Vernon Wells And The Hilarious Opt-Out Clause

TORONTO,CANADA - Vernon Wells #10 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim drives the ball against the Toronto Blue Jays. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Vernon Wells has an opt-out clause in his contract, in case you weren't aware. He's due $63 million for the next three years, which is probably what he could make on the open market, provided he invents something that ends up being worth $61 million. As far as being paid to play baseball, he probably wouldn't make quite that much.

I guess all we can do is wait to see if he opts out.

We'll just wait.

...

I'm actually thinking he's not going to exercise it. He intimated as much to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

"I’m not thinking about that. I wasn’t planning on using it," Wells said.

Well, there goes that idea. It would have been something for the Angels to suddenly have $21 million extra to spend this offseason, but it turns out Wells isn't going to play along. It's a talk-radio favorite to suggest that a player should opt out of a lucrative, awful contract for the good of the team. The arguments are usually:

  • C'mon
  • Please?
  • For the good of the team
  • You have enough money
  • C'mon

As persuasive as those arguments are, they never convince the player to void or restructure the contract. For one, the union would scream bloody murder. Even if Barry Zito wanted to turn his contract into a six-year succession of $500K team options, there would be a huge amount of pressure on him to leave his existing deal in place.

But ultimately it's not the union's call. Wells can refuse the millions and millions of dollars he has coming to him. He really can. And he really won't.  The only rational response: good for Wells.

There will be Angels fans who will be upset with Wells for not opting out. Because c'mon, for the the good of the team, and Vernon Wells has enough money. Strong arguments, all. This isn't unique to Wells, either. Every player with a bad contract can expect to hear something similar. Zito should agree to a buyout because he hasn't lived up to expectations. Alfonso Soriano should just retire. 

But the thing to remember is this: teams don't pay underpaid players more when they perform better than expected. When Zito won his Cy Young Award for the A's, he was paid just a tick under $300,000. At no point did the A's give him a few million extra tucked inside a "Keep up the good work!" greeting card. Maybe that's because the A's can't even afford to pay for sodas.

It works like that for every team, though. When Vernon Wells finished 8th in the AL MVP voting for the Blue Jays, making $500,000, there wasn't a groundswell of sentiment suggesting that the Jays should forego free agents and give retroactive performance-based awards to Wells instead because it was only fair. 

It's good for fans when players are underpaid. When Freddie Freeman was scheduled to start as a minimum-salaried rookie, that meant the Braves could afford a multi-million dollar Dan Uggla. The Braves improved at both positions as a result. Everybody wins! Except for Freeman. And that doesn't bother anyone. Except for maybe Freeman.

The downside to that, though, is that teams will always have to wear the bad, ugly contracts. And the fans will have to wear those contracts, too. Don't be mad at Vernon Wells for not opting out, Angels fans. Be mad at the Blue Jays for giving it to him in the first place. Be mad at the system that encourages indentured servitude before a player can be paid based on his performance.

And, you know, be mad at Tony Reagins for actually trading for him after the Blue Jays gave him all that money. That certainly didn't help. But Wells is holding a team to their obligations just as the team would expect from him. He won't earn his money, but he'll deserve it.

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