Over the weekend, the story came out that Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson were happy to have signed Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million contract in part because of the opt-out clause that allowed them to get him on the cheap for the first six years. Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly inexplicably chimed in on the situation to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and presumably shed light on the Marlins' desire to have Stanton opt out.
“They thought it was a great deal,” Coonelly said. “I just couldn't get my head around the $325 million. They said to me, ‘You don't understand. (Stanton) has an out clause after six years. Those first six years are only going to cost $107 million. After that, he'll leave and play for somebody else. So, it's not really $325 million.' “
The initial reaction to that quote was as expected. Loria and company were bashed for being dishonest, cheap, and alltogether devious for tricking Stanton into such a contract.
Except that this type of contract happens all the time.
It was well-known to everyone once the deal came out that Stanton essentially had two contracts that were his options. He could take the six-year deal worth $107 million, after which he could opt out of his remaining seven years and take a bigger 10-plus year contract in the future, or he could opt-in and take the full $325 million contract. It was also well-known that Miami was taking a calculated but intelligent risk in including the opt-out, as Stanton was free to renegotiate a contract or skip town if his performance was on par with his salary. Given his trajectory and young age, this was reasonably assured.
The intelligence comes from the fact that the Fish signed essentially a six-year deal for cheap and have the chance to be bailed out of Stanton's final seven years, which will be the expensive and downside half of the contract. Coonelly had no need to say that the Marlins felt this might happen, because it was almost assuredly part of the appeal of the opt-out clause. The opt-out is traditionally a player's tool, something from which players fully benefit but teams cannot get value. By backloading the deal and keeping the first three years cheap, Miami extracted a little value out of an otherwise valueless clause to them.
Everyone was aware of that dynamic. It did not need to be said aloud in a derogatory fashion.
Everyone was also made aware well ahead of time that the Marlins actually did not want the opt-out clause to begin with. David Samson re-expressed that in a recent article by Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel.
"We made it very clear to Joel Wolfe [Stanton's representative] that we did not want an opt out," Samson said. "It was something Giancarlo wanted because he wanted to make sure he and the team continued to move in the right direction. For us, we're getting ready for spring training. We don't get distracted by stuff like this. We're getting ready for the season. This is season one of 13 with Giancarlo."
From the press conference discussion, we knew it was Stanton who wanted the opt-out clause, but primarily as insurance against the Marlins' traditional ways rather than a pure money grab.
The negotiations sounded earnest enough, and the Fish and Stanton eventually agreed on a time frame for when the clause would come out. Remember, the Marlins initially offered just a six-year contract that was reasonably close to market value, but Stanton rejected that deal and wanted a lifetime contract with no-trade provisions.
Coonelly's comments were not only unnecessary in that they were media-projected and negative towards a fellow ownership group, but they were both obvious and depicted in an inaccurate negative light. The Marlins never intended to make an opt-out clause, though they had initially not intended to sign Stanton to 13 years either. Yes, the opt-out can be beneficial to both sides, but there is no reason to bash that aspect of the contract, no more than there is reason to bash any pre-free agent deal that benefits a team.