Analysis

Vesting Options Killing Phillies Trade Prospects

Outfielder Marlon Byrd has been perhaps the Phillies’ finest offensive contributor not named Chase Utley in 2014. Leading the Phillies in homers and slugging, Byrd, at age 36, has remained healthy for the entire season and is putting up numbers comparable to those he had in his turn-back-the-clock 2013 all while being signed at a reasonable contract. Byrd should be an easy flip to a contender even at age 36 because he has provided a powerful bat in a a corner outfield spot while contenders like the Mariners and Royals lack just that. But he’s not.

A report surfaced some time yesterday that the hold-up in Byrd headed to Seattle, which on Sunday, looked like as close to a done deal as you can get without being one, was the fact that Byrd was willing to waive his No Trade Clause to Seattle if the Mariners agreed to pick up his third year option. If you’re like me, you may be asking “Why would you sign a 35-year old player to a two-year contract and mucky it up with a third-year option?” The answer: it is a calling card of the organization.

One of criticism folks have about baseball these days is the myriad of things that need to go right to develop and execute a trade: salaries need to match or at least be willing to be taken on, you can’t trade draft picks until they have been in your system for a year, a player’s value can often be linked more to his potential than what he has already done, etc. One of the new wrinkles, at least for Phillies’ fans, is the option; strangely, it has become a hallmark of any Ruben Amaro Jr. signing.

On the surface, Byrd’s deal was a solid, if not, boring signing for the Phillies. At $8 million per year for two years, Byrd would have to put up the equivalent of about 1.6 to 1.7 fWAR per season to be worth his contract.  Byrd has been worth one win this season already, providing $5.7 million in market value to the team according to FanGraphs. Byrd’s contract is a little bit of a gamble at his age, but it looks like the Phillies will get, at least, market-value production from Byrd. And a team trading for Byrd has a decent chance at getting that from Byrd next year, too. It’s the vesting option that is scaring them away. Or in the case of the Mariners, it is the request that they pick up the option before it vests.

Byrd’s option would vest pretty easily, too, through a few different scenarios no less, particularly if you plan on playing Byrd every day. 600 PA in 2015 would trigger Byrd’s 2016 for $8 million right away, as would 550 PA in 2015 with 1,100 PA total between 2014 and 2015. For a team like the Mariners, this is a risk they may not be able to afford to take. Let’s say the Mariners acquire Byrd and remain in contention this year but fall out in 2015. Let’s also say, based on their current outfield situation, one of the worst in the American League, they have no one but Byrd out there that can hit a baseball, so they continue to play him but his play dwindles, the option vests, and by 2016, you have a soon-to-be 38-year old outfielder who is making $8 million with a hindered-by-age skillset. Ouch.

Byrd is one of two pieces that might draw even greater interest at the deadline were it not for a vesting option. The other? Closer Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon already has a monstrous contract: one more years at $13 million per.  But then, there is the vesting option: with 55 games finished in 2015, or 100 finished between 2014 and 2015, Papelbon will make $13 million in 2016. With 30 games finished in 2014, Papelbon is on pace to hit at least 50 for 2014 making both 50 to complete the 100 or even 55 outright in 2015 entirely possible. Who would want to pay a then-35-plus year old closer $13 million in a season? And if a team acquires Papelbon to not use him as a closer to avoid his option, they’re getting a $13 million-a-year set-up man. Jeepers.

Many other veteran Phillies have vesting options as well that could hurt their trade value down the line. Cliff Lee has a vesting option for 2017 when he will be 37 years old at $27.5 million if he reaches 200 innings pitched in 2015 or 400 innings pitched between 2014 and 2015. Cole Hamels will be 35 when he is eligible for a $24 million vesting option in 2019 if he has 400 innings pitched between 2017 and 2018. Chase Utley has a series of three vesting options from 2016 through 2018 while Jimmy Rollins is just 35 PA away from having his 2015 option vest at a reasonable $11 million.  Perhaps the oddest, and most expensive, of all Phillies options is not a vesting one:  Ryan Howard has a team $23 million option for 2017 but an even more absurd $10 million buyout. You read that right, long after Howard has been a replacement-level player, he is guaranteed at least an additional $10 million in 2017 regardless of what the Phillies decide to do.

The vesting option is often a tactic a non-contender uses to lure mid-level to big-name free agents to come to their team in a time of rebuilding but, aside from Byrd, the Phillies misplayed their hand and used it to re-sign players during a time of strength. Sure, the counter argument exists that if the player is reaching those milestones, he likely is worth the option vesting, but there are plenty of scenarios where bad, or even just aging, players continue to get playing time long after their best days have past because they are either expensive or are the only option. The vesting option is a strategy the Phillies should abandon immediately moving forward to prevent being hamstrung in the future.

90 Comments

90 Comments

  1. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Two questions Ian-

    If Byrd were traded to a team on his good list, would he still make the same demand that his option be picked up? Or is it just that he really doesn’t want to go to Seattle?

    And, since the team has already stated they are willing to offset some of salaries, wouldn’t they pay- say 4 mil – toward the option if Seattle’s deal is that good? They’d be getting that back in not having to pay the rest of this year right?

    I think this is still a do-able deal- again- if the return is really that good.

    • Hogey's Role

      July 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      I would pay the 8 million option

    • Ian Riccaboni

      July 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Hey Lefty – great questions!

      For the first one: no. His NTC only applies to the Jays, Rays, Royals, and Mariners. He can be traded, without his consent, to the other 25 teams.

      For the second one: yes. I think Marlon Byrd’s contract is reasonable enough and that that money would be reasonable enough to make a deal work if the talent is there. I think the Phillies, however, likely feel that they may be able to work out a deal with a different squad without those parameters.

      • Lefty

        July 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        Thanks, my thinking too, or maybe the return they offered isn’t worth the spend.

  2. Bellkirk

    July 18, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Wonderful. So RAJ FINALLY gets the memo and realizes this team is toast, but now because of the way he structures contracts, they are proving difficult to trade. This is why ownership needs to fire RAJ and install COMPETENT management. Those of us who are even a bit more than casual fans have known for years that RAJ was in way over his head. The Phillies are pretty much the only team left in baseball not to embrace analytics. With a Stanford alum at the helm…

    In case you haven’t read my posts before, I’m a fan, not a hater. I knew the moment RAJ dealt away Cliff Lee that he was a boy among men, and it would ultimately doom the team. Shortly thereafter, he extended Ryan Howard and the rest is history. We need to rebuild. Why entrust rebuilding to the man who oversaw the premature demise of a world champion?

  3. Hogey's Role

    July 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I’ve said it before but I’d package brown and Byrd for dj Peterson, or I’d send revere if they wanted him…. Take your pick of what outfielders you want, send us Peterson and another low level prospect

    • Harry

      July 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Sorry Hogey, I thought d meant Dodgers and j meant Joc. I guess I have been getting ahead of myself thinking the Phillies would actually get a quality prospect. My bad.

      • Hogey's Role

        July 18, 2014 at 5:47 pm

        That’s cool, however dj Peterson is a quality prospect, I value him as much as I would joc Peterson

      • Hogey's Role

        July 18, 2014 at 5:48 pm

        Joc pederson, sorry

  4. Harry

    July 18, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Why would the Dodgers want two or three outfielders when they already have too many to begin with? Not to mention Petersen is their top prospect. No matter how one looks at it the Phillies are doomed for the next three to five years. Too bad we can’t file a class action lawsuit against RAJ and Monty!

    • Ian Riccaboni

      July 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      Hogey is speaking of Mariners’ outfield prospect D.J. Peterson. I think you’re thinking of Dodgers’ outfield prospect Joc Pederson.

      • Ian Riccaboni

        July 18, 2014 at 4:07 pm

        Excuse me, third baseman. Got ahead of myself.

    • Scotty Ingerton

      July 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm

      That’s a different player. D.J. Peterson is a 3B prospect in the Seattle organization. Joc Pederson is an OF prospect in the Dodgers’ organization.

      • Hogey's Role

        July 18, 2014 at 3:54 pm

        Mmm Ian and Scotty are correct….

        And the mariners outfield right now is not exactly anything to write home about, that’s why I would offer up our entire outfield for the pickings

      • Hogey's Role

        July 18, 2014 at 3:56 pm

        And better act fast before the rays swoop in and get a deal done before us….

  5. George

    July 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    “The vesting option is a strategy the Phillies should abandon immediately…”

    With so many other teams handing out options, I really think that would turn out to be a really, really, stupid and counterproductive strategy. These days, the best players want those options, and if they don’t get them from one team, they usually sign somewhere else.

    Amaro has said the team would be willing to eat money, so I really don’t see the problem with these vesting options. In the case of Byrd, even the entire $8 M isn’t all that much in today’s baseball market. I think the Ms just really prefer a different player, like someone from the Rays, and decided not to negotiate further using Byrd’s option as their excuse.

    • Scotty Ingerton

      July 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      Who else was in on the bidding for Marlon Byrd last winter?

      • Lefty

        July 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm

        I can’t remember actual bidding teams, but I remember a piece in MLBTR saying there were a number of teams he’d be a fit on. Pirates, and Mets- Royals, Rockies, even the Rangers with the upcoming loss of Cruz. I can’t find the link right now, wish I could.

        Look they probably didn’t need to include the option in this case, but if the return is young, controllable, high ranked talent, just pay the damn thing.

    • Hogey's Role

      July 18, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Absolutely agree with you George, pay the 8 million vesting option and trade him to Seattle

  6. Harry

    July 18, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Hey Ian would it be possible for the Phillies to get creative and maybe do a three way deal? Send Byrd and Brown to Mariners for DJ Peterson, send him and Papelbon to Dodgers and Phils get Joc Petersen and a young starter? Seattle gets a couple outfielders for their stretch run, LA gets their reliever and a third baseman. Phils dump Papelbon and come away with a good young outfielder and a pitching prospect.

    • Scotty Ingerton

      July 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      The reporter who originally tweeted that the Dodgers had interest in Papelbon subsequently retracted that statement.

    • Hogey's Role

      July 18, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      I would rather keep dj Peterson if we were able to land him

      • Harry

        July 18, 2014 at 6:01 pm

        Joc Petersen has an unbelievable upside, ready to move-in, a multi-tooler where the younger DJ Peterson probably will end up a first baseman. Franco will soon move Howard off first where he will become the most expensive bench warmer in the history of MLB.

      • Hogey's Role

        July 18, 2014 at 6:38 pm

        I would like to end up with both Peterson and pederson but i wouldn’t acquire one to trade him and acquire another one…. Franco can play third and Peterson first or vice versa, that situation can work itself out….

  7. Keith

    July 18, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Long time Phillies fan here in CT. Even the METS fans here are busting my family jewels. What I don’t get is that Byrd and Papelbon are studs, why trade away one the the few good players? Get rid of all the dead wood! I feel sorry for Pabelbon. He thought he was signing on with a winning team! I would hold on to Hamels, Lee, Utley, Byrd and Pabelbon and build around them, Dump the rest!

    • George

      July 19, 2014 at 12:09 am

      Trading away dead wood will only get you different dead wood. To get quality players in return, you have to consider dealing away people like Byrd and Papelbon.

  8. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    You folks only had 5 days to prepare a game day post.

    • Double Trouble Del

      July 18, 2014 at 11:03 pm

      More important to rehash the obvious, like this column on vesting options. You would think from reading it that the Phillies were the only team that employed their use in contracts.

  9. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-==-=
    GAMEDAY # ??

    Still no gameday post…

    So how long do you think it will be before the Phils fall behind in their first game back?

  10. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Phils go down 1-2-3 in their first inning after the All-Star Break. Awesome, dudes. At least Utley made the pitcher work a little.

  11. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    96 Tracey. I don’t get how PN just doesn’t care anymore. Just because the Phillies stink this year doesn’t mean PN has to. Some of us are real fans not bandwagon fans.

  12. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    They’ve got a TV show now. I think that’s their first priority.

  13. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Well, Howard worked a walk, so there won’t be another 1-2-3…

  14. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    ooo… two walks in a row… really working that pitcher….

  15. Andrew from waldorf

    July 18, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Gameday??

    Another must win for the Phillies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    If the Braves can release Uggla why cant the Phillies release howard?

  16. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Santana has to groove something now.

  17. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    Ooo… Braves are looking like the Phils tonight…

  18. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    WOOO HOO!!!!! Phils score first!!!

  19. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    There’s one!

  20. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Wow! I did not expect this!

  21. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Did he hold the bag?

  22. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Not much doubt about the Heyward shot.

  23. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Crap.

  24. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    ugh.

  25. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    4 hits and 4 runs after 2 outs.

    • Lefty

      July 18, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      Excuse me, 4 hits and 3 runs after 2 outs

  26. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    at least it’s over…

  27. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Bleh… no response from the Phils.

  28. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Lots of rain on the radar down there. Better score quickly.

  29. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    well, maybe the rain could come in before the game is official and we could start over? (grin)

  30. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    HR would tie the game…

  31. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    Bad luck, should have been first and third.

  32. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    let’s go rain!

  33. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Are the announcers actually talking about the Phillies “getting back into this thing”? What are they smoking???

    • Lefty

      July 18, 2014 at 9:03 pm

      I have the Braves feed tonight. I can only imagine what they’re feeing us, what a hoot. The problem is that I think they believe it.

      • Tracey

        July 18, 2014 at 9:12 pm

        I’d settle for the Phillies getting not embarrassing. They’re not there yet, but maybe with some work they could get there.

  34. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    It’s official now.

  35. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Game is official now. Too late for rain to help.

  36. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    You can’t be 12 games under .500 at home and be a contender.

    • Tracey

      July 18, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      True. And any day now they are going to trade away anyone with any residual value.

  37. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    I’ve turned off the sound at this point because they’re doing that awful racist tomahawk chop thing.

    • Lefty

      July 18, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      I think that’s racist too. I think it’s much worse than having a team named Redskins, although that’s not acceptable either.

  38. Tracey

    July 18, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    This just keeps getting uglier.

  39. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Oh no! they have a tool race in Atlanta, like the president race in DC or the sausage race in Milwaukee, only in Atlanta- they’re tools! TOO FUNNY

  40. Andrew from waldorf

    July 18, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Now the wave.

    they are idiots.

    You are all racists.

  41. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    The human vacuum just blew one.

  42. c. schreiber

    July 18, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Howard hits a rope for 2 RBI..LOL

  43. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Nice Chase. Did you guys see the AS game? He missed a homer by inches off the high wall. And a bloop for Howard. This aint over yet.

  44. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    I’m not a racist Andrew.?????

    • Andrew from waldorf

      July 18, 2014 at 10:59 pm

      No not you!!!!

      this team sucks and the Mets are winning.

      I wish amaro would pay off my bet for me.

  45. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Nice play James

  46. Lefty

    July 18, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    The guy completely misses his spot. Chase swings anyway and they get Rollins at second. Oh my.

  47. Double Trouble Del

    July 18, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Looks like the Angels get Huston Street, one less team in the mix for Papelbon . Could be a very disappointing trade deadline for the fire sale advocates.

    • George

      July 19, 2014 at 12:06 am

      It was pretty much a “given” that the Angels or someone else would grab Street before they’d even think about Papelbon. He was dirt cheap by comparison and pitching extremely well.

      At least Street is out of the picture now, and there are still teams who will want a closer.

      • Hogey's Role

        July 19, 2014 at 12:18 pm

        I agree with George, I think that deal helps us, the angels are off the board to land papelbon, but one of the closers ahead of papelbon is now off the market…

        The less closers or relievers there are available, the more teams will be trying to land one and they might give up a little more to get it done…

        Bottom line is the phillies need to start getting deals done soon, or we’ll be screwed like in years past

  48. Fred

    July 19, 2014 at 9:43 am

    The Phils should try to swing a deal for Ben Zobrich of the Rays. Zobrich can play SS, 2B, Outfield and 1B. He is a good offensive player somewhat in the Utley mold. Zobrich would be an excellent player to have during the rebuild period at SS until Crawford is ready to take over. I’m not sure what it takes to get him but I would be pleased for Amaro to get him and his known abilities vice relying on Amaro to judge a developing player in a trade. Amaro is the worst GM in baseball. He has a flea brain when it comes to player evaluation. The new analytics guy helped him acquire Byrd in a nice move that did nothing for future but the move for Hernandez the pitcher from the Rays was a typical Amaro failure.

    • Hogey's Role

      July 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      No thanks, zobrist is 33 years old and can play short in a pinch… Why trade away prospects for him when we have jimmy there for the next year and a half… It doesn’t make sense when we’re trying to rebuild or retool

      • schmenkman

        July 19, 2014 at 3:34 pm

        Yep, agreed.

  49. Double Trouble Del

    July 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Agreed Hogey. I would much rather watch Jimmy at SS than Galvis or Hernandez. He should keep the seat warm until Crawford or someone else is ready.

  50. Lefty

    July 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Schmenkman, I can’t find a stat I’m looking for and was hoping you could steer me in the right direction. I was noticing that Mike Trout was close to the league lead in RBI , and that brought to mind a question. How many men that batted almost exclusively second in the lineup led their league in RBI? Has it ever happened? I know you don’t put much stock in the stat because it’s dependent on the hitters in front of him, but still think it would be pretty amazing if he should accomplish it.

    • schmenkman

      July 19, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      @Lefty, not exactly what you wanted, but these are the most RBIs in a season while batting 2nd:

      Eddie Mathews 1959 – 114
      Alex Rodriguez 1998 – 114
      Jay Bell 1999 – 111
      Aaron Hill 2009 – 108
      Alex Rodriguez 1996 – 107
      Edgardo Alfonso 1999 – 107

      Complete list: http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/ZA1Oj

      With 71 so far, Trout is already 82nd on that list.

      • Lefty

        July 19, 2014 at 9:25 pm

        Thank you sir, that’s exactly what I was hoping for. None of those players led their respective leagues in any of those years. So he has a chance to be the first. Thanks again, I didn’t know I could sort like that in Bbref.

      • schmenkman

        July 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

        It’s in the Play Index feature, which requires a subscription, and then you use the Split Finder there.

  51. Tracey

    July 19, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
    GAMEDAY #97 ?

    Sizemore gets a leadoff hit. Always good to see.

  52. Tracey

    July 19, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Oops… PN opened a gameday post a minute after I did. Moving…

  53. Josh B.

    July 19, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    tldr version: bad general manager is bad at generally managing.

    In all seriousness, a great (albeit depressing) read.

  54. Ken Bland

    July 20, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Vesting options, no trade options…they all come together and muddle this overly rumored market.

    Then you have the difficulty of team standing projection that can muddle things even more.

    Now that’s not so relavant to the Phillies, but with a slight imaginative stretch, there are 2 teams that it might apply to, and could have an affect on the Phils. Tampa’s in a similar distance, but the Red Sox, winners of 2 straight out of the break have an extremely tradable commodity that could diminish the likelihood of a Jonathan Papelbon deal even more.

    I won’t bore you with the details on the hows of the Red Sox climbing back in the picture. But I will mention that at 8.5 back, with Vic seemingly ready to go after 400 rumors of same in the year to date injury stories, and a 10 game win streak away from at least being interesting, they are on the border of getting back in. The Orioles are a nice ballclub, but if that’s an example of a post season representative as a division titlist, it’s a statement of MLB having weak qualifications for the post season.

    Should likelihood develop, although it might not happen by the point at which one has to deal to meet the 7/31 deadline, a guy that would have superceded Huston Street on the most wanted list, Koji Uehera could EASILY be available, and further reduce the chance of Papelbon being moved.

    From the outside, it’s tough to guess on this sort of thing, but despite all the complications of money owed, a no trade, I’d almost be inclined to think the Phils, if they wanted to rid themselves badly enough, might in fact have a better chance of ridding themselves of the Ryan Howard albatross. It definitely wouldn’t surprise me if they have quietly put more effort into dealing him than the rumor mills have been able to ascertain. They do that, and suddenly, the chance of becoming at least more of a contender quicker than most expect at least becomes visible. Somewhere in the MLB deadline puzzle is a deal nobody saw coming.
    Predicting the specifics of it is a hellacious piece of work.. But for whatever reason, I’m slow to let go that Howard might be the poster picture of such a development.

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