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First Mondesi - Then Gagne?
2004-05-26 16:49
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Something remarkable is happening in baseball.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) Former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Raul Mondesi is close to signing a contract with a new U.S. Major League Baseball team that has a chance of advancing to the playoffs, he said Wednesday.

Mondesi said three clubs are interested in signing him: the Boston Red Sox, Anaheim Angels and the Baltimore Orioles.

"If I'm going to sign, it will happen before the end of the week," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "There are other clubs interested in me, but I want a team that has an opportunity to advance to the postseason."

Raul Mondesi had a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He decided he didn't want to play with them anymore. He stated he was leaving the team for family reasons. He has essentially admitted, about a week later, that this explanation was a lie - that his real motivation for leaving was to create a better deal for himself with a better team (although it's not as if he is incapable of concern for his people). In the interim, however, the Pirates legally terminated his contract. Mondesi became a free agent.

Teams generally have the following choices when a player under contract withdraws himself from action.

  • They can release him, but owe the remainder of the contract.
  • They can suspend him, but the player remains bound to the organization.

    What has happened this month with Mondesi and the Pirates is truly rare. A team and a player can essentially agree, or be duped into agreeing, that they are a bad match and initiate a no-fault divorce.

    When you think about it, it seems harmless to both parties (although it might not be to the team that ends up paying Mondesi, a player of equal parts talent and flaw, too much money). But think how often this happens. Pretty much never.

    And now, perhaps, a significant precedent has been set.

    Consider if a talented but underpaid player decides he isn't satisfied with his contract. Say, I don't know, Eric Gagne. Free agency is a couple of years away. But Gagne announces that he's worried about a foreign invasion of Canada and heads home to protect his loved ones - though everyone knows this is a phony excuse.

    Do the Dodgers suspend him - a suspension they might have to hold through the end of the 2006 season, when he becomes a free agent? Are they forced to renegotiate Gagne's deal then and there? Or do they decide that it just ain't worth fighting with a player that no longer wants to be here, and terminate his deal - allowing him to sign for big bucks with another team on the spot.

    Gagne would be taking a risk, both to his reptuation and to his feel for the game - but the reward could be considerable.

    Am I crazy, or is this scenario just fiendish enough for someone like Scott Boras to engineer?

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