They weren't your average negotiations. And Curt Schilling wasn't your average negotiator.
So when Schilling and the Red Sox agreed, over Thanksgiving weekend, to the most unorthodox incentive clause in modern contractual history, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Major League Baseball is now suggesting that clause might not be 100 percent legal.
That clause says that Schilling's $13 million option in 2007 can vest into a potential $15 million guarantee if the Red Sox do something before then that they haven't done since World War I -- win the World Series. And if they do that in 2004 or 2005, he would get a $2 million spike in his salary for the next season.
That's a clause with no precedent in baseball's three decades-plus of operating under a basic labor agreement, according to a source familiar with that basic agreement. But Schilling, who negotiated the contract without an agent, told ESPN.com it was his own idea.
Except for one thing:
His proposal was: "When the Red Sox win the World Series."
It was a refreshing, almost inspirational, idea, all right. There was only one problem with it: It isn't quite kosher.
As The Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal reports -- and sources have verified for ESPN.com -- that clause is a violation of the major-league rule which says players can't be rewarded monetarily based on their team's standing at the end of a season.
It isn't certain yet whether Major League Baseball will challenge the contract. But even if it does, there may be a compromise.
According to a baseball source who often deals in legal contract language, the most similar contract clause to be approved in recent years was contained in Mike Sweeney's 2002 contract extension with the Royals.
Technically, Sweeney didn't receive any type of bonus based on the Royals' place in the standings. But his contract did contain a clause allowing him to opt out of the last three years of the deal if the Royals didn't finish with at least a .500 winning percentage in either the 2003 or 2004 seasons. (Because they had a winning record in 2003, that's now a moot point, obviously.)
So it's possible the Red Sox and Schilling could craft a similar compromise -- possibly by allowing either side to void the 2007 portion of the contract if the Red Sox don't win the World Series. Regardless, indications are that Schilling and his new team would look for some way to achieve the spirit of the clause if this one is struck down. So stay tuned.
But for now, Schilling's new contract is one of the most fascinating and creative deals ever struck. Among the provisions:
Any award-bonus money he earns will be donated to charity.
Any performance-bonus money he earns will be donated to charity.
If Schilling can't sell his home in Arizona, the Red Sox will buy it for its appraised value.
If Schilling is traded and can't sell his home in New England, the Red Sox will buy that house as well.
Schilling's 2007 option year can vest into a guaranteed year (for the moment, at least) in one of three ways: 1) if the Red Sox win the World Series and Schilling is either on the postseason roster or makes 30 starts in that season, 2) if he totals 87 starts or 640 innings over the next three seasons (and is healthy in spring training of 2007) or 3) he makes 30 starts or pitches 220 innings in 2006 (and is healthy the following spring).
If the Red Sox win the World Series in any of the next three seasons, Schilling's salary would go up by $2 million the following year. That clause, obviously, would also be in jeopardy if MLB challenges the contract.
And the Red Sox, unlike the Diamondbacks, won't defer any money in the new contract.
On the night he agreed to this deal, we asked Schilling if there was any part of these negotiations he found especially memorable.
"Well," he said, "we've got some pretty cool clauses in this contract."
And right he was. Most of them, fortunately, were even legal.