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The opt-out clause that changed Red Sox history

When the Red Sox tried to trade for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, the team was fully prepared to let him walk if he opted out after the 2007 season.AP

As the baseball world wrestles with the question of the wisdom of giving hundred-million-dollar players the right to opt out of their deals in an effort to jump back onto the open market, it's worth recalling that modern Red Sox history was and is framed in many ways by the opt-out.

Scott Lauber points out that David Price's deal is not the first dalliance for the Red Sox into the world of opt-outs. When the Red Sox tried to trade for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, Lauber writes, the team was fully prepared to let him walk if he opted out after the 2007 season.


Yet Lauber's observation doesn't tell the entire story. In their courtship of Rodriguez – whom the Sox wanted to acquire from the Rangers in exchange for Manny Ramirez and Jon Lester after the 2003 season – the Red Sox were far more aggressive in trying to use an opt-out as a negotiating tool, and perhaps a risk-management mechanism, than any team before or since.

As noted in Gordon Edes' memorable examination of the breakdown of the Rodriguez trade from 2003, the Red Sox tried to get the MLB Players Association to approve a roughly $4 million a year reduction in Rodriguez's salary by giving him the "added benefit" of the right to opt out of his deal after the 2005 season and every year thereafter, along with certain marketing rights that would involve the use of the team logo.

The MLBPA, Edes wrote, did not believe that the opt-out represented a significant added benefit at a time when Rodriguez was the highest-paid player in the game, and thus vetoed the deal. While the Red Sox and Rodriguez had assigned a value of roughly $15 million to that early opt-out right, the MLBPA saw otherwise. Thus, Rodriguez didn't come to Boston and instead went to New York; Ramirez and Lester didn't go to Texas, and instead became central figures in three championships with the Sox.


There's a good chance that the Players Association still would take a critical view of any deal that reduced a player's guaranteed salary, and so it's far from a slam dunk to say that, had the Red Sox' pursuit of Rodriguez occurred now instead of in 2003, it would have culminated with the largest lightning rod in baseball history in a Red Sox uniform. Still, it's now clear that there's significant value attached to the right to opt out.

Eno Sarris of Fangraphs recently estimated Price's opt-out value at about $10 million.

Jason Heyward – whose age profile made him somewhat similar to Rodriguez in 2003 – recently left reported offers of $200 million or more on the table in order to sign an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Cubs that included multiple opt-outs. The value of those opt-outs, then, could be viewed as being worth at least $16 million – the precise amount that the Red Sox suggested they were worth when trying to alter Rodriguez's deal.

The architect of Heyward's contract? Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who had also played a central role in the negotiations with Rodriguez.

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.