Reality checks: MLB veterans hope one-year deals lead to major payoff

Shelby Miller, who signed with the Dodgers this offseason, prefers the flexibility of one-year contracts as a 10-year major leaguer. “I don’t want to be locked down on a second-year option,” the veteran pitcher said. (Photo by John Cascella/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Hundreds of free agents enter the open market every offseason, with willing teams emptying their pockets to pay for their services.

For premier ballplayers, teams offer multi-year deals for hundreds of millions of dollars. During the 2022-23 offseason, nine players signed multi-year contracts worth more than $100 million.

But not every veteran is fortunate to receive a lucrative offer, instead having to settle for smaller one-year contracts at the cost of less financial risk for Major League Baseball teams.

“For us as coaches, we just hope to get the most out of the talent,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “If a pitcher has a good year and is playing for a contract, it should benefit the ballclub. You want guys to be motivated for individual numbers, and I don’t discourage that at all.”

There’s the other side of the one-year deal, too, and it’s up to the players and their agents to figure out what’s best for them.

Betting on the long term

Named an NL Rookie of the Year finalist in 2013 and an All-Star in 2015, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Shelby Miller has been unable to recapture the dominating performances he once experienced earlier in his career.

Now, as a 32-year-old major league veteran, Miller is on the back half of his career with his fourth team since 2019 and is finding alternatives to playing longer while also trying to find his former success.

Related story

Over the offseason, Miller turned down multiple multi-year offers to sign a one-year, $1.5 million contract with L.A. and keep his options open after the season.

“I had offers from different teams that had player or team options, but at this point in my career, if I go out and have a good year, I don’t want to be locked down on a second-year option,” Miller said. “I want to pitch to the best of my abilities and see what happens.”

Using this strategy has worked out for veterans in securing long-term deals in past years.

In 2021, Robbie Ray signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays before earning All-Star honors, led the AL in ERA and won the AL Cy Young Award. The Seattle Mariners offered him a five-year, $115 million deal last offseason.

In Arizona for spring training, Miller’s sole focus is being the best pitcher he can be for the Dodgers to also strengthen his future contract negotiations.

“Every year, I want to stay healthy. I want to have a strong spring training and signing here. I expect big things, and I want to help the team out however I can,” Miller said. “I’m focusing on pitching and getting guys out, and we’ll go from there.”

The road back to the majors

Minor league deals offer MLB players another way to sign a one-year contract, however, players who play only receive a fully guaranteed salary if they make the major league roster before opening day.

Veterans may take this route after earning a demotion to the minors in previous seasons or if their options are limited in free agency.

San Francisco Giants outfielder Stephen Piscotty is an eight-year veteran who had success at the beginning of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals and Athletics. In recent years he has struggled at the plate and, in 2022, split his time between the Athletics and their minor league affiliates.

After becoming a free agent this offseason, Piscotty signed a minor league deal with the Giants and entered this year’s spring training fighting for a big league roster spot.

“I feel like signing with the Giants gives me an opportunity to learn more about myself, and they’ve already been working with me early in camp to improve and to get back in the big leagues,” Piscotty said.

Piscotty aims to create the same success some veterans have had on minor-league deals in recent seasons.

Third baseman Matt Carpenter was signed to a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers heading into last year’s spring training. After an impressive spring and a great start to the minor league season, Carpenter was released from the Rangers and immediately signed a big league contract with the New York Yankees.

Carpenter became a key piece for the Yankees in 2022, hitting .305 with 15 home runs in 47 games, and signed a new two-year deal worth $12 million with the San Diego Padres in the offseason.

Piscotty wants to follow in Carpenter’s footsteps this season.

“I think this is one of the best opportunities to get back into the majors,” Piscotty said. “When you get a sense from the team that they still believe in you, it’s a good feeling, and I’m going to run with that.”

As a Kelso, Washington native, Oakland Athletics reliever Trevor May couldn't pass on the opportunity to player closer to his hometown on a one-year deal worth $7 million. (Photo by Brooklyn Hall/Cronkite News)

As a Kelso, Washington native, Oakland Athletics reliever Trevor May couldn’t pass on the opportunity to player closer to his hometown on a one-year deal worth $7 million. (Photo by Brooklyn Hall/Cronkite News)

Closer to home

Washington state native Trevor May has spent his eight-year career living hundreds of miles away from home while playing for the Minnesota Twins and New York Mets.

For the first time since being drafted in 2008, the 33-year-old relief pitcher can pitch on the West Coast full time after signing a one-year, $7 million contract with the Oakland Athletics in December.

“A lot of things went into signing a one-year (contract) this year. A lot of it had to do with where I wanted to be, and I’ve never played on the West Coast,” May said. “That was more important than I anticipated going into the offseason, and over time my wife and I really wanted that to happen.”

Growing up in Kelso, Washington, located two hours away from T-Mobile Park in Seattle, May always looks forward to pitching against the Mariners.

In his career, he has appeared in five games in the Emerald City, and now pitching for the A’s in the same division as the Mariners, the schedule will present more opportunities to return to where he earned 3A State Player of the Year.

The Athletics will play in Seattle seven times during the 2023 season providing ample opportunities for the veteran to show off in front of the hometown crowd.

“I have a lot of friends that I have made over a decade ago, and they have never seen me play. It’s always different when they’re at the park, and I’m running out onto the mound against the only team they have ever watched,” May said.

“It’s going to be interesting to have friends and family not only watch me play against the Mariners, but it’s a quick flight down to Oakland.”

Lucas Gordon LOO-kiss GORE-din
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Lucas Gordon expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business and digital audiences. Gordon has interned at The Arizona Republic.

John Cascella jahn kuh-SELL-uh (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

John Cascella expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Cascella has done photography for The State Press and freelance work covering the Arizona Complex League and Arizona Fall League.