The latest collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association is rife with contractual intricacies, as one would expect. MLBTR has confirmed that one of the new wrinkles set forth in this latest agreement stipulates that any Article XX (B) free agent – that is, a player with at least six years of service time who finished the prior season on a big league roster or injured list – who signs a minor league contract will have three uniform opt-out dates in his contract, so long as that minor league deal is signed 10 days prior to Opening Day. Those opt-out dates are five days before the start of the regular season, May 1 and June 1.
As the MLBPA announced at the onset of the most recent offseason, there were 188 players who became Article XX (B) free agents. The majority of those players signed Major League contracts. A handful retired, and some have yet to sign a contract at all. There were still more than two dozen players who signed minor league contracts, however, which makes them subject to the new uniform opt-out dates. Several of those players – Marwin Gonzalez, Matt Moore and Wily Peralta, to name a few – have already had their contracts selected to the Major League roster. Others signed their minor league deal after March 28, meaning they’re not covered under the uniform opt-out provision.
By my count, there are a dozen players who qualified as Article XX (B) free agents, signed minor league deals on or before March 28, and remain with those organizations but not on the 40-man roster. Each of the following veterans, then, will have the opportunity to become a free agent Sunday if they’re not called up to the current organization’s big league roster:
- Tyler Clippard, RHP, Nationals: The 37-year-old Clippard had a strong 2019 season in Cleveland and pitched brilliantly with Minnesota in 2020. His 2021 campaign with the D-backs was solid but truncated by a strained capsule in his right shoulder. He missed nearly four months to begin the year but pitched to a 3.20 ERA in 25 1/3 innings upon activation – albeit with subpar strikeout and walk rates (19.8% and 9.9%, respectively). He’s had a rough go in Triple-A Rochester so far, yielding seven runs on six hits and a whopping 11 walks in 8 1/3 innings. He’s also picked up a dozen strikeouts.
- Austin Romine, C, Angels: Romine is 2-for-15 with a pair of singles so far in Triple-A Salt Lake. He’s never provided much with the bat, but the longtime Yankees backup is regarded as a quality defender and receiver. He spent the 2021 season with the Cubs but only logged 62 plate appearances thanks to a sprained left wrist that landed him on the 60-day injured list for a significant portion of the season. Romine hit .217 / .242 / .300 when healthy last year and is a lifetime .238 / .277 / .358 hitter in 1313 Major League plate appearances.
- Billy Hamilton, CF, Mariners: At 31 years old, the former top prospect is what he is now: an elite defender and baserunner who’s never been able to get on base consistently enough to capitalize on his 80-grade speed. Hamilton slashed .220 / .242 / .378 in 135 plate appearances with the White Sox last season and is out to a 7-for-32 start with one walk and 11 strikeouts so far with the Mariners’ top affiliate. Hamilton has four seasons of 55-plus stolen bases under his belt, but he also has a career .293 OBP that’s gotten even worse (.269) over the past three seasons (524 plaste appearances).
- Blake Parker, RHP, Cardinals: Parker, 36, has yielded three runs in 7 1/3 Triple-A frames but is brandishing a far more impressive 11-to-1 K / BB ratio. He split the past two seasons between Philadelphia and Cleveland, pitching to a combined 3.02 ERA with a 24.4% strikeout rate against a 9.1% walk rate. Parker has had an up-and-down career since debuting with the Cubs as a 27-year-old rookie in 2012, but the cumulative results are solid. He carries a career 3.47 ERA with 34 saves and 47 holds. When Parker’s splitter is working well, it can be a very effective late-inning option.
- Derek Holland, LHP, Red Sox: The veteran southpaw has provided innings, but not necessarily at quality since transitioning into a bullpen role in 2019. Last season he appeared in 39 games for the Tigers, tossing 49 2/3 innings with a 5.07 ERA / 3.96 FIP. Holland’s time with Triple-A Worcester hasn’t been smooth, as he has a 5.79 ERA and six walks over 9 1/3 innings.
- Steven Souza Jr.OF, Mariners: Due to an ugly knee injury and some struggles at the plate, Souza hasn’t been a truly productive big leaguer since 2017. Looking to revive his career with the Mariners, Souza has hit .200 / .383 /. 333 over 60 PA with Triple-A Tacoma.
- Kevin Pillar, OF, Dodgers: This season marks Pillar’s first taste of Triple-A ball since 2014, and the veteran outfielder is overmatching pitchers to the tune of a .313 / .415 / .627 slash line over 82 plate appearances. One would imagine this performance will earn Pillar a look in Los Angeles or perhaps another team if the Dodgers do not select his contract. Pillar’s minor league deal guarantees him a $ 2.5MM salary if he receives a big league call-up, which could be a factor for a Dodgers club that may be trying to stay under the third tier ($ 270MM) of the luxury tax threshold.
- Cam Bedrosian, RHP, Phillies: After signing a minor league deal with Philadelphia last July, Bedrosian posted a 4.35 ERA over 10 1/3 innings with the club despite recording almost as many walks (seven) as strikeouts (eight). The righty inked a new minors deal with the Phillies over the winter but has yet to pitch this season due to injury.
- Shelby Miller, RHP, Yankees: The former All-Star pitched well with the Cubs ‘and Pirates’ Triple-A affiliates in 2021, and he has kept up that strong Triple-A performance now working as a full-time reliever. Over eight innings for Scranton / Wilkes-Barres, Miller has a 2.25 ERA with outstanding strikeout (31.3%) and walk (3.1%) rates. He also hasn’t allowed any homers, a notable stat for a pitcher who has had great trouble containing the long ball over the last few seasons.
- Matt Carpenter, INF, Rangers: Carpenter got a late start to Spring Training, and upon Opening Day, he expressed a desire to take the necessary time to get himself up to speed. Through 52 plate appearances in Triple-A, Carpenter has slashed an improved .239 / .327 / .457 with a pair of home runs. While not standout numbers, they are an improvement over the .203 / .235 / .346 slash line Carpenter posted in 901 PA from 2019-21 with the Cardinals.
- Carlos Martinez, RHP, Giants: Another former Cardinal looking for a fresh start, Martinez has yet to pitch for Triple-A Sacramento, as he is still rehabbing from the thumb surgery he underwent last July. With injuries and a nasty bout of COVID-19 factoring into matters, Martinez has only a 6.95 ERA over 102 1/3 big league innings since the start of the 2020 season.
- Keone Kela, RHP, Diamondbacks: Kela has also been ravaged by injuries over the last two seasons, including Tommy John surgery last May. Given the usual TJ recovery timeline, Kela isn’t likely to be a factor for the D’Backs until at least midseason.
Of course, players remain free to negotiate additional out clauses into their minor league contracts. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports, for instance, that lefty Adam Morgan has an opt-out provision in his contract with the Astros today. Morgan does not have enough service time to qualify as an Article XX (B) free agent, but he’ll nevertheless have the opportunity to become a free agent Sunday if he does not like his chances of eventually being added to Houston’s roster.