Commentary

Cracking down on lucrative perks

MLB, union ban future personal-service deals and all milestone bonuses

Updated: April 20, 2012, 8:07 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Somewhere along the line, we hope your dad -- or, at the very least, your lawyer -- gave you this important advice:

Always read the fine print.

Apparently, somebody once gave the powers that be at Major League Baseball and the players' union that advice, too -- because the small print in two recent monster contracts have clearly gotten their attention.

One of those deals was signed last winter by a gentleman named Albert Pujols. And here's one thing you can bank on: There will never, ever be a contract like it again.

It wasn't the $240 million in salaries that had those red flags flapping at the commissioner's office and inside the players association. It was two other clauses that didn't seem real controversial at the time.

One was a 10-year personal-services contract that would pay Pujols a million bucks a year after he retires -- if he's interested. And what the heck. Who wouldn't be interested?

The other was a rare "marketing" provision, patterned after Alex Rodriguez's contract, that would pay Pujols up to $10 million "for the marketing rights related to milestone accomplishments" -- $3 million for his 3,000th hit, $7 million if he breaks Barry Bonds' all-time home run record.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireMilestone bonuses and a 10-year personal-services contract could raise the total value of Albert Pujols' deal with the Angels to $260 million.

Well, you won't be seeing those lucrative little bells or whistles in any future contracts -- because several club executives have told Rumblings that in the past couple of weeks, MLB and the union have circulated word that, from now on, provisions of that sort will be officially considered violations of the basic agreement.

The other contract that sneaked in similar language, just under the wire, was Ryan Zimmerman's new $100 million extension with the Washington Nationals.

That deal is supposed to dangle a five-year, $10 million personal-services deal in front of Zimmerman once he has finished playing. And he, too, has the right to turn it down -- not that we can think of any reason he'd actually do that. But legalese is legalese.

The good news for Zimmerman and Pujols -- not to mention Alex Rodriguez -- is that baseball won't apply the new rules retroactively. So their deals won't be affected. But if, say, the Dodgers were thinking about tossing anything similar at someone like Clayton Kershaw down the road, they now know that's not going to fly.

Officials of both MLB and the union confirmed to Rumblings that baseball has now banned future personal-service deals and all milestone bonuses. Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for economics and league affairs, said both issues had become a growing concern. So once the offseason signing dust had cleared, owners and players agreed that it was time to step in and spread word that contracts containing those perks would no longer be approved.

So what's the big deal, you ask? The closer you hone in on this, the more obvious it becomes why these arrangements raised eyebrows.

The "milestones" payouts, for instance, appear to violate baseball's longtime ban on bonuses for virtually all statistical achievements. A-Rod's 2007 contract with the New York Yankees disguised his bonuses as "marketing" money. But "the more they looked at it," said a source who was briefed on MLB's thinking, "the more they realized what it was. … He was getting paid to achieve those milestones."

And personal-services deals create different issues. As Bobby Bonilla could attest, it's fine for a team to defer money in a whopper contract and pay it out later. But it gets tricky if the team attaches a condition that says the player only gets that money if he shakes 500 hands a week, plays golf with 11 sponsors and spends a month in spring training. And if he gets traded, then what?

Finally, there's one objection the commissioner's office would seem to have to both of those creative wrinkles: Because those payouts are not regarded as guaranteed money, teams potentially could use them to avoid luxury-tax bills. And why do we suspect Bud Selig just totally hates it when that happens?

But now that we've got the explanations out of the way, there are other, bigger questions to explore. Such as …

Why now?

Good question. It has been more than four years since A-Rod signed his contract. So why did milestone clauses suddenly become a problem this year? And if it was such a major issue, how come it was never raised during the Pujols negotiations?

The answer is that, after A-Rod, no one else negotiated a milestone bonus. So the hope was that it would turn out to be just a one-time thing.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Debby Wong/US PresswireAlex Rodriguez has a $30 million marketing agreement based on home run milestones in his 10-year contract with the Yankees.

Uhhh, 'fraid not. In December, a milestone bonanza showed up in Pujols' prospective deal with the Los Angeles Angels, after furious bidding among several clubs -- as did one of the most lucrative personal-services arrangements in history.

So neither side thought it was right to start objecting in the middle of the negotiations. But afterward, they agreed it was time to pull the plug on these sorts of payouts before any more came along.

And that leads to the other momentous question: What kind of impact could these new rules have on future negotiations?

Well, your average utility infielder or set-up man won't have to worry about any of this. But the stars of the sport are another story. In their case, said one agent, "this might affect one or two or three guys a year."

Start imagining some of the emerging faces of various franchises who might have been perfect candidates for a juicy personal-services deal. For instance:

Justin Verlander … Clayton Kershaw … Tim LincecumRobinson CanoJosh JohnsonFelix Hernandez … etc., etc.

Now obviously, there wouldn't be enough "historic" players in our midst to make milestone bonuses a run-of-the-mill problem anytime soon. But wait. You don't think that, say, Derek Jeter hasn't thought about asking the Yankees for a 4,000-hit "marketing" deal like the one they gave his pal, A-Rod? Or you don't think someone like Ichiro Suzuki hasn't considered trying to cash in on his 3,000th hit on this side of the Pacific?

There were going to be more of these if this ban hadn't come along. We guarantee that. In fact, one agent says he proposed a personal-services deal for one of his clients just this month, during conversations about a possible extension. But these new rules instantly blew the circuits on that talk.

"I understand why they don't want you to do it," said an executive of one club. "Because it's [baloney]. That's why. It's just a way to masquerade stuff. It is. I'm just being honest. I mean, is Albert Pujols really going to be a working member of Arte Moreno's front office when he's done?

"They're gonna give the guy a million dollars a year, right? How many employees do the Angels have in their entire organization making a million bucks a year? Probably the manager, the general manager and the club president, and that's it. So is Albert gonna have a job description like those guys? I'm just gonna guess and say probably not.

"So what's the purpose of it? It gives the player the right to say he's getting $250 million for 10 years, and it gives the club the right to say they're only giving him $24 million a year. That's all. But really, it's all baloney."

Without that baloney, though, it's going to be harder for clubs and agents to cook up "creative" deals like some of the memorable contracts of recent years.

"In the past, there were all sorts of different ways to create extra dollars and value," said one prominent agent. "When you get into a really big deal, you're always trying to think of ways to come up with dollars that don't affect the tax and come up with ways to increase the total dollars. Now, that's become more difficult."

"It's pretty simple now, really," said the same exec quoted earlier. "You're going to have to pay these guys. You're going to have to guarantee it all. Before, you had ways you could add $10 million to a deal without adding to the sticker shock of the [average annual value]. Now, the value of the player is the value of the player. You're not going to be able to add those little gimmicks that increased the value of the contract [to the guy cashing the checks] without increasing the value of the player [to the MLB accountants]."

So for Albert Pujols, for Ryan Zimmerman, for Alex Rodriguez, our suggestion is: Be grateful for all those little gimmicks in your life -- especially the ones that include dollar signs and lots of zeroes.

And our suggestion for all the other superstars in our great land is this: You're just going to be forced to quote the greatest fictional sporting-negotiations genius of our lifetimes, Mr. Rod Tidwell of Jerry Maguire fame -- because without these now-illegal bells and whistles, all negotiations now come down to his four favorite words:

"Show … me … the … money!"

Ready to Rumble

John Lannan
Lannan

• As if the Nationals weren't having enough trouble trying to deal John Lannan and his $5 million salary, Lannan's work in Triple-A appears to have blown up any trade value he might have had. After his first three starts for Syracuse, he had allowed 21 hits, six walks and 14 runs (10 earned) in 12 innings. That computes to a 7.50 ERA and 2.25 WHIP. Compare that to what's going on in Washington, where the Nationals' entire rotation allowed 15 earned runs in the first 13 games of the season combined.

"Obviously, they still really want to move him," said an executive of one club. "But his performance in spring training and at Syracuse hasn't exactly helped the cause."

• There's one human trade rumor the Nationals aren't trying to trade -- not at the moment, at least. That's outfielder Roger Bernadina. Manager Davey Johnson clearly prefers Rick Ankiel in center. But an exec of one team who has spoken with the Nationals says they need the outfield depth Bernadina provides for now.

"With [Michael] Morse down and [Bryce] Harper not there yet, he'll survive," the exec said. "But when all those guys come in, it'll be a different story."

Look for Bernadina, who was nearly dealt to the Twins last July in a package for Denard Span, to become eminently available later this summer.

Astros

• Astros GM Jeff Luhnow made a point this week of denying that his team is trying to trade closer Brett Myers. But we predict you won't be hearing any denials like that in a couple of months. This guy makes $12 million a year, remember. And when we asked one member of the Astros' hierarchy this spring if Myers figured to be easier to trade in July as a closer than as a starter, he didn't blink. "Well," he said, "we're about to find out."

• The Angels are 13 games into their season. Mark Trumbo has started precisely three games at third base -- just one of them in the past week. And the more Trumbo sits (despite hitting .368/.478/.684), the more other clubs seem to be getting intrigued by him.

An executive of one team -- a club with no real fit for Trumbo, incidentally -- says he looks at the Angels this way:

Angels

Shaky bullpen … young, affordable, 30-homer guy with no real place to play as long as Albert Pujols is on first and Kendrys Morales is the DH … and a disgruntled former DH (Bobby Abreu) who isn't happy and doesn't fit.

So wouldn't it make sense, some teams wonder, for the Angels to shop Trumbo for a young, controllable bullpen arm and tell interested teams they want to throw in Abreu and pay all of his salary to get him out of their mix?

There's no indication the Angels are thinking that way now -- other than trying feverishly to trade Abreu. But that's a sensible enough scenario that it belongs on the Rumor Central radar screen, pending future developments.

Orioles

• Are the first-place Orioles for real? Not even our mother-in-law, the world's most loyal Orioles fan, believes that. But here, say scouts we've surveyed, is what is for real:

Jake Arrieta and his 0.85 WHIP and 2.66 ERA: "He's always had a really good arm," said one scout. "But now he's 93-96 [mph], with a plus curveball and a plus slider. And he's gotten very aggressive. He doesn't look like a young guy trying to figure it out anymore. He's really aggressive going after hitters."

Matt Wieters and his 1.054 OPS, plus five runners nailed stealing: "There's no question in my mind," said a second scout. "Matt Wieters is the best catcher in baseball."

Adam Jones and his five homers and 1.036 OPS: "Adam Jones," said another scout, "has really matured a lot."

Meanwhile, all those scouts report the Orioles are still "dying to move" Mark Reynolds and Kevin Gregg. Said one: "They'd do anything to move those guys."

Angels

• This spring, Nationals manager Davey Johnson set off quite the furor in Philadelphia when he said Washington's top three starters -- Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez -- were just as good "stuff-wise" as the Phillies' big three of Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels. Hmmm, check the numbers after three turns through each rotation:

Nationals' top three: 57 2/3 IP, 37 H, 10 ER, 50 K, 1.56 ERA
Phillies' top three: 58 1/3 IP, 42 H, 13 ER, 51 K, 2.01 ERA

"When he first said it, I thought he had rocks in his head," said one scout. "Now I'm not so sure he wasn't right."

• Speaking of pitchers who don't get enough attention, has the world taken notice of how talented Derek Holland is? When we asked one scout, who raves about the Rangers, which starter they could send out there in October to outpitch someone like CC Sabathia, this was the response we got:

"Derek Holland. He's better than CC right now. I like his fastball better. I like his location better. I like his mound presence better. Most people have no idea how good this guy is."

• On Opening Night in Miami, eloquent Cardinals truth-teller Lance Berkman said that Marlins Park was so huge, he'd set the over/under for the team to move in the fences at two years. Let's just say Marlins president David Samson begs to differ.

"I'll take the 'over,'" Samson told Rumblings. "I love Lance Berkman. But I think he can stick to playing baseball, and we'll stick to running our ballpark."

• After all the initial furor over the size of the park, the Marlins have now hit five home runs in their past four games there -- which would be only two fewer than the Cardinals have hit in seven games at Busch Stadium, by the way. And in St. Louis, unlike Miami, there's no chance of hitting a home run that lands in a pool attached to a nightclub. Hey, it's St. Louis' loss.

"I want a home run to get hit into [that club] 'The Clevelander,'" Samson quipped. "I want home runs hitting people in bikinis. That's my No. 1 marketing plan. You know how they have people in San Francisco chasing home runs in kayaks? We'll have people snorkel to the ball, surrounded by bikini-clad women. Now that's Miami."

Five Astounding Facts of the Week

[+] EnlargeJamie Moyer
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesRockies left-hander Jamie Moyer is 1-2 with a 2.55 ERA in three starts this season.

1. It seemed fitting that, on the night he became the oldest pitcher ever to win a game, Jamie Moyer beat a pitcher (Anthony Bass) who hadn't debuted on Planet Earth at the time Moyer was making his debut in the major leagues, back on June 16, 1986. If it makes Bass feel better, he's the fourth pitcher Moyer has beaten who wasn't born when this guy began pitching in the big leagues. The others: Brett Cecil, Chris Volstad and Tommy Hanson.

2. And the Jamie Moyer nuggets keep on coming. As loyal reader Josh Wheatley reports, there was something familiar about Moyer's rendezvous with history. See if you can figure it out.

April 17, 2012: Jamie Moyer becomes oldest pitcher ever to win a game -- against the Padres.

April 20, 2006: Julio Franco becomes oldest player ever to hit a home run -- against the Padres.

Just more evidence that our senior citizens keep migrating toward San Diego.

3. Our favorite Ivan Rodriguez tidbit, from ESPN Stats & Info's Jeremy Lundblad: All the active catchers in baseball combined have won nine Gold Gloves. Meanwhile, Gold Gloves won by Pudge all by himself: 13.

4. It's official: Mark Melancon just had the worst relief outing of modern times. His debacle Tuesday against Texas went: double, walk, homer, homer, walk, homer. As loyal reader Evan Jones reports, baseball-reference.com's fabulous Play Index goes back 95 seasons (to 1918). And you know how many other pitchers in that span had an outing that included at least three homers, six earned runs and zero outs? That would be none. Of course. Ouch.

5. Finally, how bizarre is this?

Justin Morneau at new Yankee Stadium: 12 games started, two multi-homer games.

Justin Morneau at Target Field: 80 games started, zero multi-homer games.

Time to order in some pastrami sandwiches in Minnesota!

Tweets of the Week

In case you hadn't noticed, the Red Sox are having bullpen issues. Well, the always-sympathetic crew at @MLBFakeRumors sure noticed. Which led to these three bulletins you won't be seeing any time soon in a transactions column near you:




Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com