Friday, August 20, 2010

Francisco Rodriguez: Understanding The Grievance

Back to another grievance – this time courtesy of MLB.

In highly predictable move, the Major League Baseball Players Association has filed a grievance against the New York Mets and the commissioner’s office challenging the Mets’ decision to place Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez on the disqualified list and to convert his contract to a non-guaranteed deal.

He was placed on the list after he tore a ligament in the thumb of his pitching hand while allegedly punching his girlfriend’s father, 53-year-old Carlos Pena, outside a family lounge at Citi Field. The 28-year-old reliever was arrested and charged with third-degree assault and second-degree harassment following the fight. Rodriguez had surgery to repair the self-inflicted injury and is expected to miss the rest of the season.

The grievance was filed after the Mets announced they were putting Rodriguez on the disqualified list and would move to convert his contract to a non-guaranteed contract.

A non-guaranteed contract is different than moving to void a contract, which the Mets can still do. Here’s the difference:

(a) With a non-guaranteed contract, the Mets can cut Rodriguez next spring if they feel he’s not good to go. However, they will need to give him termination pay. The Mets would owe him $1,885,246 rather than his $11.5 million salary next year. As well, the Mets would likely have to pay him another $3.5 million on the $17.5 million club option for 2012. As long as he’s on the disqualified list, he won’t be paid or accrue major league service time. A player can remain on the disqualified list indefinitely.

(b) If they void the contract, they won’t owe him anything. Basically, this step would potentially eliminate termination pay next year and the 2012 buyout. The Mets don’t have to decide now if they want to void the contract. This is the much harsher step.

The Mets said they took action against Rodriguez because of conduct in violation of the Uniform Player’s Contract. The Uniform Player Contract in baseball is the baseline contract. All player contracts contain the terms in the UPC and then the teams and players are free to negotiate additional terms.

If the Mets want to void the contract, they will look to Paragraph 7 of the UPC, which reads as follows:

7.(b) The Club may terminate this contract upon written notice to the Player (but only after requesting and obtaining waivers of this contract from all other Major League Clubs) if the Player shall at any time:

(1) fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship or to keep himself in first-class physical condition or to obey the Club's training rules; or

(2) fail, in the opinion of the Club's management, to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability to qualify or continue as a member of the Club's team; or

(3) fail, refuse or neglect to render his services hereunder or in any other manner materially breach this contract.

The Mets would look to rely on Paragraphs 7(b)(1) and (3) to void or terminate the contract.

History, however, is on the side of the Players' Association, which would most certainly fight an attempt to void the contract – just as they are fighting an attempt to convert the contract to a non-guaranteed one. The Players’ Association has enjoyed great success in fighting for the rights of its players, either by prevailing at arbitration or creating a disincentive to go to arbitration:

Here’s a sample of cases as reported by Michael McCann from SI:

(a) In 1987, the San Diego Padres voided the contract of pitcher Lamarr Hoyt after he was sentenced to jail time following multiple drug charges, including intent to distribute cocaine and attempting to smuggle drugs from Mexico into the U.S. This would seem to be specifically the type of conduct that would justify voiding a contract – right? Wrong. The Players' Association filed a grievance and won.

(b) The Colorado Rockies' attempted to void the contract of pitcher Denny Neagle in 2004 after he was charged with soliciting a prostitute. Rather than go to arbitration, the parties agreed on a payout of $16 million on his $19.5 million contract.

(c) In 2005, the Baltimore Orioles voided pitcher Sidney Ponson’s contract driving while intoxicated, among other actions. The parties moved to settle, and according to McCann, Ponson got a big chunk of his $11.2 million salary.

(d) In 1997, the Boston Red Sox declined to void the contract of infielder Wil Cordero after he was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Cordero later pled guilty to criminal charges for beating his wife and threatening to kill her.

This week, however, Shawn Chacon lost his grievance, a hearing which was heard last September. Chacon was given his unconditional release after he attacked and assaulted General Manager Ed Wade on June 25, 2008. Chacon stated after the incident that “I lost my cool and I grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. I jumped on top of him”.

The team invoked Paragraph 7(b)(1) of the Players Contract, which denied the player any further compensation on his 2008 contract. The panel of arbitrators agreed that the Astros were within their rights to terminate Chacon's contract without his entitlement to further compensation.

We know that the Player’s Association will fight this, and that it could be along battle (bear in mind the Chacon incident happened in 2008 and a decision was just handed down this week).

History suggests that this is a tough case for the Mets. If the Player's Union is successful with the grievance (assuming the parties don't settle), the Mets would still have the option to void the contract. If they go that route, they will most certainly face another grievance from the Union. If the Mets win the current grievance, they could cut Rodriguez next spring, or move to void the contract.

If history is any indication, the Mets will have to pay Rodriguez a significant sum of money if they want him gone -no matter what option they exercise. So they may just bring him back if he's ready to play next season.

It seems that anything short of strangling your boss isn't going to cut it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You forgot Andrew Jackson’s Big Block of Cheese with nary a macaroni in sight.