By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning
This week’s topic kept things wide open for our writers to comment. We’ve chosen to take a look at the events of the off-season so far, searching for impact.
Well, since it was hard to zero in on one, we have actually touched on 3. But let’s get on with it.
What 1 or 2 issues this off-season do you feel have been the most significant or will have the greatest impact – either with the Tigers or within baseball?
Al Avila started his off-season tour of duty by letting it be known the first order of business for this team. Pitching and most specifically, the bullpen.
And regardless of what happens this season, we can’t spend a single minute talking the way we have in the past. We can’t say the Tigers did not make the bullpen a priority, because they most certainly did.
It’s going to become an arms race in the Tiger pen. After having watched a complete Michigan football season under Jim Harbaugh, I couldn’t believe the stable of quarterbacks that were on his team, setting them up for the ultimate competition. And I see the same thing developing with the Tigers.
We have assumed roles for the guys we have acquired, but a couple hold overs will definitely press the issue. The competition is going to be great for this team and great for this pen. And the success of the bullpen will be impactful in the ultimate success or failure of this year’s Tiger team.
Switching gears, the Hall of Fame proceedings were just another rerun for the Tigers, specifically Alan Trammell, who once again was not recognized as one of the best shortstops in the history of the game. But something good should come out of this. His final chance at the Hall has driven a lot of press and criticism towards the Tiger organization, from all fronts, including ours.
And I think the message has been loud and clear and will have been impactful enough for the Tigers to finally retire Trammell and Whitaker’s numbers. If they didn’t hear it this year, they never will.
It’s been a hot topic; hotter than it’s ever been. At some point the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And I believe we have all done our jobs, expressing our opinions, defending the great careers of Trammell and Whitaker and pleading for the Tigers to formally acknowledge them. And I cannot envision a scenario where our voices are not heard this season. Expect numbers 1 and 3 to be retired in 2016.
In the end, it always leads back to finance-related issues and trends because money remains the primary motivation in whether a team decides to make a roster move.
In this case, I’ve been seeing the trend of more teams balking at the lengthy contract demands by players and their agents – and the way they pay for them.
One former GM remarked that this was the very first year where a glut of players was still on the market so very late in the season. And the majority of those who signed – Cespedes, Parra, Span, Murphy, Gordon et al – have taken contracts shorter and less expensive than expected.
Yes, lengthy contracts are still being signed, although no longer with the frequency of the past. But the newest strategy being utilized by players and their agents is the opt-out clause. While it favors the player for the most part, it works very well for teams in certain situations.
And those reasons include teams who really can’t or don’t want to afford a player long-term. Teams with concerns over a player’s performance after signing a long-term contract. Teams who need a player short-term until one of their own develops or who need more time to assess current players or see how their payroll pans out over time.
In essence, the opt-out clause functions as a rental plan, allowing teams to afford things – or at least justify – an expenditure that may be too expensive but potentially gives them an out. While a team may balk at signing a player for 6+ years, something that may promise an opt-out after 2 years could give them the short-term boost they are seeking.
The opt-out alleviates concerns over declining performance and complacency once the big contract is signed and also addresses the concerns over the ageing issues teams will face down the road. And the player remains motivated by the chance at an even bigger payday and extended career.
It is a win-win situation that poses risks for both sides. Currently, only the player can opt out but expect that to change with time.
Before this year, only 10 opt-out clauses were completed while this year alone has seen at least 20. And the teams signing players have changed exclusively from the major-market players to include the smaller-market ones and others not known for laying out bigger chunks of cash.
In the case of Justin Upton, his “upt-out” clause of 2 years will allow the Tigers to fill a talent gap until their own develop and possibly alleviates the eye-popping future payroll commitments. They are guaranteed of receiving Upton’s best 2 years before he tests free agency again – and is replaced by someone younger, less expensive and trending upwards in performance.