All players invited to major league spring training must be in camp today, and many of them will be suiting up with new organizations.
Somewhere between marquee free agent imports—such as Zack Greinke ($147 million with the Dodgers) or Josh Hamilton ($123 million with the Angels)—and dollar-and-a-dream non-roster invites—like Marlon Byrd with the Mets or Conor Jackson with the Orioles—resides a recently developed class of free agent, one created by the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Beginning with last year’s class, any Article XX(B) major league free agent who accepts a minor league deal is entitled to three automatic contract clauses: 1) he must be told five days prior to Opening Day—that’s March 26 this year—whether or not he will make the 25-man active roster, 2) if he does not ask for his release and consents to open the season in Triple-A, then he will receive a $100,000 “retention bonus,” and 3) if he’s still in Triple-A on June 1, then he can opt out of his minor league contract so that he can sign with another organization.
Article XX(B) free agents may sign within 10 days of Opening Day—March 21 this year—and still receive guaranteed opt-out dates and retention bonuses in their minor league contracts
According to a press release issued by the MLB Players Association, 161 players qualified as Article XX(B) free agents following the 2012 season. To date, 93 of them have signed major league contracts (Kyle Lohse ought to bring that total to 94 any day now), 23 remain unsigned (including decorated vets like Scott Rolen, Jim Thome and Roy Oswalt), eight either retired or indicated as much (including Omar Vizquel, Kevin Millwood and Nick Johnson) and three will play in Japan in 2013 (Andruw Jones, Jose Lopez and Vicente Padilla).
That leaves 34 Article XX(B) free agents who signed minor league contracts, entitling them to the benefits outlined above. The team-by-team lists, with season ages for 2013 and statistics from last season (OPS+ via Baseball-Reference.com):
C Rod Barajas, 37 (.206/.283/.343, 75 OPS+ in 361 PA for Pirates)
Red Sox (1)
1B Lyle Overbay, 36 (.259/.331/.397, 93 OPS+ in 131 PA for D-backs & Braves)
C Miguel Olivo, 34 (.222/.239/.381, 75 OPS+ in 323 PA for Mariners)
RHP Matt Capps, 29 (3.68 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 5.5 K/9 in 29 IP for Twins)
1B Jason Giambi, 42 (.225/.372/.303, 74 OPS+ in 113 PA for Rockies)
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, 32 (8.28 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 8.1 K/9 in 46 IP for Red Sox)
RHP Miguel Batista, 42 (4.61 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 6.2 K/9 in 53 IP for Mets & Braves)
OF Endy Chavez, 35 (.203/.236/.278, 40 OPS+ in 169 PA for Orioles)
OF Xavier Nady, 34 (.184/.253/.316, 57 OPS+ in 166 PA for Nationals & Giants)
LHP George Sherrill, 36 (two relief appearances for Mariners)
OF Bill Hall, 33 (.222/.500/.556, 188 OPS+ in 14 PA for Orioles)
RHP Mark Lowe, 30 (3.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 6.4 K/9 in 39 IP for Rangers)
OF Austin Kearns, 33 (.245/.366/.367, 101 OPS+ in 175 PA for Marlins)
1B Casey Kotchman, 30 (.229/.280/.333, 73 OPS+ in 500 PA for Indians)
RHP Chad Qualls, 34 (5.33 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 4.6 K/9 in 52 IP for Phillies, Yankees & Pirates)
LHP Tim Byrdak, 39 (4.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.0 K/9 in 31 IP for Mets)
LHP Pedro Feliciano, 36 (no big league appearances for Yankees)
RHP LaTroy Hawkins, 40 (3.64 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 4.9 K/9 in 42 IP for Angels)
RHP Aaron Cook, 34 (5.65 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 1.9 K/9 in 94 IP for Red Sox)
3B Brandon Inge, 36 (.218/.275/.383, 81 OPS+ in 331 PA for Tigers & Athletics)
RHP Jose Contreras, 41 (5.27 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 in 14 IP for Phillies)
LHP Jonathan Sanchez, 30 (8.07 ERA, 2.09 WHIP, 6.3 K/9 in 65 IP for Royals & Rockies)
RHP Freddy Garcia, 36 (5.20 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 7.5 K/9 in 107 IP for Yankees)
1B Jeff Baker, 32 (.239/.279/.378, 77 OPS+ in 201 PA for Cubs, Tigers & Braves)
RHP Derek Lowe, 40 (5.11 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 3.5 SO/9 in 143 IP for Indians & Yankees)
RHP Yoshinori Tateyama, 37 (9.00 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 in 17 IP for Rangers)
Note that four players also appeared on last year’s list: Miguel Batista, Aaron Cook, Xavier Nady and Jamey Wright.
Review the players affected by the CBA clause in last year’s Article XX(B) free agent class and you’ll see that the retention bonus and opt-out language impacted just two players: Aaron Cook (Red Sox) and Jeff Francis (Reds). Both pitchers began the year in a Triple-A rotation, collected $100,000 and spent less than half the season in the minors. Boston called up Cook on May 3 and he made 18 big league starts, whereas Francis exercised his opt out and signed with the Rockies on June 6, making 24 starts in Colorado’s four-man rotation.
Of the 31 players in last year’s class, 16 made an Opening Day roster, 11 were granted their release prior to the deadline, two began in Triple-A (Cook and Francis) and two others renegotiated their contracts so that they could sign straight minor league deals. Russell Branyan (Yankees) and Corey Patterson (Brewers) began the year in Triple-A but without benefit of the retention bonus or opt-out date specified in the CBA.