The situation in with the Baltimore Orioles now find themsleves with regard to Travis Ishikawa is an interesting one. I’ve noticed that major league baseball teams are signing players to more and more contracts like that one, and the O’s are no exception. In effect, a team signs a player to a minor league contract that comes with the stipulation that he can opt out of the deal on a certain date if he’s not in the big leagues by that time.
I’ll be honest; I’m not a fan of that type of contract. I’ll grant that it is an inventive way for teams to sign players that they otherwise might not have been able to sign. It dangles a carrot in front of the player in a sense. And again I’ll grant that the Orioles have directly benefited from this type of deal, with Nate McLouth last year. However in general I feel that teams don’t serve themselves well by doing this. In the case of Jair Jurrjens the Orioles brought him up to the big leagues only to send him right back down. People might ask why this is such an issue; you just bring the guy up, send him down, and that’s the end of it…right? Not really. Keep in mind that teams have to leave players in the minors for a minimum of ten days (unless there’s an emergency such as someone going to the DL or the paternity list). So in sending someone down just for the sake of bringing a guy up to fulfill a contract stipulation, you could be losing their services for ten days. For teams such as the Orioles who tend to make lots of roster moves, this might not be too big a problem. However I feel that it also gives the team itself very little wiggle room on players. Then again, I suppose it’s how you look at it; the other side would argue that it allows teams to bring players into the organization that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.
In fairness, there are pros and cons to everything. However here’s another interesting point; do these types of contracts make it tougher to work trades for players? Over the weekend it was reported that the Orioles would not call Ishikawa up to the big leagues, but were trying to work out a trade for him. Ishikawa is a decent “prospect,” although he has spent time in the big leagues both with Milwaukee and San Francisco. However if you were another team looking for a backup infielder or perhaps farm system depth, would you make a deal for a guy that in theory you could get without losing a prospect in a few days? In other words, I suspect that teams are hesitating to make a deal for Ishikawa (and other players like him with opt-out clauses) because they think they can get the same player simply by signing him as a free agent. These kinds of moves of course are akin to playing roulette, however I would think that other organizations have no urge to make deals for guys like this.
Ultimately I feel that giving minor league players opt-out clauses gives the team very little wiggle-room in terms of personnel. Here’s the other thing regarding the concept of bringing someone up to satisfy the opt-out clause; if they’re sent back to triple-A they have to be outrighted. That means that the player can refuse the assignment and become a free agent if he clears waivers. So the ball is really in the player’s court big time on these contracts. It’s almost similar to a rule 5 pick in that you have to manage your roster and your team with that player in mind so that you can keep him.