Baseball BeatSeptember 08, 2008
Mutual (Option) of Oh-My-Ha
By Rich Lederer

Carlos Delgado slugged two home runs off Cole Hamels in the Sunday Night Game of the Week. There have now been 249,996 homers hit during the regular season from 1876 to the end of play yesterday. Who will be the "lucky" player to get credit for the 250,000th four bagger? The Baseball Think Factory has been posting every home run of late and will be tracking tonight's games closely. In the meantime, you can check for a list of all the milestone home runs over the years.

Speaking of Delgado, the New York Mets first baseman has been on a tear since June 27. He has ripped 22 homers in his past 65 games while nearing or exceeding the magical .300/.400/.600 rate lines (with an OPS of 1.017) during this period. The 36-year old has had three two-HR games in the past two weeks.

As we pointed out in Sneak Preview of the 2009 Free Agents, which was posted right before his latest hot streak:

The Mets and Carlos Delgado have a $12M mutual option for 2009 (with a $4M buyout). The 36-year-old slugger got off to a poor start this season (.198/.297/.323 in April) but has hit .314/.407/.594 since July 1. Based on his buyout, the true cost of bringing him back is only $8M. He just may be a bargain at that price. However, Delgado, the team leader of the resurgent Mets, may not give his consent to such a deal. Stay tuned.

Well, I have no doubt that the Mets will exercise their portion of the option but won't be surprised if Delgado responds with the ol' "Thanks but no thanks" line. Put me in his shoes and I know I would. Delgado should be able to do better, both in terms of years and average annual salary. In fact, the risk of declining his option is next to nil for him as he could land at least an $8M deal with any of a number of teams for 2009. It says here that Delgado will find a suitor willing to give him a three-year contract for north of $30M. That team may, in fact, be none other than the Mets.

In the meantime, the bigger question for the game is why in the world do teams and players agree to "mutual" options? When you sit back and think about such arrangements, they are really nonsensical. It's kind of like marriage and divorce. While it takes two to get married, it only takes one to demand a divorce. A bilateral agreement in which either side can opt out is really unilateral in nature, at least when it comes to ending matters.

Look, I realize that a mutual option suggests that both parties are interested enough in the other side to maintain the relationship at a specified price for another year. While that sounds fine and dandy on the surface, the truth of the matter is that such an arrangement has no teeth. Neither party can enforce the extension on the other. If that is indeed the case, then what is the point of a mutual option? When you cut to the chase, the player in question becomes a free agent if either party declines their half of the option. As such, why bother?

There have been a number of teams and players that have agreed to mutual options during the past year. Oh, it might play well at the time of signing, but a mutual option is basically meaningless. Team options make sense. Player options make sense. Yet mutual options, as in this case, are ineffectual.

Now, if the Mets agreed to bring back Delgado and he refused, and the club was no longer responsible for the $4M buyout, then I could definitely see the merits of a so-called mutual option like this one.

Or, let's say the Mets had the right to sign Delgado for one year at $14 million and the latter had the ability to force the Mets to keep him for another season at $10 million, then you would have something that was worthwhile. If Delgado's market value had risen to $14M or more, the Mets might be motivated to bring him back. On the other hand, if Delgado's value had fallen to $10M or less, he may wish to exercise his option and return to the team for one more season.

Mutual of Omaha may sell a multitude of products, but I would advise Delgado to click on the link to "agents" rather than "long-term care" because one of the hottest hitters in the majors won't be getting much of the latter should he agree to his side of the mutual option.

But, more to the point: Just as this mutual option fails to make sense for Delgado, the reality is that mutual options, as a whole, are a totally flawed vehicle.


According to some contract website I found, it is simply a club option, not mutual. But I or it could be wrong.

Thanks, Luis. You may be right. I believe Cot's Contracts changed its information during the past two weeks (since I wrote my free agent article on August 25). Back then, this site had listed the 2009 option as a "mutual" one. It is now calling it $16M vesting option or $12M club option ($4M buyout). The option may vest based on 2005-08 MVP voting rank, LCS/World Series MVP.

While Delgado's side of the option appears to be a moot point, the fact remains that mutual options are a poorly conceived idea.

I don't know about Cot's, but I've always had it as a player option, with vesting for MVP points. See details here:

The mutual option clause really is screwy. If you think about it, the only time it will hold is if the player is "worth" (on the free agent market) the exact salary the clause calls for. As you say, what is the point of that?

Thanks for the link, Studes. We are on the same page with respect to mutual options.

Upon reading that story, it appears as if the 2009 option either vests at $16M or the Mets have a team option at $12M. No mention of a player option. He will, however, receive a $4M buyout if New York fails to exercise its option.

Is there ever an option where a player could pay the club $4 million and then be free to negotiate (as opposed to having the club option to keep him for a year at $12 mil)? In such a case, the player would have to get $16,000,001 from another team in order to come out ahead financially, right? And Delgado, while perhaps "worth" $8 million in a market where that buys 160 school teachers, is certainly not worth $16 million. . . .