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Andrew Miller’s Vesting Option

You can say this about the Red Sox front office – they are remarkably creative in their never-ending attempts to find an advantage. Their latest beat-the-system gimmick is perhaps the most unique – I would also accept “sneakiest” – one yet. As first reported by Alex Speier, Boston struck a deal with Andrew Miller that essentially circumvents the waiver process.

Here’s the basics – Miller signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox, with the plan being for him to begin the year in Triple-A. If he is called up at any point, they will have to pass him through waivers before they can re-assign him to Pawtucket, as he is out of options. If Miller had a good showing in his time in the big leagues, there would be a decent chance that another team would have taken a shot at him, and used the waiver process to grab him for themselves. So, to prevent that from happening, the Red Sox gave Miller a $3 million option for 2012 that vests if he’s claimed on waivers by another team.

This essentially guarantees that Miller will slide through waivers unclaimed, giving them the right to assign him to their Triple-A affiliate even though he’s out of options. Effectively, this contract structure gives Miller an extra option year. My initial reaction is that the Sox are gaming the system – much like they attempted to do by signing Felipe Lopez for the final week of the season and then offering him arbitration in order to try and collect a draft pick – but after considering it a bit more, I’m not sure that this falls into the same category.

By his own admission, Miller is quite happy about the clause, and is perfectly content with the organization’s plan for him this year. The option system was essentially put in place to keep organizations from stockpiling young talent and holding them back in the minors against their will. It was mostly designed as a tool to help young players reach the big leagues in a timely fashion.

In this case, however, Miller is a willing party in the decision to send him to Pawtucket. He’s not being oppressed by the Red Sox, but instead, they have jointly agreed that this is the best course of action for the team and Miller this year. However, the rules would not allow Miller to get called up and then be re-assigned to Pawtucket without the chance that he could be exposed to waivers, so they found a loophole that gives them the ability to bounce Miller between Boston and Pawtucket if need be.

Is Miller better protected by being forced to pass through waivers, where he could end up with a franchise that he might not want to play for? It seems like this move is what Miller wants, and so a rule designed to protect a player’s interests should not stand in the way of his own wishes. Without this clause, the Red Sox would be reticent to call Miller up for any period of time until they were certain they could carry him for the remainder of the year, but now, he’ll be able to be called upon should the Sox need him for a few weeks (and, as a result, make Major League pay for that timeframe).

While the Sox are exploiting the rules, they are not exploiting Miller. I wouldn’t be surprised if other teams complained about this kind of clause, but perhaps we should note that it’s only necessary because a rule that was designed to help players sometimes works against them.