CODNP Day 52: Matt Carpenter and the Case of the Vesting Options

No matter what happens with the season, whether it is cancelled or just significantly shortened, there’s going to be a whole lot made out of vesting options for certain players.  For anyone unaware, you can have a team option, where the team decides whether to pick up the option year of a contract, a player option, which gives the player the power to choose, or a vesting option.  Vesting options happen when certain criteria are met, such as games played or innings pitched.  (They can’t be performance-based, though.  No vesting if a player has an ERA under 4.00 or hits 30 homers.)

Obviously, all of these sort of options are based on a 162-game schedule.  Depending on the contract, the bars may be where they can be reached in a shorter season, but many would need a full season to be reached.  Which brings us to Matt Carpenter.

Here’s the language for Carpenter’s contract, per Cot’s:

  • 20:$18.5M, 21:$18.5M, 22:$18.5M club option ($2M buyout)
  • 2022 option guaranteed with 1,100 plate appearances in 2020-21 combined, including 550 PA in 2021
  • no-trade protection, 2020-22

Now, when Carpenter signed this extension, 1100 plate appearances for the two years didn’t likely seem completely out of reach, though it wasn’t a gimme by any means, especially since he couldn’t load up with them in ’20 and be covered if he got injured in ’21.  After all, before 2019 he’d not had less than 560 plate appearances in any year since 2012 and usually he was well over 600 or so.  Leading off and staying healthy will do that for you.

With the cratering that we saw in 2019, there might have been some issues getting to the vesting level even with a regular season.  Carpenter was obviously not going to be leading off and probably would hit fifth or sixth more regularly.  Without a bounceback, Tommy Edman likely would have spelled him more in the field as well and we’d have seen more like what we did last year, when he finished with 492 plate appearances.  (Part of that was a stint on the IL, but even without that he’d have been borderline for that 550 PA level.)

That’s if things were normal, though, and things are decidedly not normal.  It feels like a best-case scenario gets 100 games in and given that the season likely wouldn’t start until late June/early July, 100 might be a bit optimistic.  But with 100 games, it’s likely he’ll only get 400 or so plate appearances, maybe less, meaning that he’d have to reach 700 plate appearances in 2021 to automatically come back for the 2022 season.  Carpenter got just over 700 PA in 2013 and 2014, but he was a different player and situations were significantly different then.

So it feels like there’s no real chance for him to vest his option.  (In case you are wondering, he’s not the only one in a situation like this.  Andrew Miller will have his option for 2021 guaranteed if he throws in 37 games in 2020, which would still seem possible even with a shortened season.  Then there are performance bonuses like Adam Wainwright, Brad Miller, and others have, which will create some similar issues.)  It’s not his fault that he can’t, though.  Even if Carpenter was still MVP level, there’s no way to reach those bonuses because MLB isn’t going to have enough games this year.

Are there grievances going to be filed on this?  You can almost guarantee that to be the case, especially if the entire season gets wiped out and nobody even has a chance to try for these sorts of things.  How do you figure a what-if, though?  If there is a season, do you prorate based on the number of games they did play?  So, for instance, if the MLB season was 100 games and Carpenter gets 350 plate appearances in that, does he get credit for 567 plate appearances?  I mean, odds are usage patterns and things like that are going to be different in a condensed schedule with a significant number of double headers, but on the flip side there will be more options with expanded rosters.

It doesn’t feel right, for example, that Andrew Miller could throw 36 games in this strange sort of season and not get his option picked up because he never got the opportunity for number 37.  If a player is hurt, that is understandable, but this is no fault of their own.  That said, you know the owners are going to want to stick to the letter of the law because 1) it saves them money and 2) it can get them away from more undesirable players.  I am sure, unless we see a very different Carpenter in whatever form 2020 takes on, the Cards don’t want to pay him $18.5 million in 2022.

These are things that probably won’t be settled before the season starts (if it does–it looks promising now but I’m seeing the rise of COVID-19 cases in places like Georgia and DC and you wonder if we are starting to see a second wave of things) but at some point there going to be some very interesting, very passionate discussions about this topic and it’s going to be very interesting to see how it shakes out.

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