Generally, a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training guarantees that and only that. However, the collective bargaining agreement, renegotiated in late 2011, created a new, albeit small, tier of free agents. Lyle Overbay, whom the Red Sox signed to a minor-league deal before spring training opened, is one such free agent. Because of this, he has the option to opt-out of his contract with the Red Sox as soon as Tuesday, rather than when Opening Day rosters are announced. Baseball America's Matt Eddy explains:
Beginning with last year's class, any Article XX(B) major league free agent who accepts a minor league deal is entitled to three automatic contract clauses: 1) he must be told five days prior to Opening Day-that's March 26 this year-whether or not he will make the 25-man active roster, 2) if he does not ask for his release and consents to open the season in Triple-A, then he will receive a $100,000 "retention bonus," and 3) if he's still in Triple-A on June 1, then he can opt out of his minor league contract so that he can sign with another organization.
So, if Overbay still thinks that there is a clear path to playing often in Boston even if he does not begin the season on the big-league roster, he can collect $100,000 and wait for the call to come up I-95, then leave on June 1 should that opportunity never present itself. Given that there are other teams in more immediate and pressing need of first base help, however, Overbay might prefer taking his chances on free agency once more as soon as tomorrow. While $100,000 is a decent guarantee and monetary apology for a minor-league stay, it's also about five times less than what he would make if the Brewers signed him to, say, a big-league deal for the league minimum. As their current starting first baseman is shortstop Alex Gonzalez, there's a real good chance they would want to get reacquainted with the first baseman they were chasing even before Mat Gamel's injury.
Then there are the Yankees, who are still a possible fit for Overbay even after acquiring Vernon Wells from the Angels, a move that pushes outfielder Juan Rivera as a first base option. Overbay might not be the bat he used to be, but if they just want someone to help the infield defense out who might also benefit from the park's lefty-friendly dimensions, he could fit the bill.
We won't have to wait long to find out what Overbay or the Sox intend, but even this small matter will bring some clarity to the Opening Day picture. If Boston is keeping Overbay around, it likely means Mike Carp is on the way out, which in turn could open up the 40-man spot needed to put Overbay on the roster. The opposite, of course, would also shed light on Boston's plans for April 1.