The Darren Oliver Dilemma

Courtesy of Zimbio

In a three short years, Alex Anthopoulos has inked numerous players to team-friendly contracts. More often than not, those deals have worked in favour of the Blue Jays (think Bautista, Janssen, Encarnacion), but who ever thought the day would come when signing someone to a team-friendly contract would actually work against them?

Such is the case with Darren Oliver.

After toying with the notion of heading off into the sunset of retirement, apparently Oliver is willing to come back to the Blue Jays for the 2013 season, but only if they give him a raise from his $3 million dollar option.


I mean, I can’t really blame the guy for wanting to get paid. After all, Darren Oliver had a career best season in 2012 and was a steal at a mere $4 million dollar salary, and would be an even bigger bargain at his $3 million dollar option for 2013.

Oliver was initially brought in as a lefty specialist, but handled both left and right-handed batters equally well in 2012. Darren very quickly became a mainstay in the Blue Jays bullpen, shedding himself of the LOOGY title and reinvented himself as an all-around solid reliever.

However, the million dollar question is … does Darren Oliver deserve more money to stay in Toronto? The simple answer: no.

It’s not fair for Darren Oliver to make a ultimatum towards the Blue Jays like that. He can’t use retirement as leverage to get the money he wants from the Blue Jays, and he can’t use it end up with his swan song team, the Texas Rangers either.

Darren Oliver signed a one-year contract with a team option last year, and he should fulfill that commitment. Say Darren Oliver signed a two-year contract instead and completely faltered, could the Blue Jays renegotiate the remained of the contract to pay Oliver less money?

Of course not. Contracts just do not work that way in baseball.

At the time when he signed the contract, perhaps Darren Oliver never thought he’d have the season he did in 2012 and fully expected to retire at season’s end. But if he wanted to guarantee himself an exit strategy, he should have only signed a one-year deal or at least make the option a player option.

When players sign contracts with options near the end of their career, they have to at least entertain the possibility that option will be picked up; no matter how well or how poorly the previous season goes.

If the Blue Jays do in fact agree to pay Darren Oliver the additional money he’s looking for, think of the dangerous precedent that sets for the rest of the team. Suddenly, maybe Jose Bautista feels his $14 million per season isn’t enough money. Renegotiating with Oliver just opens the door to all kinds of problems down the road.


The other issue here is Darren Oliver has now given all the leverage to
the Texas Rangers in a potential trade. In any other instance, a team
would likely get a decent package in return for one year of a reliever
the calibre of Darren Oliver. But now, the Blue Jays hands are tied and will basically have to take whatever they can get in return.

You can now see why Alex Anthopoulos prefers to deal within his coveted cone of silence. If all this remains behind closed doors, maybe a deal gets done more amicably and Darren Oliver gets what he ultimately wants and goes to the Rangers, while the Blue Jays receive fair compensation for his services.

Now that the Darren Oliver dilemma has hit the media, it’s changed the entire dynamic of the situation and gives Oliver and the Texas Rangers all the power.

In reality, another 1 or 2 million for Darren Oliver isn’t all that much on top of what will like be around a $120 million dollar payroll for the Blue Jays. And that’s not to say Oliver isn’t worth it; if anything, I’d say he’s actually worth more than the additional one million or so he’s asking for.

If it truly is a money issue, the Blue Jays could certainly find some
extra cash under the mattress, despite how cash-strapped they are letting on
to be. I think it’s about much more than that though, and it’s really about a promise Darren Oliver made to the Blue Jays, so to speak.

There’s no question it would be great for the Blue Jays to have Darren Oliver back to shore up the back end of the bullpen for 2013. The issue here is Oliver signed a contract and he should intend on keeping that promise.


As a 19 year veteran, Darren Oliver has certainly earned the right to
call the shots close to the finish line of his career. But is this really
how Oliver wants to end his career? By giving the Blue Jays an ultimatum
to either pay him more or to trade him to his hometown Texas Rangers?

all for players having a storybook ending to their career, but there’s
something about this that just doesn’t seem right.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

13 thoughts on “The Darren Oliver Dilemma

  • January 4, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    A tad presumptuous for Oliver to assume that a trade with the Rangers is possible. I'm sure they want him but do they need him and do they have someone of value they'd be willing to trade for a good pitcher that plans on retiring after one season? Doesn't make sense.

    • January 5, 2013 at 12:13 am

      This is just my assumption, but I think he's using the threat of retirement as leverage to get to Texas. And if the Blue Jays don't trade him, he retires. Either way, he gets to end his career on his own terms.

  • January 4, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I agree. No head games. Either you pay or enjoy retirement.

    • January 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      I meant play not pay.

  • January 4, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Would have to agree with you here. Giving in to Oliver might set a bad precedent like you suggested with Bautista. I'm guessing AA let's him retire. He can then use that $$ to get another reliever.

  • January 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Let him retire, then reach out to him in late May and see if he wants to play 4 months for 3mm. Oliver gets 3 extra months with his family and the Jays will not have broken precedent and still have Black Magic down the stretch and into the playoffs.

    • January 5, 2013 at 12:14 am

      That's a great idea I hadn't even thought of. There were also a few people that suggested on Twitter to restructure Oliver's contract so that his "raise" comes in the way for bonuses for things like innings pitched, strikeouts, etc.

  • January 5, 2013 at 2:40 am

    Speaking strictly tactical, it would be silly for Toronto to trade Oliver to a potential wild card rival in Texas, for say, a shitty prospect they would receive in return since Texas has all the leverage. Giving him the John Farrell treatment in the same offseason would definitely sting. Like you, and many commentators on DJF said: it would be hard to believe this doesn't set some type of precedent.

    So I say let him retire if he doesn't want to honour his contract – at least he wont be helping an AL rival. Might not be the right thing to do morally, but it's the right thing to do for the team.

    • January 6, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      Another great point, Jonathan. If AA does opt to trade Oliver, it really does tie the hands of the Jays in that they'd have to take whatever scraps Texas would be willing to offer. And as you indicated, it makes the Rangers a stronger team.

      Judging by Alex's latest comments, it sound like they'll just let Oliver retire – seems like the safest bet to me.

  • January 11, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    olvier plus prospect for morse

  • January 11, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    He is not worth any extra money in theory or otherwise no matter how he pitched in 2012. There is simply no guarantee he can repeat that success in 2013. J.P. Howell got similar money and he is only 29 so he is bigger upside. And the only way Darren gets more contract money is if he agrees to an extension. Why would the Jays want to extend him to 2014 or beyond when he will be over 43 years old?

  • January 12, 2013 at 3:36 am

    My concern would be that he decides he's not going to retire but rather show up to play. And play poorly, inconsistently, and like a child with all the arrogance in the world. What will stop him from showing up to get his cheques but put a terrible effort forth?

    I do hope that Oliver can warm up to being in D.C. They want a great lefty reliever to build their championship hopes and the Jays would greatly benefit from adding Morse.

  • January 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Gotta play the waiting game with Oliver. Reports surfaced that the Jays will need to shed some salary if Oliver decides to pitch for the Jays in 2013. I'd love Oliver back, but I think Brandon Lyon could be had for cheaper. Texas will give up nothing, and without a good return it's not worth it to help TExas out.

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