Scott Boras’ indication that he reportedly now wants an opt-out clause for Drew after the first year.

Predictably, this was met with a chorus of “oh yeah, well I want a pony” indignation from the internet, no doubt shocked by the impertinence of a new demand coming from an agent representing a player who, again, is still unemployed as spring training begins, and will come at the cost of a draft choice. (This also comes with the obvious caveat of believing a word that Boras says as anything other than simple leverage, especially through “a source,” but for the sake of argument let’s go with it for now.)

The negative reaction there isn’t at all unexpected, because the perception is that opt-out clauses generally favor the player, since it’s one-sided. If he’s successful, he’s free to return to the open market, while if he gets hurt or plays poorly, the team doesn’t have the same opportunity to sever ties. But then, that’s not always how it plays out in practice. As Dave Cameron concluded when looking at opt-outs in the wake of Clayton Kershaw’s extension recently, “you want to be the team giving the player the deal with the opt-out, not the team signing the player who just opted out.”

Sometimes that’s the same team, as we’ve seen with the Yankees opening up the wallet to retain CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez after they exercised opt-outs, and sometimes it’s not, but the limited history we have on the topic shows that while an initial opt-out does favor the player somewhat — again, because they have more power of choice — it’s not to the overwhelming extent that many seem to think. (A great example here being that of Stephen’s brother J.D. Drew, who gave the Dodgers 6.8 WAR for $20.8m over two seasons, then opted out to give Boston 12.4 WAR for $70m over the next five.)

Really, the reaction seems to be to the term “opt-out,” rather than “player option,” which is basically what an opt-out is. The main difference is that opt-outs come earlier in a contract — you’d never hear Kershaw’s deal as being described as having “three player options,” partially because they come all-or-nothing — and that options come into play for the final year, usually. If Boras manages to get Drew a two-year deal with a third-year player option, I imagine the chorus of boos may not be so loud.

Either way, a team that may only want Drew for a short term may not see this as the complete deal-breaker that it might otherwise seem to be, especially because Drew’s deal isn’t going to be anything like the massive contracts the other opt-out players have received. This isn’t going to be like Zack Greinke potentially deciding he wants to leave three years and $71m (or not) on the table following 2015; Drew would almost certainly be holding the power over just a single remaining year, perhaps two at the most, at far more reasonable numbers. And, as we saw with Ubaldo Jimenez this year in Cleveland, the opt-out wouldn’t preclude a team from tendering Drew with another qualifying offer next winter if they wanted, though whether Drew would have learned from his experience this winter is an open question. It kills the idea of a team not likely to contend this year, like the Mets, but it shouldn’t for teams with a lot to play for in 2014.

Of course, this comes back around again to the draft pick, as any Drew conversation has to. As tough as it’s been to sell anybody on the idea that the next few years of Drew is worth a draft pick, why in the world would anyone give up a valuable pick for just a single season of him? The answer, of course, is that they wouldn’t… except possibly under very specific circumstances. For a team with a clear need in the infield, and with a favorable enough position on the win curve that the extra win or two or three that Drew could provide (depending on who he’s replacing) would be important, and with a vulnerable pick so devalued that it doesn’t hurt so much to lose it, there’s a potential for a fit.

That team, of course, is the Yankees.

Spending $503 million in one winter — that’d be importing Carlos BeltranJacoby EllsburyKelly JohnsonBrian McCannBrian RobertsMasahiro Tanaka, and Matt Thornton, along with retaining Derek JeterHiroki Kuroda, and Brendan Ryan — is impressive, but it’s even more impressive that it didn’t buy an obvious playoff roster. Yes, McCann should be a huge improvement over Chris Stewart and the rest of the catching mess, and the new outfielders, along with Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano, could potentially be very good, and sure, a rotation with Tanaka and Kuroda should certainly be better than one without them.

Yet the post-Alex Rodriguez infield remains “an area of concern,” to put it kindly, despite all that spending, with questions at all four spots. Paul Swydan accurately noted recently that it might end up being the worst Yankee infield in decades. In our depth chart projections, the infield (excluding catcher) ranks ahead of only the White Sox and Marlins, and even that is partially due to the fact that projecting Jose Abreu is nearly impossible at this point. The projections show the infield as being tied with the Twins and tied with the Brewers, who are coming off one of the worst first base performances in baseball history. It has them as being behind the Astros, and even that’s with the idea that Jeter can stay healthy enough to take about 400 plate appearances at shortstop. If he can’t, even Ryan’s fantastic defense isn’t going to save his atrocious bat.

Sure, if Mark Teixeira and Jeter and Roberts all stay healthy and get transported back to 2007,  this could work out okay, but it’s not a stretch to say that this infield could be the worst in the American League, or even the major leagues if everything falls apart. A team that just spent that much money to get back to the playoffs right now can’t possibly be satisfied with that kind of risk. This isn’t news, of course, since you care enough about baseball to read FanGraphs and so you certainly already know how porous the Yankee infield looks to be.

With options limited at this point, unless anyone really wants to see a Brandon Phillips trade, the Yankees may need to make what small moves they can to upgrade. Losing the 56th overall pick (which has produced exactly two usable big leaguers in the last 30 years, J.J. Hardy and Scott Linebrink), shouldn’t be an impediment, nor should Brian Cashman’s comments that the team is unlikely to go after Drew. Were Drew to opt out and then get hit with the qualifying offer next winter, that 56th pick just turned into a higher sandwich pick, leaving the team free to go after Asdrubal CabreraHanley RamirezJed Lowrie, and Hardy, all currently set to be next year’s infield free agents. If he accepts, or it’s not an opt-out at all, then the Yankees have a perfectly acceptable stopgap in what is almost certainly a Jeter-less 2015.

For Drew, the downside of the Yankees is that he’d have to go to a situation where he’s not guaranteed to be the starting shortstop — again, assuming Jeter stays healthy — and he has no experience playing second or third. Then again, even the Red Sox may not guarantee him a starting job if they really want Xander Bogaerts to play short, and if he doesn’t go to the Mets, his options are limited. He may not have a choice, even if, as Jeff Sullivan noted, changing positions isn’t as easy as just flipping a switch.

Maybe this just drives Drew back to Boston, because as the one team who doesn’t need to surrender a pick, and with Bogaerts ready, they’re in the power position here. Maybe they sign him just so the Yankees can’t. Drew’s a flawed player, especially against lefties, but the Yankees are a flawed team. They’re an especially flawed infield. They’re also one of the extremely few teams with money, need, and little reason to worry about the pick.





Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

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Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)

“Boston […] the one team who doesn’t need to surrender a pick”

Well, yes they do; they effectively surrender the compensatory pick. It amounts to the same thing.

Ian R.
Guest

Yes… but if Drew sits out until after the draft, then the Red Sox aren’t getting that compensatory pick regardless. Given how badly his market has collapsed, that’s a possibility – wait until June and sign with a team that loses an infielder early on.

stan
Guest
stan

That’s an empty threat, IMO. Drew would not only be forfeiting compensation for at least 1/3 of the year, he still wouldn’t be getting the contract he’s after.

Morales is the only guy for whom that’s a real threat, and that’s only because he’s worth so much less than he’s after anyway. Seriously, is he even better than Garrett Jones at this point? He got a huge break by getting a QO but he stupidly turned it down.

NS
Guest
NS

…But they keep their own pick, for a net loss of 0. Other teams have a net loss of 1. This is very obviously the point.

asdf
Guest
asdf

I’m not sure I buy this argument. Every pick has value independent of your other picks (especially with the added draft pool bonus). Sure, the Red Sox will still be sitting pretty with their own (protected) first rounder and a sandwich (ellsbury), but that doesn’t mean that drew’s sandwich pick is meaningless.

It just means the red sox have an abundance of riches.

NS
Guest
NS

They don’t *have* a pick from Drew. They don’t have one. It is not something they have. It cannot be lost. This couldn’t be any clearer.

They *could*, theoretically, receive a pick from Drew if he signs somewhere else before the draft. That is not guaranteed and it certainly hasn’t happened.

If they sign Drew, they will *not gain* a pick they *might have gained* if they didn’t sign Drew. This is categorically different from *losing* something they have.

asdf
Guest
asdf

So the only scenario where the Red Sox don’t have the pick is if drew doesn’t sign somewhere before the draft.

Obviously there’s no precedent here, but I find that very unlikely.

So, true, the red sox don’t “have” the pick, but they very likely will.

Matthew Murphy
Member

The Red Sox will only NOT receive a compensation pick if Drew decides to wait until after the draft (early June) to sign. By doing this, he would be forfeiting half a year of salary. If, hypothetically, Drew is looking for 3/39, it would make sense for him to sign for 3/33 rather than wait until mid-June and lose $6.5M.

Given that there is almost no feasible scenario where Drew doesn’t sign before the draft, the Red Sox SHOULD be acting as if that is a pick they have. So, if they re-sign Drew, they’ll be “not gaining” a pick, rather than “losing” a pick, but the net effect is the same. In fact, the compensation pick the Sox would gain is more valuable than the picks that the Mets or Yankees would lose, so the cost is even higher for them.

bjsguess
Member
bjsguess

@ Matthew Murphy

Why should he take less and essentially play for free for half a year at 3/$33M?

If I were advising him, miss the 1st half. Sign for the rest of the season for $7M. Make a handshake deal for no QO after the season. Drew hits the market next off-season with no draft pick attached to him. If he plays well he should be in a better position to score a larger contract without having a draft pick tied to it.

We’v seen several players start late and still make a positive contribution to their teams in the latter half.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)

By re-signing Drew, Boston have a net loss of 1 (from 3 to 2*, because they’re already +1 from Ellsbury). Other teams also have a net loss of 1 (usually from 1 to 0).

*in terms of picks within the first round and comp round A

NS
Guest
NS

…No. Not at all. The non-Drew scenario means keeping what they have. Signing Drew means keeping what they have. Nothing is gained, but nothing is lost. 0 loss.

For any other team, the non-Drew scenario means keeping what they have. Signing Drew means losing a pick. Nothing is gained (in terms of picks), and a pick is lost. Loss of 1.

This is very clear. You don’t get to give them credit for a pick they don’t have, and then pretend it got lost if they sign Drew. That isn’t reality.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter

I don’t see it that way, NS. You say “The non-Drew scenario means keeping what they have”. That’s only partially correct. The non-Drew scenario means keeping what they have, plus getting a supplemental pick. So by letting the Mets, Yankees or another team sign him, they’re +1. By signing him themselves, they’re net-zero (which is one less than being +1).

The only way they only keep what they have is if he doesn’t sign for a few months, but I find that unlikely. Sure, I guess it should be taken into account on some level, but not more than a few grains of salt.

NS
Guest
NS

“The non-Drew scenario means keeping what they have, plus getting a supplemental pick.”

No, this is made up. It isn’t reality.

It’s *possible* for this to happen, and maybe even likely. But it isn’t necessarily the case at all.

The default scenario – the current reality – is you do not have Drew and you do not have a draft pick for him. A possible non-signing scenario is that he signs elsewhere before the draft and you are awarded one. A possible scenario is he signs after the draft and you are not. Declining to sign Drew does not guarantee you a draft pick.

More importantly – the author’s original point from which this was needlessly nitpicked – if it does net them a draft pick, the Red Sox are *gaining* something. The starting position is everything they have, plus that pick. So the choice is whether or not to gain something. For all other teams, signing Drew means *losing* something they have. The choice is whether or not to lose something.

This is a meaningful difference. One man enters a contest but does not win the $1M prize. Another man has $1M in cash stolen from him. Equating these two things is nonsense.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)

But if it’s a contest in which he has a 95% chance of winning the $1m prize, and the man already has many millions of cash, so there’s no issue in terms of the utility of the money…

I’d say equating them is very reasonable.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)

To clarify, see the tentative draft order here:

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/draft/y2014/order.jsp

Drew currently represents a different draft pick for every team that might sign him – worst off are the Blue Jays @ 11, and best off are the Mets @ 85 (which is partly why they’ve been so heavily linked with him). In between are the Red Sox themselves, at a tentative 33.

afnj
Guest
afnj

Jays pick at 11th is protected

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)

So it is – in which case the team with the most to lose from signing Drew (or any other FA) is Milwaukee @ 12. It does seems wrong that basically just-under-.500 clubs are the most heavily penalised for going after free agents.

ryan
Guest
ryan

this is wrong. lets put it like this. lets say you are a store, and you are worth $100 dollars (your original pick). there is a customer that is willing to give you another $100, but he just walked into another store.

you are still losing $100. thats how business works.

asdf
Guest
asdf

and a much higher pick than the yankees, at that. those sandwich picks produced a lot of the last red sox core.