MLB Offseason Fan Guide: Dates, Rules, Terms

Baseball’s offseason is upon us, and a look at all of the changes that will occur across baseball shows much the casual fan would not be aware’s Anthony Castrovince has a guide to offseason dates, rules and terms. Check out the complete guide HERE

Full guide to offseason dates, rules, terms

When does free agency begin?

Officially, players become free agents the day after the conclusion of the World Series. However, they cannot sign with a new team until five days after the conclusion of the World Series. So while teams are able to reach out to player representatives, the five-day period serves as an exclusive window in which teams can retain their departing free agents. Quite often, this is a period with very little activity.

What about trades?

Trades involving players signed to Major League contracts are prohibited from the Trade Deadline to the conclusion of the World Series. The trade market opens up again the day after the World Series finale.

What is a contract ‘option’?

An option is a potential extension to a player contract, negotiated at the time the contract is signed. If the option is not exercised, the player becomes a free agent.

A “club option” means the team has the full authority to decide whether the option will be exercised. Often, this type of option includes a buyout if it is not exercised, meaning the club must pay the player a negotiated fraction of the value of the option year. So if the team has determined the player’s performance will not merit the value of the option, it can pay the buyout instead, allowing the player to become a free agent.

Another form of option is the “player option” in which the player is the one who determines whether or not to exercise the option year.

A “mutual option” can only be exercised if the team and player both agree to it.

A “vesting option” is a negotiated option that only becomes guaranteed if the player reaches certain defined statistical thresholds in the previous season. (Typically, these are based on plate appearances, innings, games played or games finished.)

When must options be exercised?

Within five days of the conclusion of the World Series.

What is an ‘opt-out’?

A negotiated contract provision in which a player can opt out of his remaining contract and become a free agent. Opt-outs have become more commonplace in contracts in recent years, and they are a means for players to potentially cash in if they perform well in the initial years of a contract.

What is a qualifying offer?

A qualifying offer is a means by which teams can receive Draft-pick compensation should a particular departing free agent sign with another club.

Teams can only receive compensation if they have made a qualifying offer to the free agent, and such an offer can only be made to players who have never received a qualifying offer previously in their career and who were on the team’s roster for the entirety of the previous season (i.e., were not acquired via trade midseason).

The qualifying offer is a one-year offer worth the mean salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players. This value changes by the year. For the 2021-22 offseason, the value is $18.4 million. Teams have until 5 p.m. ET on Sunday (Nov. 7) to give a qualifying offer to eligible free agents, and the players have until 10 days after that to accept or reject.

What is the deadline for offering and accepting or rejecting a qualifying offer?

Teams have until five days after the World Series to extend a qualifying offer to their free agents. The players who receive the offer then have 10 days to decide whether or not to take it. If they reject it, they are immediately eligible to sign with another team.

What is salary arbitration?

Players with three or more years but less than six years of Major League service time are eligible for salary arbitration if they do not already have a contract in place for the upcoming season. Players with less than three but more than two years of service can also qualify if they meet a certain service-time threshold that changes by the year (these are known as Super Two players).


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David Keech
Author: David Keech

David Keech is a math teacher in Wisconsin Rapids and public address announcer for Abbotsord High School. He officiates basketball, baseball, and softball in central Wisconsin. He has reported on amateur sports since 2011, known as 'KeechDaVoice.' David can be reached at [email protected]