Can the Mariners void Milton Bradley’s contract?


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.

2018 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Tigers.

We can’t blame you if you chose to erase the Tigers’ 2017 season from memory. They plummeted to the bottom of the AL Central division for the second time in three years, hobbled by Michael Fulmer’s chronic shoulder and elbow issues, an untimely implosion from Francisco Rodriguez and the worst version of Miguel Cabrera anyone’s seen to date. Their rotation ranked 13th-best among major league teams; their bullpen, dead last. By mid-July, it was clear the team wasn’t going to touch the division-leading Indians or the surprisingly hot Twins or the streaky Royals. Rather than make a pointless push for the playoffs during the second half, they seized the opportunity to get a head start on a lengthy rebuilding process instead.

Prior to the July 31 trade deadline, the Tigers had already jettisoned some of their biggest contributors—and biggest contracts. J.D. Martinez packed his bags for Arizona as the club gained a trifecta of Diamondbacks shortstop prospects: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King. Justin Wilson and Alex Avila were swapped for Cubs infielders Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes. In one of the most nerve-wracking deadline deals, Justin Verlander and the outstanding $56 million left on his contract (not including the $22 million vesting option for 2020) were shipped to the Astros for prospect right-hander Franklin Perez, catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Daz Cameron—with just seconds to spare before the cutoff time.

Of course, the writing was on the wall well before Al Avila decided to host a fire sale. Francisco Rodriguez logged six blown saves in his first 25 appearances with the club and was released after he proved incapable of handling any high-leverage situation. His struggles might have been more easily overlooked had Bruce Rondon not tanked as well, depleting the Tigers of much of their bullpen depth as they dropped yet another closer candidate—Justin Wilson—off with the Cubs.

A dilapidated bullpen wasn’t the team’s only weakness. Perennial All-Star and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera labored through the worst year of his career, slashing .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and a .728 OPS in 529 PA. His power and productivity was zapped by lingering back issues, and he finished the year with two herniated discs in his lower back and a career-worst -0.2 fWAR. Not helping matters was a series of explosive, bench-clearing brawls against the Yankees in August, during which Cabrera got slapped with a seven-game suspension after he incited the first fight against New York catcher Austin Romine.

The offseason yielded few returns. The Tigers declined a $16 million option for Anibal Sanchez and found a taker for Ian Kinsler in the Angels, who helped restock Detroit’s farm system with minor league outfielder Troy Montgomery and right-handed pitching prospect Wikel Hernandez. The team committed another $12 million to rotation and outfield depth with right-hander Mike Fiers, lefties Francisco Liriano and Ryan Carpenter, and outfielder Leonys Martin. Perhaps most notable was a change in management: Brad Ausmus capped a four-year run with the team as Ron Gardenhire stepped into the dugout.

Looking ahead, the Tigers still have a few items to check off their to-do list before they can stage a full-scale rebuild. That includes offloading the remaining $184 million on Cabrera’s contract, something that will be impossible to do unless and until the 35-year-old has a monster bounce-back year in 2018. It also means exploring trade options for Fulmer, who profiles as one of the biggest assets on the Tigers’ 2018 roster and, with four years of control remaining on his current contract, could net some serious talent as they continue to build for the future. Likewise, closer Shane Greene, shortstop Jose Iglesias and outfielder Nicholas Castellanos are all expected to be made available at some point this year.

Come Opening Day, the club will likely roll out a rotation featuring Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmerman, Francisco Liriano, Mike Fiers and Matt Boyd. Daniel Norris is also competing for a starting role, though he will likely get edged out by Liriano to start the season. Despite the serious health concerns that were raised last year, Fulmer remains the undisputed ace of the pack after putting up All-Star numbers in 2017, including a 3.83 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.2 SO/9 in 164 2/3 innings. No one else (save Verlander) managed an ERA under 5.00 last year; Zimmerman kept a 6.08 ERA, 2.5 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 in 160 innings and led all major-league starters with a league-worst 108 earned runs.

Mikie Mahtook, Leonys Martin and Nick Castellanos project as the Opening Day outfield trio, though JaCoby Jones has looked versatile enough to back up all three spots this spring. Both Mahtook and Castellanos had decent runs last year, while Martin will try to stage a comeback after slashing just .172/.232/.281 with three home runs in back-to-back gigs with the Mariners and Cubs.

Cabrera, naturally, is expected to resume his post at first base and fellow veteran Victor Martinez will continue to slot in at DH. Both Cabrera and Martinez have looked exceptional at the plate this spring, but take that with a grain (or several hundred) of salt. Dixon Machado is set for a full-time role at second base, with Jose Iglesias at shortstop and Jeimer Candelario at third. James McCann and John Hicks are scheduled to share time behind the dish again. Barring a lot of surprises and bounce-back efforts, that doesn’t make for a very intimidating lineup, and probably not one that can supersede the collective .258/.324/.424 batting line the offense managed last year.

In a nutshell: Rebuilds are no fun to watch. The Tigers were very bad last season, and they’re going to be very bad this season. Cross your fingers that Miguel Cabrera looks as sharp in the regular season as he has in camp, keep an eye on that no. 1 draft pick this June, enjoy the September call-ups, maybe attend a few minor league games, and keep reminding yourself that contention is only a few years away (probably).

Prediction: 5th place, AL Central