Could a little-known California law allow Mike Trout to become a free agent? – CBSSports.com
By any objective measure, Angels center fielder Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet right now. He just won his second AL MVP award and could have five. As it stands, he has two MVPs and three second-place finishes. And he just turned 25 in August.
Trout signed a six-year contract extension worth $144.5 million with the Angels in 2014, keeping him in Anaheim through 2020. Had he passed on the extension, Trout would have been eligible for free agency following the 2017 season. Imagine that bidding war.
Over at FanGraphs, the great Nathaniel Grow examines a little-known California law that could allow Trout to opt into free agency right now, even though his contract runs through 2020. Grow’s entire post is worth a read, but here’s a snippet with some details on the law:
A relatively obscure provision under California law — specifically, Section 2855 of the California Labor Code — limits all personal services contracts (i.e., employment contracts) in the state to a maximum length of seven years. In other words, this means that if an individual were to sign an employment contract in California lasting eight or more years, then at the conclusion of the seventh year the employee would be free to choose to either continue to honor the agreement, or else opt out and seek employment elsewhere.
Although the California legislature has previously considered eliminating this protection for certain professional athletes – including Major League Baseball players – no such amendment has passed to date. Consequently, Section 2855 would presumptively apply to any player employed by one of the five major-league teams residing in California.
The provision has been applied to workers who were bound by a series of one-year contracts, such as baseball players in their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible years, so it isn’t limited to long-term contracts.
Any baseball player who has been employed by one of the five California-based teams for the past seven years could, in theory, pursue free agency via Section 2855. That means anyone drafted or signed in 2009 or earlier, such as Trout. The law would also apply to other players like Clayton Kershaw and Buster Posey.
So why hasn’t any player pursued free agency through this provision? Grow lists a few reasons, most notably the inevitable legal battle that would occur. Such a legal fight would be lengthy and costly. Also, the law is so obscure many agents might not know it exists. And how many players are continuously employed by one team for seven years anyway? Not many.
Needless to say, neither Major League Baseball nor any of the other major sports wants to see Section 2855 applied to their players. It would set a dangerous precedent — after spending time in the minors, players could theoretically use Section 2855 to become free agents before accruing the six years of service time necessary for MLB free agency — and put the California teams at a competitive disadvantage.
That’s why the team, very likely with MLB’s full support, would challenge Section 2855 in court should a player attempt to use it to become a free agent. It wouldn’t even take a star like Trout using Section 2855 to begin a legal battle. It’s a precedent the league doesn’t want to set. A long-tenured bench player could try to opt into free agency and he would face a lot of opposition.
Part of me wonders whether super agent Scott Boras, who himself operates out of California, would one day attempt to use Section 2855 for one of his high-profile clients. He presumably has the resources for a legal battle, and if successful, both Boras and his clients would benefit greatly. At same time, it’s possible Boras’ advisors have informed this is an unwinnable battle.
For now, it’s fun to imagine Trout forgoing the final four seasons on his contract and becoming a free agent right now, which would spark the mother of all bidding wars. My guess is he would end up signing for over $500 million. Historically great players don’t set new contract records by a few million. They shatter them.