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The Philadelphia Phillies reportedly made a very curious decision recently. After drafting college junior Ben Wetzler in the fifth round of the June draft, the club and player could not reach an agreement on a contract and the Wetzler opted to return to Oregon State for his senior season. A tough choice, as college seniors have little in the way of leverage in negotiations after they’re drafted for the final time.

The Phillies, for whatever reason, took it upon themselves to report Wetzler to the NCAA for consorting with an agent, a violation of the collegiate body’s rules that could result in the left-handed pitcher losing eligibility for his final season.

In terms of real life, that’s pretty messed up. An enormous and wealthy corporation, run by the best in their field (and also Ruben Amaro Jr.) versus a college kid, an “amateur” athlete trying to secure what could be the only big payday of his sporting life.

Hey, rules are rules and if the kid hired an agent to negotiate on his behalf, he broke the rules. These rules might by arcane and borderline criminal and support a wholly corrupt and exploitive body like the NCAA, but they remain the rules. But why would the Phillies decide to play the role of sheriff in this case, going out of their way to essentially ruin Ben Wetzler’s final collegiate baseball season?

Baseball, of all games, if full of unwritten rules. One widely respected unwritten rule in the draft is the “kids will bring in advisors and nobody bats an eye” when it comes to negotiations.

Which doesn’t mean “accidents” don’t happen from time to time. The Toronto Blue Jays originally drafted Mariners blue chip starter James Paxton in the 2009 draft but, as it their wont, couldn’t sign the right-hander. A few weeks later, CEO Paul Beeston made some off-hand comment in the press about Scott Boras’ involvement in the negotiations between Toronto and Paxton. The NCAA investigated and Paxton lost his eligibility, floating in Indy ball purgatory until the Mariners selected him in the fourth round the following year.

Were Beeston’s comments innocent, a slip of the tongue at the wrong time? Or was this the Jays front office passive aggressively blowing the same whistle the Phillies used on Wetzler.

There is so, so much money in the game right now. The owners wield so much power, securing the lion’s share of revenue in the latest collective bargaining agreement – the same CBA that saw the union siphon draft dollars away from non-members like Wetzler in exchange for increasing salaries at the big league level. Every advantage is tilted towards the owners, who aren’t required to open their books yet somehow every single contract detail for every single player is leaked and publicized on dozens of websites.

So many fans harbor intense animosity and straight-up resentment for the amount of money players make (this is not new.) The tongue clucking and unchecked glee with which “player X made Y dollars and is now broke!” are shared around only serves to underscore the prevailing notion that nobody should make such a large sum playing ” a child’s game” yet an art collector born on third base can weasel his way into owning a team while proudly crowing about the triple he just lashed to the gap. It’s an ugly side of the sports fandom that is only getting worse.

While the TV riches float the top end of the salary tax brackets up, they might end up having the reverse effect on salaries in some markets. As the TV revenue begins dwarfing other sources of income for teams, the incentive to spend and “buy” a competitive team lessens, does it not? Why spend extra money when the impact on your bottom line is negligible? Clubs cry poor and cite budgets when they aren’t poor and their budgets are in place to save them from themselves, mostly.

This, admittedly, doesn’t have much to do with the greasy Phillies flexing on a fifth round draft pick. Perhaps the club that just inked a $2.5 billion TV deal with their regional sports network didn’t like the tone of the negotiations or perhaps Wetzler did some particularly unsavory negotiating, leaving “good faith” as nothing more than a distant memory. Who knows?

It just seems like a very strange breech of protocol for the Phillies, who gain…nothing from the decision to all but pull the plug on Wetzler’s NCAA chances in 2014, as the player was suspended indefinitely this week.

This isn’t the whole story, it just happened to break this week. This case has been ongoing since November, according to reports. The Phillies issued a “no comment” on the issue and the player himself is yet to speak on the issue. It is simply another brick in the wall for those general uncomfortable with the manner in which their ballpark franks are made. Do not peak behind the curtain if you’re squeamish, the stuff you see fed into this meat grinder is not for the faint of heart.

Comments (8)

  1. “It just seems like a very strange breech of protocol for the Phillies, who gain…nothing from the decision to all but pull the plug on Wetzler’s NCAA chances in 2014…”

    Future Phillies’ draft picks with college eligibility remaining are going to be reluctant to involve their “advisors” in any negotiations. Perhaps the Phillies did this to save a few dollars in signing bonueses oer the next few years.

  2. I’ve never understood why players who are negotiating a contract with a club shouldn’t have representation.. In many cases these are high school kids who may or may not have access to resources at home who can advise them on probably the biggest decision that they could ever make. A decent MLB signing bonus is more money than most normal people could ever hope to make before they are 30. The fact that teams get to use their professional expertise to exploit the process while teenagers are expected to rely on nobody but their old ma and pa to negotiate is incredible. Teams cry foul when a player enlists the help of someone who actually understands the situation professionally as if to say “The only fair way for this negotiation to occur is if it is completely unfair in our favor”.

  3. this is awesome. loved the loria chirp

  4. Maybe it was the Phillies way of saying that if you intend to be drafted, don`t bring an agent to all future picks. Why else would they do that to a 5th rounder.

    As to why you shouldn`t have an agent…when you signed the contract to your job, did you have an agent? I can understand why top tier athletes have agents, as they have things like image rights and injury clauses in their contracts and the legality of that is way beyond one person to have knowledge of…but Single A ballplayer? That is essentially like someone applying to become a nurse at a local hospital. Yes you need the skills, but you don`t get an agent do to the bargaining for you.

    • If I was negotiating a deal with a signing bonus of more than 200/300K, I’d want somebody there who knew what the fuck was going on.

      • I`m not disagreeing with you, I`m just explaining the rationale. I`m currently doing an overview of the requirements of my job and that will be vetted by HR to see exactly how much I get paid going forward. I`d love to be able to discuss why I believe that I should get paid more, but if they think so, they can actually award my position less. I cannot get a second opinion, I cannot take this to outside investigators and demand comparison, all I can do is do the best I can and hope for the best or if I don`t like how it`s going, I can quit and find another job. The draft pick can take what is offered or wait until after his senior year and become an undrafted free agent. At that point he can have as many people at the contract discussion as he wants. But for the draft pick part of his career (i.e. we`re going to pay you X dollars to not graduate on time) he`s not.

        • All your points are very well taken, but the part that seems unreasonable to me is that after the kid’s “negotiations” fell through, the Philles are basically allowed to blackball him from the best arena in which he can work hard to improve himself. I understand your points about having little choice but to accept what the employer offers, but it seems like a closer parallel would be if, after you decided not to accept the salary they propose, they prevented you from going back to your old job or any job like it.
          The world of sports contracts are without a doubt a bizarro version of the real-life world you and I work in, but it sure seems like an unfair tactic when the more powerful side of the table can remove your negotiating tools by simply saying “Sorry, we made a rule against that, and if you break it you’ll not only lose this job opportunity, we will also ruin your chances to earn other jobs.” I dunno. Let the kids get help and be free to just walk away from a deal they don’t like.

          • Yeah, that was a douche move. I believe it was more of a warning shot to any futures out there who try this. I also think this is Philly`s way around the collusion aspect. If they go around to other teams and tell them this guy brings an agent…then it`s collusion, since you`re not allowed to do that. However if you report him, you`re essentially telling the league that this guy brings an agent to the meetings without falling under the collusion argument.

            The reason why I bring up the collusion argument is that it was used in two past player strikes in other leagues and is being used in current lawsuits against leagues. Management and ownership are trying to protect themselves from allegations of it as much as possible, especially with how often that argument is being used (validly or non-validly).

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