[The Reserve Clause. It used to be that contracts in Major League Baseball (MLB) contained something called the Reserve Clause. It meant that once a contract for a player expired, the team continued to control the rights to that player. So, the only leverage that the player had was to refuse to play and “hold out.”
Years of litigation in the U.S. court system, initially instigated by player Curt Flood, finally led to the Reserve Clause being eliminated and it in turn brought the rampant free agency that we see throughout baseball today.
Our baseball guru Adam “Shem” Shemesh weighs in here with a look at offseason free agency as a number of big name players signed big time contracts. Interestingly, many players decided to stay with their current teams.]
This offseason, many high-profile free agents elected to remain with their previous clubs- some by choice, others because teams were afraid to waste a first round draft pick on them. Let’s take a look at the short list that captured big headlines and big dollars:
Jose Bautista: 1-year/$18,500,000
Bautista is now 35 years old, and after struggling through an injury-prone 2016 campaign, no team was willing to bite the bullet and give Jose a substantial multi-year contract. This contract includes a mutual option, which means both sides will work together next offseason to see if they would like to send Bautista back into the free agent abyss or keep him in the fold for another year.
Mark Trumbo: 3-year deal/$37,500,000
The last three MLB home run champs (Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Trumbo) played for the Orioles. Coming off a year in which he posted 47 home runs and 108 RBI, a nine-figure contract seemed possible for the 31-year-old Trumbo. But, he had to settle for this three-year offer at the end of January, returning to the friendly confines of Camden Yards.
Aroldis Chapman: 5-year deal/$85,000,000
Rarely do you see a player traded by a team during the season return to that team the following season? Especially since the Cubs had won a World Series, it appeared as if Aroldis Chapman would stay in the Windy City. But, the Yankees convinced Chapman otherwise by signing him to a record-high contract for a reliever. New York recognized the necessity of having multiple relief aces after it saw what happened to Dellin Betances at the end of last year.
Yoenis Cespedes: 3-year deal/$75,000,000
Last offseason, Cespedes did not sign with the Mets until the new year. In 2016, New York made it a priority to lock up their star slugger as soon as possible. The Mets did just that by giving Yoenis the most money per year out of any free agent this offseason. Since arriving in New York at the trade deadline in July 2015, Yoenis has slammed 48 home runs and 130 RBIs.
As the graph suggests, the trajectory of major league salaries has been almost straight up. With television and content deals increasing the available dollars for possible payroll investment, this list of players certainly cashed in this offseason. We will have to wait and see how it translate into their performance on the field.