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With K-Rod, Mets will fight union, precedent

A reader named Anthony asks a really good question:

    I have a question regarding your recent story on K-Rod and his injury. You wrote that you "don't think closers are worth (almost) $12 million per season," and neither do I.

    But are you aware that K-Rod has a vesting option for $17.5 million in 2012 if he (1) finishes 55 games in 2011, and (2) finishes a combined 100 games between 2010 and 2011? I am surprised that if you think (almost) $12 million for a closer is offensive, you don't even mention that the Mets might be allocating more than $5 million more than that amount to the closer position in 2012!

    If the Mets can void his contract, they should. The inclusion of that option was a terrible mistake, and if K-Rod's idiotic behavior provides them with the ability to get out from under that deal, they should jump all over the opportunity.

I don't think (almost) $12 million for a closer is offensive, but it's just too much money for the great majority of closers, who don't pitch enough innings or influence the outcomes of enough games to justify that sort of expense.

But $17(.5) million is a wholly different thing. I wasn't aware of that vesting option. Frankly, the idea is so ridiculous that I simply didn't bother to check. No relief pitcher has ever earned $17.5 million in one season, and no relief pitcher has ever been worth $17.5 million. I did recall having been somewhat surprised by Rodriguez's contract when he signed it. I didn't recall that 2012 option.

I should have, if only because it's a compelling piece of the evidence that the Mets' front office is incompetent. At least when it comes to properly valuing relief pitchers.

Or maybe Rodriguez's recent contretemps have inspired a sudden bout of competency. Today, I suspect the Mets would love to get out from under that contract. First they're going to try to avoid paying him for the rest of this season and won't guarantee his contract in 2011; without a guarantee in 2011, they can cut Rodriguez and thus avoid any worries about 2012, too.

    In response to the Mets’ steps, Michael Weiner, the head of the players union, said Tuesday night that the union would challenge what the Mets are trying to do.

    “The Mets’ actions are without basis, and the union will grieve them right away,” he said.

    He said he expected the grievance to go before an arbitrator by this fall. Before then, there will be probably be a face-to-face meeting between the Mets, the union and Rodriguez’s agent. In such a setting, it is conceivable a deal could be worked out under which the Mets would settle for the union’s not contesting Rodriguez’s loss of pay in 2010 and the Mets, in exchange, agreeing to guarantee Rodriguez’s salary for 2011.

    --snip--

    For now, though, the move to make Rodriguez’s contract nonguaranteed will get attention. Gabe Feldman, the head of the sports law department at Tulane University, said he could not recall an instance in which a team had attempted such a step.

    “The players union is going to do everything they can to uphold the sanctity of contracts,” he said. “They fight hard to make sure they get guaranteed contracts for their players. What the Mets did is something that is buried in major league rules. It’s rare to void contracts and even more rare to convert to nonguaranteed contracts, particularly with a star player."

What's buried, specifically, is Section 7 (b) (1) of the Uniform Player Contract, which states a team can void a player's contract if he shall "fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship ..."

The only problem is that there's essentially no precedent for actually doing that. And these things are all about precedent. The Rockies know, because they tried it with Denny Neagle after he got hurt and got busted. At the time, the Rockies owed Neagle $19.5 million. Before the case went before an arbitrator, the Rockies agreed to pay Neagle $16 million.

The same thing is going to happen to the Mets, should they carry through with this. Ultimately, they'll probably be faced with two lousy alternatives: Paying Rodriguez a lot of money to go away, or paying Rodriguez a lot of money to stay.

Again: Really, really nice work here, guys. Kudos to everyone involved.