I’m inviting readership to take a break from the doom and gloom of the beginning of the Baltimore Orioles’ season for a moment. Trust me folks, if anything breaks regarding personnel moves from the team, you’ll hear them here. So be ready!
Baseball contracts are famously guaranteed. Many of you have tweeted me and commented ad hoc about how the Orioles should release this guy or DFA that one over the years – currently I’m hearing that a lot about Chris Davis. And those comments are always met with the same response from me: MLB contracts are guaranteed, so the Orioles would not only have to continue paying [insert player name], but any other team could claim him off of waivers – and the O’s would still be on the hook for his contract.
Most of the time that shuts down the argument, although there are some who’ll suggest that paying the guy in question to play for someone else would be money well spent. But in general most people understand what a poor business model that would be. This actually worked to the Orioles’ favor one year, when in 2011 they acquired Julio Lugo towards the end of spring training. Lugo had been traded from the BoSox to St. Louis after being DFA’d, and then was subsequently DFA’d again and traded to the O’s. He played that season with the Birds and was on Boston’s payroll.
From a labor perspective I support the idea of guaranteed contracts. It’s akin to job security. I’d never want to see MLB go to a system such as the NFL, where if you get cut your contract is null and void. I think that’s unfair to the athlete – what’s the point of having a contract if a team can cut you and be done with it?
Obviously in the NFL you still have to abide by the salary cap, and if you cut someone his salary still counts against the cap for that year. However teams are basically forced to keep players who may end up being a dead weight on their books and on their roster. You’re using up a roster spot and spending money on someone who’s probably not helping your club. And it causes bad feelings all around, because usually the guy knows that rule’s the only reason he’s still there.
So what’s the alternative? Using the NFL’s model? No, I don’t think so. First off baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, so it wouldn’t work. (And that’s another story for another day.) However there is a happy medium. If a player gets DFA’d, I agree that his contract should still be guaranteed. So long as he’s a free agent, the original team should be on the hook for his salary.
However, if he gets claimed by another team, let them assume responsibility for the contract. That seems like common sense to me. It also makes teams think twice about whether or not they want to claim someone. That’s not to say that I ever see that happening, but hey you never know – right?!