Monday, July 29, 2013
Contracts now a target in PED fight
By Buster Olney
A-Rod and Braun could be targets of lawsuits if teams feel the players destroyed their own value.
ATLANTA -- Long before Ryan Braun accepted his suspension or Alex Rodriguez asked his lawyer to join a conference call in which the topic was a quadriceps strain, club officials throughout Major League Baseball had started to look into the topic of whether they had legal recourse against players who used performance-enhancing drugs.
For the Yankees, this question really began with Jason Giambi, and this is why Giambi gave the infamous I’m-Sorry-But-I-Can’t-Tell-You-Why news conference so many years ago. With the help of his own representation, answers to difficult questions were crafted in such a way that he could steer around open admission of steroid use -- to protect the money that he had earned and that he would earn in the future -- while still responding, sort of. The statement that Braun issued last week was designed the same way.
The Yankees long ago concluded that given the rules contained within the collective bargaining agreement, they cannot void a contract based on PED use, which is why Rodriguez is still a member of their organization and may still play if he appeals what is expected to be a forthcoming suspension, rather than accepting it.
But some officials and lawyers within the game are taking a look at other avenues through which they might gain some financial relief from busted players –- back doors, in a sense.
Some teams have developed their own individual contract language with a version of a morals clause, just in case they ever wanted to pursue action, but some officials understand those words might be obsolete in light of the CBA negotiated between the Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB.
However, some lawyers believe there could other, more simple grounds -- along the lines of the recent government suit filed against Lance Armstrong. Could a team file a lawsuit against a player -- as they would any company or entity with which they worked -- alleging that irreparable damage has been done to their business, to their brand, through the actions of the defendant?
Take Rodriguez, for example.
At the time the Yankees signed him to his 10-year, $275 million deal, after the 2007 season, they entered into the deal thinking that Rodriguez would continue as an important and marketable part of their franchise for years to come. This is also why they added $5 million incentive clauses that were attached to specific and historic statistical milestones -- so he and the franchise would share that wealth.
But after his admission of PED use in the spring of 2009, the practical usefulness of Rodriguez as a marketing piece was badly damaged -- and now, with MLB close to concluding its investigation of Rodriguez, he is all but useless on that front.
Quite simply, a longtime baseball lawyer noted Sunday, the Yankees have not gotten what they paid for above and beyond Rodriguez’s baseball production -- like any business that didn’t get the services it thought it was buying.
In the eyes of that lawyer, an argument could be made -- maybe successfully, maybe not -- that Rodriguez’s actions have diminished the Yankees’ brand.
Lance Armstrong's case could be used as a model in MLB.
Could a team gain legal traction and win that argument? Could they get some money back? The longtime lawyer said he isn’t entirely sure. “But I’d file that suit if it involved a player with us,” he said, “because what do you have to lose?”
Braun was signed by the Brewers to be an even more integral part of their business model, given the constraints they operate under as a small-market team. He was the guy they had on marketing campaigns, on signage, on season-ticket drives. Now his usefulness to them in this capacity may well be compromised through the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2020 -- and it’s not like the Brewers can easily acquire or develop another player to be the face of their franchise. Braun is, for better and worse, currently locked in as the centerpiece of their business. “It’s a killer for them,” said an executive. “Forget the baseball -- it hurts them in a lot of ways.”
For the first time, we’ve heard clamoring from other players about having cheaters stripped of their long-term contracts, but as Jayson Stark wrote the other day, the union may never agree to a penalty like that.
But smart teams' lawyers continue to puzzle and puzzle about ways of getting money back from guys busted for PEDs.
• Hall of Famers preached a tough stance on Hall of Famers and leniency for Pete Rose, writes Bill Madden.
1. Oakland seems the most motivated among the teams that have considered Jake Peavy. And as for Peavy: His bags are packed, he’s ready to go.
Some teams view Peavy as strong value, given the production you could get out of him for the next year and a half. Oakland has been getting good pitching, as John Hickey writes.
2. The Rangers are shopping Joe Nathan in an aggressive effort to land some sort of offense in the next 48 hours. Texas, which is fading behind Oakland in the AL West standings, was shut down again. It doesn’t appear that the Rangers can fill needs in this way, writes Evan Grant.
Total speculation: I wonder if some Nathan deal could be arranged in a hurry with the Dodgers for Carl Crawford, with the Dodgers eating a lot of money owed to the outfielder.
10. Most likely, the Angels will be quiet between now and the trade deadline, writes Alden Gonzalez. Their best chance for getting the best return on Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar will likely be in the offseason, when they can include more teams in the conversation.
• Albert Pujols is likely out for the year, given the amount of time he will miss.
From ESPN Stats & Information, the most money owed to a player based on where deals will be at the start of the 2014 season: