Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New SI.com Column on whether Mets can Void Contract of Francisco Rodriguez

I have a new column on SI.com on the possibility of the Mets voiding the contract of closer Francisco Rodriguez ("K-Rod"), who was charged with assault by law enforcement officials and also suspended two games by the Mets for a post-game fight with his girlfriend's father that led to Rodriguez tearing a ligament in the thumb of his pitching hand. Here's an excerpt:

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Players have enjoyed success in grievance proceedings when they concern contractual terminations. In 1987, for instance, the San Diego Padres voided the contract of pitcher Lamarr Hoyt for what appeared to be solid grounds: Hoyt had been sentenced to jail time because of multiple drug charges, including intent to distribute cocaine and attempting to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the U.S. As a drug smuggler, it would seem that Hoyt did not "conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship." Nonetheless, the Players' Association filed a grievance and an arbitrator, George Nicolau, deemed the punishment excessive and restored Hoyt's contract.

Keep in mind, the Players' Association has a duty to protect the fiduciary interests of all players. It must therefore protect against precedent-setting outcomes, such as the voiding of a guaranteed contract. In the context of Rodriguez, if his guaranteed contract can be voided for getting injured in a fist fight, what else could trigger a voidance? Could the very essence of guaranteed contracts be jeopardized? The fear of the so called "slippery slope" often supplies motivation to the Players' Association to fight a team, even if the public finds a particular player's behavior reprehensible.

Instead of voiding Rodriguez's contract, the Mets could try to reach a financial settlement that ends Rodriguez's affiliation with the team. A settlement, which would necessitate approval from Rodriguez and the Mets, along with support from commissioner Bud Selig and the Players' Association, could work to everyone's advantage. Rodriguez would likely obtain a significant portion of the remainder of his contract and become a free agent. Given that he is one of the best closers in the game and still only 28 years old, he would probably attract significant interest from other clubs. For their part, the Mets would rid themselves of a controversial and injured player who let his team down. The team would also save significant money in the process.

A settlement, however, may prove complicated and acrimonious, and also be skewed in favor of Rodriguez. That is because contract-ending settlements between big league teams and players are usually preceded by a grievance filing and also end up being tilted in favor of the player.

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To read the rest, click here.