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MLB Commissioner Should Scrutinize Practice Of Teams Buying Out Of Expensive Deals

September 15, 2017
Perhaps Bowie Kuhn, for all his perceived imperfections, had it right. The former MLB commissioner was adamant that dollars should not be the overriding factor in baseball trades -- a trend that has become more and more prevalent in today's market.

It's not quite the same as it was during Kuhn's tenure from 1969-1984, when he was more concerned about then-Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley selling off his players to the highest bidder, a practice that had been prevalent in the early 1900s. Using his "best interest of the game" authority at a time when free agency was on the horizon, Kuhn blocked Finley's attempt to sell off some of his top players, such as starter Vida Blue, outfielder Joe Rudi and reliever Rollie Fingers.

In today's often upside-down baseball world, the money is frequently going the other way as teams buy their way out of expensive long-term deals by picking up a significant part of the tab. It may just be another part of the system, but it often leaves a smell more like a fish market than free-agent market.

The practice showed up again at baseball's final trading deadline of the year, Aug. 31, when the Houston Astros not only picked up the pitcher they needed for the stretch run, Justin Verlander, but also financial relief in the process. In order to complete a deal that the Astros seemingly needed to make, the Detroit Tigers agreed to send along a significant amount of money to help defer the annual $28 million salary Verlander is due for the remaining years of his contract.

The idea of a competing team paying any portion of the salary of an opposing team's player, let alone a significant part, should raise a red flag in the commissioner's office, just as it did when Finley tried to pawn off his stars before selling his team. The problem is, it has become so commonplace now, hardly anyone notices -- but somebody should.

Like Kuhn, Bud Selig has his detractors (the fact that both are in the Hall of Fame is a hot topic), mainly because baseball suffered through the steroid era mostly on his watch. I don't believe Selig had enough control over that subject without mandatory testing, but I do believe he could have exercised more control over the lengthy long-term contracts.

For all intents and purposes, it all started when the Texas Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez a 10-year, $252 million contract in December 2000 -- and then quickly realized they not only had outbid themselves, but also had a deal they couldn't afford. That led to the most outrageous and distasteful trade in baseball history.

After failing in an attempt to trade A-Rod to the Boston Red Sox, the Rangers turned to the New York Yankees and were able to make a deal -- but only with the provision that Texas would pay $10 million of the annual salary. The idea of a team paying another 40 percent of the contract to get rid of a player is ridiculous -- that it would be done with the Yankees, the wealthiest and biggest spending team, was outlandish. 

It was a deal that never should have been approved, but once it happened it set a dangerous trend. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who sometimes seem to be in the habit of collecting as many long-term contracts as they can, gave outfielder Josh Hamilton a huge free-agent contract in 2012 and, after the briefest baseball honeymoon possible, traded him back to the team he had been with just prior, the Rangers. The thank you note included enough money to pay all but the minimum salary amount, in effect meaning the Angels were paying off Hamilton while he played for a team that was their biggest competitor at the time.

It was a ludicrous arrangement between divisional opponents. I don't know what current commissioner Rob Manfred can do, or if he's even inclined to do anything, but Manfred should be able to realize the dangers of teams subsidizing the payroll of competing organizations. It would seem to be something worth attention.

When it comes to these long-term contracts, baseball (and all sports, really) should have a simple rule when it comes to trades: "Take me, take my baggage." In other words, don't call unless you want the whole package, subsidies no longer available.

That would mean the team giving the contract (see the Tigers and Miguel Cabrera, for instance) either has to suffer the consequences or find a trade partner willing to take on all salary obligations. Perhaps Manfred could offer a "grandfather clause" for current contracts and establish ground rules going forward, but this is something baseball should address.


Rain delays and postponements afforded ample time for viewing the U.S. Open tennis matches early this month, and of the four American women to reach the semifinals, one name in particular stood out for any "young old-timers" who were up late enough to watch. It's doubtful if any athlete her age, in any sport, is part of a family tree as impressive as the one that produced Coco Vandeweghe.

One newspaper story I read referred to the 25-year old Californian as "a niece of former New York Knicks forward Kiki Vandeweghe," but that description hardly scratched the surface. Kiki Vandeweghe had a stretch of seven straight years averaging more than 20 points in the NBA, and his sister (Coco's mother), Tauna, was a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic swim team, but that's not where it all started.

Coco's maternal grandmother is 1952 Miss America, Colleen Kay Hutchins, whose brother Mel was a four-time NBA All-Star. He was also a teammate of the Knicks' Ernie Vandeweghe, an All-American at Colgate who played six years in the NBA and then served as a physician with the U.S. Air Force in Europe. He later served on the U.S. Olympic Sports Committee, where he was an instrumental figure in the writing of two key pieces of sports legislation -- Title IX and the 1976 Amateur Athletic Act.

If you're connecting the dots properly here, this is an easy one to follow. Mel Hutchins' sister is Miss America; his friend Ernie Vandeweghe is literally the All-American guy. Hutchins is the ultimate teammate, sister meets buddy, and an impressive family tree takes root.

Coco Vandeweghe didn't make it to the finals of the U.S. Open, but she has time to continue to add on to an already impressive lineage.


I can't understand why nobody figured out the real reason behind Yankees slugger Aaron Judge's dramatic offensive drop-off in the second half of the season. It had nothing to do with the gigantic slugger's participation in the Home Run Derby sideshow to the All-Star Game.

It was much simpler than that -- the Yankees didn't face the Orioles' pitching staff for almost three months, from June 11 (when they completed a three-game series sweep by a combined score of 38-8) until Sept. 4, when the Yankees' beat-down didn't miss a beat.


"Baseball lifer" is an often overused term, but sometimes there just isn't any other way to say it. That would be the case with Tom Giordano, former Orioles scouting and minor league director, who was a visitor to Camden Yards earlier in the month.

Now serving as a scout for the Atlanta Braves at 88, Giordano is finishing up his 70th year in professional baseball. And he doesn't sound like he's ready to retire any time soon. •

Jim Henneman can be reached at

Issue 237: September 2017