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.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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M.Twain
Guest
M.Twain

I’ll bet you a dollar the Red Sox don’t get away with that.

Fangraphs Man
Member

He wanted the clause in his contract, so I think it’s fine. It’s essentially a win-win for him: if he gets sent down to AAA, he gets the seasoning he wants. If a team claims him, he get’s a major league contract worth $3 Million. Don’t see what the BoSox could get caught on.

M.Twain
Guest
M.Twain

The player’s union will object. It may work for Miller, but it’ll encourage other teams to try to subvert the waivers process. I’m surprised MLB let it go.

Fangraphs Man
Member

I doubt the Player’s Union would object. The union is for the betterment of the players. If a player saw this and said, “hey, why don’t I do this as well,” why should the Union object.
The only thing I could see getting in the way is to prevent the Red Sox from stockpiling too many young players, at that point, MLB would get involved.

M.Twain
Guest
M.Twain

But it WILL hurt players. A contract that has a clause which effectively circumvents the waivers requirement is worth more to a team than one without. Teams will begin to insist that players accept the clause or else they don’t get the contract.

rogerfan
Member
rogerfan

What would be the purpose of that? If the teams don’t offer the players contracts, then the players become free agents, which is good for them. It just seems like the players have all the power here. They have to agree to the contract as well, so if they want to stay in one organization, they have a little bit more ability to do so, but if they want that chance that waivers gets them to get to the bigs, then they can have it.

Fangraphs Man
Member

Twain, I understand your point, but I don’t think that could happen. If teams required it in the deal, why would these players sign? It’s doubtful no other team would be willing to sign them to a regular minor league contract.

M.Twain
Guest
M.Twain

The players this will affect will be marginal players. They may not have a lot of choices, so why wouldn’t the team attempt to get more control? It might also make sense for the player at the time he signs, but then circumstances could change.

Jason F
Guest
Jason F

They aren’t getting away with anything. The player signed the contract. They didn’t force him to do so. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into and if he didn’t, then it’s time for him to find a new agent.

M.Twain
Guest
M.Twain

It’s kind of like the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”. It could be good for individual players, but collectively it hurts them. The whole idea behind the player’s union is collective bargaining.

Sweet Dick Willie
Guest
Sweet Dick Willie

Alex agreed to a pay cut in order to facilitate his trade from Texas to Boston, and the PA said no.

If the union believes it will inhibit player movement, and at least in this case it certainly does, they will challenge it.

B N
Member
B N

I think it depends a lot on if it’s a player option. If this is a player option, there is basically no downside to the player. You end up in the following situations:

1. You get put through waivers, a team claims you. You can make them claim your option, no matter how ridiculous it is, as part of your contract.
2. You get put through waivers, a team claims you. You can decline to enforce your option, allowing the team to have you based upon the terms of your current contract. (Though since the new contract is better than your old one, probably, you would never do this unless you REALLY wanted to go to another team).
3. You don’t get put through waivers or you get put through and nobody claims you.

To be quite honest, that would seem like a great deal to me.

With that said, if it’s a vesting option its a bit different. Though based on the “option” formulation, the player probably still wins monetarily. They basically get a signing bonus if a team picks them off waivers. If they were worth this bonus, a team would pay it and take the player.

To observe the spirit of the law, they should probably ban vesting options for this and enforce that they have to be player options. That way, no loss for players in any condition.

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