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It is generally accepted that Jose Bautista played his last home game for the Toronto Blue Jays this past weekend (2017-09-24) since the Jays are not expected to pick up their end of the mutual option on his contract (too expensive given on-field results this year).

Assuming that happens, does he just become a "normal" free agent in the sense that he can shop around and accept an offer from any team -- including Toronto if they make an offer that is acceptable to him?

Essentially, does anything in the CBA or other MLB rules prevent the Jays from signing him for terms other than those outlined in the mutual option?

  • I assume there he is an unrestricted free agent, and would be free to resign with the Jays for whatever they might offer. Declining the option isn't an indication that you don't want to sign a player; you just don't want to sign him for the value of the option. Maybe Toronto declines the option, thinking they could resign him for $10M/year (outbidding any other potential teams in the process), but someone calls their bluff and offers Bautista $17M. Do the Blue Jays go over the original $17M they could have paid? Unknown and unlikely, but not impossible. – chepner Sep 26 '17 at 17:44
  • Just to put a bit of relevant background to the question, there are cases where paying a buyout prohibits a player being re-signed to his original team (the NBA, in particular). It's usually in cap situations where the buyout removes cap money (so it's possible that a team might circumvent the salary cap by doing a buyout and re-signing for a more cap friendly contract). Not applicable to MLB, but that's what makes it an interesting question. – Joe Sep 27 '17 at 15:12
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There is no language in the CBA preventing a player from signing with a team after an option is not exercised.

A few examples of this:

  • Adam Laroche in 2013 declined his half of a mutual option, and then re-signed with Washington.
  • Alex Gordon declined his option for 2016 and re-signed with the Royals that year.
  • Jonathan Broxton had his option declined by the St. Louis Cardinals for 2016, but then re-signed with the team.

The latter (a team declining an option and then re-signing) is much less common than the former (a player declining an option and then re-signing), because often a team declining an option is a result of a player either being injured or aging poorly; on the other hand, players decline options because their value exceeds the option value, meaning their old team has an incentive to bid on their services.

Mutual options are well covered by Fangraphs' article on the subject.

  • For that matter, a player can sign a new contract agreeing to terminate his old contract at any time, subject to approval by the owners and/or grievance by the player's association. – Patrick Szalapski Jan 16 '18 at 20:03

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