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The union doesn’t have a problem with Cliff Lee’s deal

Dec 17, 2010, 2:33 PM EDT

Cliff Lee phillies throwing

There has been some debate about just how much one can characterize Cliff Lee’s deal with the Phillies as one in which he “left money on the table.”  On the one hand, there is the potential there for him to make more money with Philly than he made in New York. On the other hand, there was more money guaranteed in New York than Philly. On the third hand — stay with me; more than one hand is OK — we’re learning now that the first year or two of Lee’s deal will be at lower dollars before it jacks up past $20 million. The upshot: there are a lot of moving parts to this deal, and while it’s clear that he took some form of a financial hit to come back to the Phillies, it wasn’t terribly large.

But the whole affair has had a lot of people wondering about what the player’s union thinks about a top free agent at least appearing to take less money than the market would bear.  Jon Heyman asked union head Mike Weiner about whether the union put any pressure on Lee to take the best deal, and this is what Weiner said:

“Absolutely not. That’s just not our approach. We want players to make the best use of their right under the Basic Agreement … As long as a player makes an informed decision, we’re happy. There are non-economic considerations. The fact that Cliff took a deal that wasn’t top dollar isn’t a problem for us.”

I agree with Heyman on this: good for the union if what Weiner says is true. Which I believe it to be.

Which isn’t to say that there still isn’t some form of pressure working on free agents. I just don’t think it’s direct. It’s probably more cultural than anything. Players grok the dynamics of the free agent market pretty early in their careers. They know that what one guy makes will impact them. This is driven home to them in their arbitration years when a player’s worth is explicitly determined by direct comparisons to other players, by name.  They are certainly aware once they hit free agency that, in some important ways, they’re not just setting their own salary, but helping set the salaries for others.  And that’s not even taking into account the subtle pressure an agent and family members may exert.

Put differently: even if the union doesn’t send memos to players on the subject, there’s a passive pressure on guys to take the best deal.

  1. natedawg321 - Dec 17, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    Craig – it’s “On the gripping hand” not “On the third hand”.

  2. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 17, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    Grok: never heard the word before. Thanks for teaching me something today, Craig.

    • pauleee - Dec 17, 2010 at 3:27 PM

      Robert A. Heinlein FTW!!

      • ta192 - Dec 17, 2010 at 4:39 PM

        Great American author, I’m a “Glory Road” fan, but “SIASL” is certainly his best known…

    • bigdicktater - Dec 17, 2010 at 7:41 PM

      Mr. J.: the comments below are referring to “Stranger In a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein.
      Highly recommended, read it when you have a chance.

  3. easports82 - Dec 17, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    Unless I’ve read the reports wrong, he’s taken a slightly lower overall value for the contract for a slightly higher annual average on the contract. Can we stop with the notion that Lee made some altruistic, heartfelt gesture to sign with the Phillies? Assuming they don’t pick up the option year, he’s setup to be a mercenary, a la Clemens the last couple years, where he could still command more cash than he’s scheduled to get.

    He’s getting paid. A lot.

    • Angelos - Dec 17, 2010 at 4:37 PM

      Are people using the work “altruistic?”

      We’re just acknowledging that he left guaranteed dollars on the table, choosing the better place for him instead of absolute top dollar.

      He blows out his arm or goes to shit in general, he’s make zero dollars after this contract is up, so he could make less with the decision he made. Not peanuts, but less.

      I applaud him for making a decision factoring in the whole quality of life for himself and his family, but I’m not nominating him for sainthood.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 17, 2010 at 4:48 PM

        I got to agree with both of you. He made a choice on quality of life but still is getting top dollar either way. He said it himself that once you make a certain amount “enough is enough.”

        On the other had, Kerry Wood took less money for quality of life reasons, which are absurd. Now he’ll play on a crappy team AND get paid MUCH less than he could have. Dummy.

      • easports82 - Dec 17, 2010 at 4:51 PM

        No, I threw out altruistic. And I also applaud that it seems that his family factored into the decision. But, the coverage appears to me to focus on the amount he’s not guaranteed to make instead of how the Phillies build a team around the salary of the big 4 starters.

        True, he could blow out his arm and miss out on about $13 mil the last year (there’s still the buyout). However, I doubt that factors in to a player’s mentality when making the selection.

      • bigdicktater - Dec 17, 2010 at 7:45 PM

        Mr. J.: go to a game at Wrigley and I’ll bet you’ll understand why Kerry Wood accepted less money to play (a) with the organization he came up to the bigs with, and (b) play half the season in the finest setting bar none for a ball game.

  4. derf2 - Dec 17, 2010 at 7:31 PM

    Interesting story.

  5. macjacmccoy - Dec 18, 2010 at 2:20 AM

    Well if you believe him then he did leave money on the table bc he said he plans to finish his career in Philly. Which makes me believe he tends to retire after his contract with the Phillies ends. If thats the case and hes telling the truth then he is leaving money on the table bc if he plays out his Phillies contract then retires he would have collected $120 million if he played out his contract in NY or Tx and then retired he would have collected significantly more.

    • Jonny 5 - Dec 18, 2010 at 10:08 AM

      Not, to mention I’m pretty sure the Yanks were ready to throw 170 over 7 if that’s what it took to get him. If not 165 over 7 at least. The first offer was the last offer planned by Cash? You never make the first offer the most you’re willing to spend. There is usually a negotiation after offer #1 where concessions are made. Philly obviously was the only team to get much of a chance at that, and Texas as well. It sounds like NY was there just giving Lee an edge to the teams he wanted to play for most. For a crazy wicked change in the big scope of things, don’t you think?

  6. flyboat44 - Dec 18, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    Lee definitely made the right decision. Good for him.

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