Randy Wolf won the final spot in the Mariners' rotation this spring, but the Mariners released him, at his request, on Tuesday. Wolf didn't ask for his release because of injury, illness, or off-field issues, however. Before adding him to the active roster, the Mariners asked Wolf to sign a 45-day advanced-consent release form that would have radically changed the terms of the contract he signed with the team in February.
The contract Wolf signed with the Mariners at the onset of spring training was a minor-league deal with a invitation to camp that guaranteed Wolf a salary of $1 million if he made the major league team and included various playing-time-based bonuses. The 45-day advanced-consent release form, however, would have allowed the Mariners to release or demote Wolf within the first 45 days of the regular season and pay him only a pro-rated portion of that salary, rather than be on the hook for the entire $1 million.
That would have been a significant change to Wolf's agreement with the team, as it could have resulted in Wolf taking home less than a quarter of the money guaranteed by his initial deal, a possible outcome with the team's No. 2 starter, Hisashi Iwakuma, and top rotation prospects Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer all hoping to return from injury by the end of April. Wolf, a 14-year veteran who has been fighting his way back from his second Tommy John surgery since October 2012, wasn't going to stand for that.
"I was principally objected to that simply because we negotiated in good faith in February on a very team friendly contract, if I were to make the team,” Wolf said on Monday. “I felt like I came in amazing shape, I pitched great, and I earned a spot on the team. They told me I earned the spot on team, and, to me, that advanced consent thing is kind of renegotiating the contract. So I told them I wouldn’t sign it and I disagreed with it. ... I felt with what I signed for that it was just above the major league minimum that I was uncomfortable that it seemed like such a financial risk considering I came in and earned a spot.”
From a financial standpoint, it's difficult to shed any tears for Randy Wolf, who has made more than $70 million over the course of his career and is attempting to extend that career at the age of 37 following a year of rehab and the 5.65 ERA he compiled for the Brewers and Orioles in 2012. As a matter of principal, however, Wolf appears to be absolutely in the right here, and it's admirable that he would take this stance despite it negating the goal he spent the previous 17 months working toward, something his status as a wealthy veteran allows him to do.
Responding to Wolf's objections, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik cited the Basic Agreement. "We made it reasonably clear yesterday that we'd give him the opportunity to break with us, but we also wanted him to sign the 45-day clause for that to happen, and he refused to do it. He had his reasons why. Again, we were within our legal rights under baseball's Basic Agreement, and that's where the misunderstanding came in. Randy felt strongly that he's come in and pitched his way onto the club and had every right to basically pitch the entire year, or whatever, and be paid the salary accordingly. We just saw it a little differently."
Curiously, the section of the Basic Agreement that explains the 45-day advanced-consent form, which is applicable only for players with five or more years of major league service who, as such, cannot be demoted by their teams without the player's written consent, does not mention the impact of a demotion or release during that period on a player's major league salary. Here is the relevant material from Article XIX, Section A, Paragraph 3:
Any Player who has a right to refuse the assignment of his contract under paragraph 2(a) above [that is, any player with five or more years of Major League service time] may grant consent to an assignment of his contract in advance of any specific contemplated assignment if such consent (a) is granted more than ten (10) days prior to the start of the championship season for which the consent is given, (b) is in writing, (c) designates the assignee Club and (d) requires that the assignment take place within 45 days from the start of the championship season or the date on which they consent is granted, whichever is later. . . . No Club shall attempt to secure, by any Major League terms included in a Minor League Uniform Player Contract, an advance consent to an assignment to a Minor League club, and any consent so secured shall have no force or effect.
That last section prevents teams from including an advanced-consent clause in the sort of split contract Wolf signed in February, which makes it surprising that we've not heard of a player refusing to sign an advanced-consent form before. In essence, the CBA gives teams the ability to make a veteran player battle for a major league job with the promise of a certain contract and then, if he earns it, force that player to grant the team a significant escape clause in order to actually be granted the job he has already earned. Wolf called shenanigans on that, and for good reason. Hopefully his doing so will lead to that portion of the CBA being adjusted in the next round of negotiations.
Wolf, who said asking for his release created "a 24-hour feeling of licking a D-cell battery," may have sacrificed greatly to take this stance. Despite the rash of rotation problems around the league, Wolf, given his combination of age, injury, inactivity, and a merely middling spring performance, is no lock to find work elsewhere. A free agent after the 2012 season, he remained unsigned until mid-February, and by now most teams have made other plans. The Mariners, meanwhile, have now released a pitcher they deemed worthy of putting in their Opening Day rotation over a financial dispute of less than $1 million. The top candidates to replace Wolf in the rotation are 25-year-old left-handed non-prospect Roenis Elias, who has never pitched above Double-A, and 27-year-old righty Hector Noesi, who posted a 5.83 ERA in Triple-A last year and a 5.98 ERA for the Mariners over the last two years.