Picture this for a late-offseason shake-up: The reigning American League MVP becomes a free agent.
Admittedly, it’s almost certainly not going to happen. But FanGraphs’ Nathaniel Grow published a piece earlier this week in which he examines how Mike Trout actually might be able to opt out of his contract with the Los Angeles Angels and become a free agent based on a relatively obscure provision under California law.
Trout has four years and about $122 million remaining on his contract, which doesn’t include an opt-out clause, but Section 2855 of the California Labor Code, as Grow points out, limits all personal services contracts — i.e., employment contracts — in the state to a maximum length of seven years. This seemingly means that if someone signs an employment contract in the state of California lasting eight or more years, then after the seventh year, that employee is free to choose whether to continue honoring the agreement or to opt out and seek employment elsewhere.
The whole thing is much more complicated, obviously. And it’s entirely possible that no athlete has chosen to invoke the obscure law because of the long, drawn-out legal battle that inevitably would ensue. But Trout, who signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension before the 2014 Major League Baseball season, has been with the Angels since they drafted him in the first round (25th overall) in 2009. Theoretically, he might have a way out of L.A. immediately if he so chooses.
Here’s an excerpt from Grow’s piece for FanGraphs, which definitely is worth a read:
Although the California legislature has previously considered eliminating this protection for certain professional athletes – including Major League Baseball players – no such amendment has passed to date. Consequently, Section 2855 would presumptively apply to any player employed by one of the five major-league teams residing in California.
The most straightforward application of the California law to MLB would be the case of a free-agent player signing a contract lasting more than seven years (think Albert Pujols). Under the law, the player would be legally obligated to honor his contract for the first seven years, but after that would have the right to opt-out at anytime. As long as the player remained happy with the terms of his agreement, he would continue to receive the salary specified in his contract. However, should the player choose to opt-out after seven years, he would once again become a free agent.
Under no circumstances would the player’s team have the right to opt-out of the contract, though; employers remain bound for the entire duration of an employment agreement under the law, so long as the employee continues to honor the contract (sorry Angels fans).
Of course, Trout has given no indication that he plans to leave the Angels when he’s a free agent, let alone today, tomorrow or at some point this offseason. It’s still an incredibly intriguing possibility, though, because Trout’s new contract undoubtedly would be historic.
Trout, who’s just 25 years old, is hands-down the best player in baseball. He already has won two MVP awards and has finished as the runner-up on three separate occasions through his first five big league seasons. With Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins signing a 13-year, $325 million deal before the 2015 season — the highest total value for an MLB contract to date — it’s reasonable to think Trout could land a deal in excess of $400 million or $500 million if he hit the open market right now.
Could you imagine that bidding war?
Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images