Exhibit A on Why Player Options Are Bad

De La Rosa will have Tommy John surgery.

Over the off-season, the Pittsburgh Pirates set out to add to their starting rotation, and made a big push for free agent starter Jorge de la Rosa.  It was reported that the Pirates made a competitive offer for him, although he went to Colorado, largely because he wanted to remain there, but also because they gave him a two year deal with a player option.

If you are unfamiliar with how a player option works, it’s probably because they are very rare.  There are three types of options.  There’s the traditional club option, where a player’s fate is decided by the club.  Paul Maholm has a club option following the year.  If the Pirates decide to exercise it, they pay $9.75 M for Maholm in 2012.  If they decide to decline it, they only pay the $750 K buyout, and Maholm becomes a free agent.  In either case, Maholm has no choice, and his fate is left up to the team.

A player option is the exact opposite.  The player controls his fate.  He chooses whether to accept the option, or accept the buyout.  In either case, the team has to pay him appropriately.  In De La Rosa’s case, he has an $11 M option in 2013, with a $1 M buyout.  If he accepts, the Rockies will pay him $11 M.  If he declines, the Rockies pay him $1 M and he becomes a free agent.

There was some debate over the off-season about whether the Pirates actually made a competitive offer.  Price-wise, it was reported that they were in the same price range as Colorado as far as guaranteed money.  However, the Pirates refused to offer a player option, noting that it never worked out well for the team.  De La Rosa is now proving them right, as he just went down with Tommy John surgery.

What this means is that De La Rosa will miss the rest of the 2011 season, as well as the first part of the 2012 season.  Assuming he can return in time for June 2012, the Rockies will get about one whole year from him between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, all while paying him $20.5 M over that time frame.  This is where the player option comes in to play.  De La Rosa will only have about four months during the 2012 season to improve his free agent value.  In order to justify declining his option, he will need to prove that he’s worth much more than $11 M.  Unless he comes back right away at 100% and has a huge finish to the season, it’s unlikely that he will be worth that $11 M salary in 2013.

On the flip side, let’s assume De La Rosa continued his impressive numbers this year, and never got injured.  Let’s also assume he continued with his 3.34 ERA through the 2012 season.  There would be no chance that he would accept the player option, as he could make more on the open market in that scenario.

So what did the Rockies get for their player option?  They are basically paying De La Rosa $20.5 M for a year of pitching, with no guarantees that he will be 100% the final four months of the 2012 season.  It’s also very likely that he will accept the 2013 option, which is priced higher than what his value would have been on the open market, assuming he doesn’t return with phenomenal numbers.

Now obviously the Pirates don’t miss De La Rosa.  They ended up signing Kevin Correia, who has been great, just like the rest of the rotation.  The point of this post isn’t to say the Pirates made the right call by not signing De La Rosa.  I’m a big fan, and would have loved the signing.  I was disappointed when they didn’t sign him.  However, at the time other people were also disappointed, and it led them to suggest that the Pirates should have offered a player option.  Assuming they could have gotten De La Rosa for the same price with a player option (and that’s unlikely, since he wanted to remain in Colorado), they would have paid the following:

-$1 M signing bonus

-$9.5 M for one and a half months of the 2011 season

-$10 M for possibly four months of the 2012 season (assuming DLR can return to the majors in one year)

-$11 M for his 2013 season, assuming he accepts the player option (this would have given them an $11 M option for 2014)

-The 61st overall pick in the 2011 draft

That would have been a huge handcuff for the Pirates.  There’s no way De La Rosa makes up the value of his contract.  The Pirates also would have lost their second round pick in this year’s draft.  And had De La Rosa lived up to his deal, they would have still lost that pick, and he would have left following the 2012 season.

So call it a bullet dodged.  Call it fate that the Pirates were passed up and settled for Kevin Correia, who has been very strong this year.  The most important thing to note is that player options rarely work out in the team’s favor.  Either the player doesn’t live up to his deal, and you’re stuck with him for another very expensive year, or the player does live up to his deal, and opts for free agency.  You either get a good player for a short amount of time, or a disappointment for the long haul.

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Gallagher Loses #7 As Tribe Split Series

Next Story »

Game 47 Recap: Pirates Shutout for Second Straight Game

  • judy

    Assuming Kevin Corriea continues his lights out pitching…..pretty big assumption and hardly reason to argue that there was some kind of wisdom in getting Correia instead of Jorge.  The Pirates were cheaper and luckier in their negotiation with DeLaRosa and Correia.

Latest Analysis

  • Keller Supak Hinsz

    Even With the New Draft Rules, the Pirates Are Still Loading Up on Projectable Pitchers

    13 hours ago

    From 2008-2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent a lot of resources on projectable pitchers out of high school. So far, this approach has led to breakout performances from ...

    Read More
  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    2 days ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    3 days ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    4 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    6 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    7 days ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    1 week ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    1 week ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    2 weeks ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    2 weeks ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles