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First Mondesi - Then Gagne?
2004-05-26 16:49
by Jon Weisman

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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