What Does a Pitcher Option Mean for a Baseball Player?

When a baseball player signs a contract with a professional sports team, he or she usually has to agree to a “Pitcher’s Option,” which gives the team the right to choose which pitcher will be used to start a new game. The name comes from the fact that these options are often exercised by a team’s general manager, who is most responsible for choosing the starting pitchers. When these options are exercised by the club, the player is said to be “pitching for” or “under contract to” the team with the option.

When Can a Pitcher Option Be Exercised?

To be clear, this is not the same as a literal “Pitcher’s Option” that gives the team the right to choose the actual pitcher. Instead, a team has the option to “pitch for” (or “under contract to”) a pitcher when it signs him or her, but the specific timing is up to the team. For example, if a team signs a pitcher in December, it has the option to use him or her in the starting rotation in April, or it can hold off and use him or her in September or October.

In most cases, the team has from the start of spring training to the end of the MLB regular season to decide which pitcher it will use to start the majority of its games. Depending on the length of the contract, this can be as little as a few days in March or as long as all of September.

What Do Pitching For and Under Contract To Mean?

The specific meaning of the terms pitching for and under contract to can vary from situation to situation but typically refers to the specific team the player is playing for (pitching for in this case) or the team that signed the player to the contract (under contract to in this case).

If a player is not currently under contract with a team, he or she is considered a free agent and can negotiate contracts with any team. However, if a player is under contract with a team, that team has the right to negotiate and modify the contract as it sees fit.

What If a Pitcher Is Not Available?

If a team decides it does not want to use a specific pitcher in its upcoming games, it can “opt out” of the contract or “exercise its right of refusal” on the pitcher. In these cases, the team can either release the player or trade him or her, as they are no longer bound by the contract. A common scenario when a team decides not to “opt in” (i.e., does not “pitch for” or “under contract to” a specific pitcher) is when the starting pitcher for the team gets injured or fails to perform up to expectations during the season.

If a team does not “opt in” or “exercise its right of refusal” on a pitcher, he or she becomes a free agent at the end of the MLB regular season and can negotiate contracts with any team.

What About Injured Pitchers?

If a pitcher gets injured during the season, his or her contract is often considered “obligatory” or “binding” in terms of whether they have to actually pitch or not. However, if a pitcher gets injured after the season has already started, the specific terms of his or her contract might not apply. In these situations, it is usually up to the team to decide whether or not to pitch the injured pitcher.

More Than One Pitcher Option

In order to keep things simple, a lot of times a team will have only one option for each pitcher it signs. However, if a team decides that it wants to give its fans and its opponents a change to see which pitcher is going to pitch, it can specify that there is more than one option for a specific pitcher. For example, if a team decides to give its fans and opposing players a brief run-in with each of its starting pitchers in an effort to determine which one is the best, it might specify that Bartolo Colon is pitching for the New York Mets and Dwight Gooden is pitching for the New York Yankees.

Although this can make for an interesting story, specifying that there is more than one option for a specific player is not something that is usually done in standard contract negotiations. If a team decides to give its fans and opponents a change to see which pitcher is the best, it usually has to compensate its players fairly for this extra game or outing. Otherwise, the team could be forced to start another pitcher due to injury or ineffectiveness.

When Is the Best Time to “Pitch For” or “Under Contract To” A Pitcher?

If you are a fan of the New York Yankees, it might be a good idea to “pitch for” Bartolo Colon in the spring, since he is clearly the best starting pitcher available, and it is far from certain that the team will use him in any way. However, if you are a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, it might be worth having a word with management about using Cliff Lee in the spring, as he would be a good fit for their divisional foes, the New York Yankees. In other words, it is always best to know which baseball team you are rooting for before the start of the season.

When it comes to negotiating the contracts of baseball players, a lot goes into it. A team will want to make sure it gets the best possible terms and conditions for a game that could potentially determine the direction of their season. Before the season starts, it is always a good idea to check out the history books and see which teams were successful in securing options for their pitchers, since it is usually less stressful for all parties concerned if the contracts are negotiated before the season starts. The best team for this task is obviously John McGraw’s famous and successful New York Giants, who had a record number of options for their pitchers and managed to secure a World Series title in 1937. The history books say it best: “Without question, the best contract negotiation team in baseball history was the New York Giants.”