Indians prospect Francisco Mejia sues company which bought stake in future earnings

Getty Images
30 Comments

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reported on Friday that the Indians top prospect, Francisco Mejia, has sued a company called Big League Advance, looking to invalidate an agreement he signed with them which, in exchange for a modest cash payment a few years ago, purports to entitle the company to 10% of his future earnings.

Big League Advance is run by former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Michael Schwimer and counts former MLB general manager and current Cleveland Browns executive Paul DePodesta as a board member and partner in the business. The model: to pay minor leaguers a certain sum of money — in Mejia’s case $360,000 — and in exchange for that, the company will receive 10% of all future earnings. Mejia claims in the suit that he could earn $100 million in his career. That’s not implausible given how good he’s supposed to be.

Mejia claims that Big League Advance’s tactics were “unconscionable,” in that (a) he was under duress at the time he signed the agreement due to his mother being ill and in need of money for medical treatment;  and (b) that he had no legal counsel at the time he signed the agreement and that he does not speak English. Schwimer and Big League Advance counter that Mejia’s agents were fully aware of the agreement and that Mejia indicated at the time he signed that he fully understood what he was doing. They add that Mejia came back to them twice for additional installments in the same year the initial agreement was signed. It’s also worth noting that the contracts are in Spanish, which further undercuts Mejia’s position.

Making the case that this contract should be voided on the grounds of unconscionability is a tough, tough case, especially in a business-friendly Delaware courtroom, where this case will unfold due to it being the corporate home of Big League Advance. To win that case the contract has to be more than merely unfair. There has to be something more, something almost underhanded to it. Fangraph’s Sheryl Ring is an attorney and she has a good overview of that today.

An additional undercurrent to this, which is not 100% clear from Crasnick’s story, is whether or not Mejia is claiming that this is a usurious, and thus illegal loan. On the math would could argue that paying, potentially, $10 million on a $360,000 advance represents an illegally high interest rate. If Mejia is claiming that Big League Advance will likely argue — I suspect successfully, if it comes to it — that this wasn’t truly a loan given that Mejia would be under no obligation to pay a dime back if he never made the big leagues. Of course, one could make the counter argument that, even if that was technically the case, it was all but certain in 2016 that Mejia would have, in fact, made the bigs, thereby making it a loan, practically speaking. As a matter of fact, Mejia was called up at the end of 2017 and will likely be back up in Cleveland for good some time this season. He’s already on the hook to Big League Advance for the earnings he’s made in that cup of coffee.

It’s worth noting at this point that Big League Advance is not alone in this business. There’s a company called Fantex which does this too, with Andrew HeaneyMaikel Franco, Collin McHugh, Jonathan Schoop, Tyler Duffey and Yangervis Solarte, among others, all signing up in recent years. A big difference between the Fantex deals we know about and what Big League Advance is doing, however, has to do with the money involved. Heaney got $3.34 million for that 10% cut a few years back. Franco got $4.35 million, McHugh got $3.96 million, Schoop got $4.91 million Duffey got $2.3 million and Solarete got $3.15 million. All of these will be much more balanced deals than that which Mejia received. Ones that could be viewed more akin to insurance policies if you look at it just so. It’s also likely that, given the money involved, those players were not approached while under personal duress and likely had legal counsel to represent their interests. The circumstances definitely matter.

The legalities of Mejia’s deal will be sorted out by the courts. We’re not the courts, however, so we’re allowed to have an opinion about it irrespective of the law. That opinion: it stinks. It stinks to high heavens. It might stink less if the money was decent and it reeks pretty damn badly given that it stands to be a pennies-for-pounds deal, but approaching young, relatively uneducated and financially strapped players looking to arbitrage their future earnings is shady either way.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
9 Comments

SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.