Can the Mariners void Milton Bradley’s contract?

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With the “everyone is innocent until proven guilty, even Milton Bradley” caveat out of the way, the inevitable next question is whether the Mariners can get out from under his $12 million contract for 2011.

Short answer: doubtful. We went through this exercise with the K-Rod business last summer of course, so here’s the quick refresher:

The Uniform Player Contract in Baseball contains two relevant clauses: Paragraph 7(b)(1) authorizes a team to terminate a contract if a player “fails, refuses or neglects 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.” Paragraph 7(b)(3) similarly lets teams terminate a contract if a player “fails, refuses or neglect to render his services hereunder or in any manner materially breach this contract.”

On their terms, sure, it looks simple: making threats of death or bodily harm is bad citizenship. Being in jail tends to keep one from being able to render services hereunder. Easy-peasy, voidsy-woidsy, right?

Wrong. Teams almost never try to void deals, and if they do, they’re always met with grievances from the players’ union.  A lot of this is because of the nature of our justice system. If Bradley gets indicted and goes to trial, it could be several months or longer before he sees the inside of a courtroom. During the pendency of that case, he’s out on bail, presumably with court approval to travel with his team and all of that. He can and will claim that he’s not been convicted of anything, he likely can and will proclaim his innocence and he will be able to perform under his deal, even if Eric Wedge never considers penciling his name into the lineup.

The Mariners are highly unlikely to try and advance their case to void Bradley’s deal in an arbitration with the union while Bradley still has criminal charges pending. At most they’d maybe consider approaching Bradley about settling the last year of his deal in a mutual walkaway for lower money, but even that’s unlikely given that Bradley ain’t exactly the go-along-to-get-along type. Why would he be in this case? What’s in it for him?

Another possibility, raised by someone who spoke to the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker last night, is if Bradley has a clause built into his contract that speaks specifically of felony behavior and/or charges.  Such a beast could, if present, convert Bradley’s contract into a non-guaranteed one.

Personally, if I were signing Milton Bradley — a player with a long and rich history of anger management issues — I’d want an out clause in the deal.  But I didn’t sign Bradley. Jim Hendry did. He didn’t exactly drive a hard bargain on the money, so he probably didn’t drive a hard bargain on sensitive stuff like “if you get hauled away by police after blowing your top, I don’t have to pay you” clauses either.

The upshot: unless there’s an unexpected out-clause built into Bradley’s deal, Milton Bradley’s $12 million for 2011 is just as guaranteed as Oliver Perez’s $12 million for 2011.

Meanwhile, Gil Meche is not going to make a red cent.  I love America.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.