While baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement overhauled the way teams will go about acquiring amateur talent, the new accord also affected signing terms for nearly three dozen professional players this offseason.
Any player with sufficient major league tenure and free agent status who signed a minor league deal this offseason gains two new perks if his signing organization assigns him to the minors at the outset of the 2012 season. To wit, all qualifying players receive a six-figure bonus and a guaranteed midseason opt-out date. From the summary of the new CBA, which the owners and players signed in December:
Article XX(B) free agents signing minor league contracts who are not added to the Opening Day roster or unconditionally released 5 days prior to Opening Day shall receive an additional $100,000 retention bonus and the right to opt out on June 1.
An Article XX(B) free agent is simply one with six or more years of major league service whose big league contract expired at the conclusion of last season. The MLB Players Association published the full list of 2011 Article XX(B) free agents last November, and player examples range from superstars like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to complementary players like Willie Harris and Chad Durbin. In the past, Article XX(B) free agents had to negotiate their own opt-out dates for their unconditional release from minor league contracts, but such a clause now becomes mandatory.
To illustrate how this affects players and teams, take the case of 34-year-old outfielder Juan Pierre, whose five-year big league contract expired last November. He agreed to a minor league pact with the Phillies on Jan. 27 after failing to find a team who would sign him to another major league deal in the offseason. Philadelphia ultimately may decide to add Pierre to its 25-man active roster, but if it does, it will have to let him know by March 30, five days before Opening Day.
If the Phillies don't intend to carry Pierre on the active big league roster, then they have two choices. They can either release him on March 30 and owe nothing or pay him $100,000 to play for Triple-A Lehigh Valley and serve as an insurance policy. Even if Philadelphia chooses the latter option, Pierre can opt for his release on June 1 and try to latch on with another organization.
The new clause in the CBA clearly safeguards veterans such as Pierre from spending all season in Triple-A when big league opportunity may exist elsewhere. The firm March 30 release deadline also affords players time to latch on with new organizations prior to Opening Day. Naturally, not all big league front offices view the CBA tweak in such a favorable light. One executive said that signing Article XX(B) free agents to minor league contracts didn't fit with what his organization tries to accomplish.
"Even if given this (retention) bonus, if they are not on the major league roster by June 1 they can walk away and keep the bonus they got at the end of spring training," he said. "It's too rich for our blood."
Update (March 19): Only players from the preceding year's Article XX(B) free agent class are eligible for guaranteed opt-out rights and retention bonuses if they sign a minor league deal. Furthermore, qualifying free agents shall be covered by the clause so long as they sign within 10 days of Opening Day. This year that deadline falls on March 25.
With the logistics out of the way, let's name names. By my unofficial count, here are the 32 players (listed with MLB service time in parentheses) who will be subject to the new CBA clause at the end of spring training. Many of them could be hitting the market again on March 30 if they're not members of their signing team's 25-man roster. Check the comments sections for player release dates.
Red Sox (2)
RHP Aaron Cook (9.02) and RHP Vicente Padilla (11.105)
RHP Rodrigo Lopez (8.028) and LHP Trever Miller (11.083)
LHP Jeff Francis (7.04) and OF Willie Harris (8.14)
3B Jose Lopez (6.105) and RHP Dan Wheeler (9.047)
LHP Zach Duke (6.094) and RHP Livan Hernandez (14.097)
RHP Jason Isringhausen (15.03)
C Josh Bard (8.008), LHP John Grabow (8.016) and RHP Jamey Wright (13.086)
SS Cesar Izturis (10.074) and OF Corey Patterson (9.083)
RHP Miguel Batista (13.163)
1B Russ Branyan (10.147)
OF Juan Pierre (11.056) and RHP Joel Pineiro (10.144)
RHP Juan Cruz (8.121)
2B Alex Cora (12.129) and RHP Scott Linebrink (10.016)
RHP Ramon Ortiz (8.115)
RHP Kevin Millwood (13.109)
1B Brad Hawpe (7.058) and 1B Conor Jackson (6.067)
Blue Jays (1)
SS Omar Vizquel (22.13)
OF Rick Ankiel (8.033), RHP Chad Durbin (7.102), OF Jason Michaels (10.016) and 1B Xavier Nady (8.059)
Correction: Previous versions of this post incorrectly asserted that second baseman Cristian Guzman, who signed a minor league deal with the Indians in February, would be among the players affected by the new CBA clause. In fact, Guzman's Article XX(B) free agent status does not carry over from 2010. As noted, the clause affects only players from the preceding year's free agent class.
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