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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A Dangerous Precedent? The story of Raul Mondesi has become very intriguing and has many (including myself) wondering if baseball should step in to prevent players from taking this sort of action. To recap the past month, Mondesi formerly played for the Pirates. In early May, he left the team to return to the Dominican Republic, citing a need to defend himself in a lawsuit filed by a former colleague. The Pirates, dismayed at their player's sudden departure, placed him on the inactive list on May 11 and ordered him to return on May 18. He did not return, saying that he would not play the rest of the season because of the need to defend himself and his assets. In response, the Pirates placed him on waivers and released him.

Now, less than two weeks later, Mondesi has signed with the Anaheim Angels, a team in first place (the Pirates are in last). Before signing with Anaheim, he negotiated with six other teams, all of which are in contention. Thus, it is becoming more apparent that he was less concerned about this lawsuit, and more concerned about wasting away the summer on a last place team. As soon as a contender came calling, Mondesi's troubles suddenly seemed less dire.

Now, this could all be a coincidence, but even so, it sets a dangerous precedent for major league baseball. A player refuses to play for a last-place team, they release him and he signs with a contender. Without action from baseball, players could begin mid-season hold-outs, demanding a trade or forcing a type of in-season free agency.

Baseball does have something in place to prevent this. The Pirates did not have to release Mondesi -- the team could have kept him on the inactive list, which does not require the team to pay his salary. But this does open the team up to a union grievance, and arbitrators are anything but predictable. The solution seems easy: if the player wants his money, he plays. For the team he is under contract with. If the player refuses to play, he does not get paid and he cannot play for any other team. Players that want to avoid potential problems can sign one-year contracts and take the risks that come with them. But to say that a player can refuse to play in order to finagle a move to a winning team only raises more problems for a sport desperately looking for solutions.


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