By Steve Kallas
So, now that the dust has settled on the K-Rod debacle, can the Mets void the remainder of his contract? It says here that they can’t and, if they tried to and lost, where would that leave a guy like K-Rod from a mental perspective? At the end of the day, this will be as much (maybe more?) a baseball decision as it is a legal one.
Clause 7(b) (1) of the Uniform Player Contract states, in pertinent part:
“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 … .”
While the language appears, on its face, to be pretty vague (good citizenship? Good sportsmanship?), this is the language that has been used for years.
IS THE SHAWN CHACON CASE INSTRUCTIVE?
Although interpreting the same clause, the Shawn Chacon case probably is not instructive. Many of you will recall that, on June 25, 2008, then-Houston Astro Chacon assaulted Astros GM Ed Wade, grabbing him by the neck (by Chacon’s own admission) and throwing him to the ground. The Astros suspended Chacon, put him on waivers and, after he cleared, they terminated his contract without further compensation.
The Players Union filed a grievance on Chacon’s behalf to get the remainder of his contract paid (about $1 million). Just yesterday, it was announced that a three-arbitrator panel denied Chacon’s grievance and the termination will stand.
BUT THERE ARE DIFFERENCES WITH THE K-ROD CASE
There are a number of differences between the Chacon case and the K-Rod case. Ed Wade was an Astros employee (the general manager) and this seems to influence an arbitrators decision. While disgusting, K-Rod’s actions were not against a Met employee but, rather, against a (quasi?) family member (as you probably know by now, there is no “common-law” wife recognized under New York law; maybe the victim is the father of K-Rod’s “fiancée,” but, clearly, he was not a Met employee).
In addition, unlike with Chacon, the Mets only put K-Rod on the “restricted” list for two games – not the sign of a team who wants to get rid of a player. Even worse (for the Mets from a legal perspective), K-Rod pitched in a game for the Mets immediately after being taken off the restricted list. It wasn’t until days after the “incident,” when the Mets found out that K-Rod was done for the season, did they (maybe) decide to try and void his contract. And don’t forget that it will be hard to actually prove in court that K-Rod’s injury was from hitting a guy (unless he admitted it) since a number of days (and one pitching appearance) took place between the punches and the diagnosis of the injury.
There don’t seem to be any cases where an arbitrator allowed a team to terminate a contract of a player who had some kind of fight/incident with a family “member” or in a domestic abuse situation (the latter legal term is used because K-Rod and the woman who lives with him are the parents of young twins).
Finally, there are the baseball realities of the situation. Shawn Chacon, at the time of his shoving of the Astros’ GM, was 2-3 as a starter with an earned run average of 5.04. Whatever Met fans think of K-Rod, he was still a very good closer who was the Mets best chance to close games in a perceived (by Met management, at least) playoff run this August and September.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Forward-looking, the Mets might have a baseball decision to make. If they try and void the contract and fail, as is likely, they will have a very unhappy ball player on their hands. It’s unlikely they would cut K-Rod, pay the contract and have somebody pick him up for next to nothing (they won’t even do that with Oliver Perez, for goodness sakes). They might also view their short-term (next year or so) to be tied to K-Rod as a closer if they want to even attempt to contend for a playoff spot.
As often happens, the legal decisions may be influenced greatly by the baseball decisions. This may very well be one of those cases. If the Mets put K-Rod on waivers (see 7(b)(1) above), that will probably be the sign that they will try and void his contract (because it’s one-in-a-thousand that someone would pick up his contract now).