December 19, 2003
A-Rod and the Red Sox

There's been a lot of caterwauling over the now-dead deal that would have sent Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox for Manny Ramirez and enough financial transactions to keep a fantasy accountants' league busy for the rest of the winter. There was even a protest in front of MLB Players Association President Gene Orza's office for his insistence that A-Rod not be made to give up salary in the trade, though it was apparently a bit of a dud. Coverage of the issue is here, here, here, here, and here.

Doug Pappas links to some analysis of the union's stance, from CNN and the Associated Press (both for), and from the Boston Globe, which is (surprise!) against it.

You can put me in the camp of those who think the MLBPA did the right thing. I agree completely with CNN's Chris Isidore:

The fact is, allowing players to agree to cuts in their own salary is the first step down the road to making their contracts -- both big and relatively small -- as worthless as Red Sox 2003 World Series tickets.

If you have any doubt that players less wealthy than Rodriguez could be forced to take less than their contract called for, ask players in the National Football League. They are regularly being forced to take substantial pay cuts to hang onto their jobs.

Yes, it's true that the NFL players have non-guaranteed contracts and a salary cap working against them. But the MLBPA didn't win a stronger labor deal for its members by giving unilateral concessions to make specific teams or star players happy -- which is what Red Sox fans would like to see the union do here.

If A-Rod is allowed to agree to pay cuts, other players could soon be forced to take pay cuts as well. Few of them would negotiate from as strong a position as Rodriguez, who is arguably the league's best player.

"The union can't allow this to set a precedent," said Doug Pappas, a New York attorney and an expert in baseball salary structure and economics.

If players could negotiate a reduction in their contracts, he said, "instead of teams eating salaries the way they do currently when they dump salaries in these trades, they'll demand the savings come from the players."

I look at it like this. If you want to transfer to your company's Bora Bora office, you should be free to negotiate whatever salary you want for it, even if it's less. There may well be compensating factors that will make up for the lower pay. This is like free agency, and as Andy Pettite and the Astros can attest, the union has no qualms with this. However, if your company wants to forcibly transfer you to Bora Bora (which is what a trade is like), a pay cut shouldn't be part of it, especially if your only other option is to be fired. While losing his job is not something A-Rod needs to worry about, it is something that could happen to any number of other players if such a concession was made this time, and that's exactly the sort of thing that a union is supposed to look out for.

So, sorry about that, Red Sox fans. As David Pinto said, you'll have to settle for being stuck with Manny and Nomar for another year. I hope you can find some way to cope.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 19, 2003 to Baseball | TrackBack

The difference between being transferred to Bora Bora by the company and the proposed A-Rod trade is that A-Rod himself wanted to be traded to Boston with the reduction in salary.

To me, that's akin to a NFL or NBA player agreeing to a reduction or restructuring of his salary to allow a team to sign another player. Since the MLBPA does not allow that to happen as part of their contract, A-Rod will have to agree to play in Texas for his current contract, or challenge the MLBPA in court.

I have no sympathy for A-Rod, since he did sign the contract with Texas. I do feel bad for Nomar Garciaparra, since he has basically been screwed over by the Red Sox management. If you want to do something like that to me, at least buy me dinner first.

Posted by: William Hughes on December 19, 2003 9:34 AM

The difference between being transferred to Bora Bora by the company and the proposed A-Rod trade is that A-Rod himself wanted to be traded to Boston with the reduction in salary.

Sure, but like I said, the union has to think about how this might affect the guys after A-Rod. The language in the CBA about salary reductions is pretty clear. If you waive it for A-Rod, then why can't it be waived for someone else, someone who may not be as enthusiastic about it? Especially if it's Beelzebud Selig ruling on the legitimacy of the waivers.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 19, 2003 10:20 AM

According to the letter of the CBA, I agree. However I think that's a really bad clause in there, at least if the player is requesting the trade (or agrees to waive a no-trade clause). Presumably in that case the player WANTS to be traded and is willing to take a pay cut.

I look at it this way -- a player signs a contract, a player has a great year and demonstrates worth way above contract value...and instead of honoring the contract, he holds out for a new contract (with a big raise, more years, whatever). This should be no more "legal" than a player *willingly* renegotiating for the chance to play with a winner, should it?

I understand why the MLBPA wants this clause in there -- but I think it's too restrictive and can, in some cases, work against the interests of the player, which aren't always "top dollar possible" (as Andy Pettitte just demonstrated, when you have more money than you'll ever spend, why not take a little less and be happier?).

Frankly, I balk whenever people call the MLBPA a "union." These guys have almost NOTHING in common with typical rank and file union members. To call them a "union," IMO, does a disservice to the cause of organized labor.

Posted by: Tim on December 19, 2003 11:07 AM