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Will the Soriano Situation Alter the Uniform Player’s Contract?

22nd March 2006

UpdateSoriano Says He’ll Play Left All Season . By the way… One can still see the need to address the ambiguity in the Uniform Player’s Contract to deal with this issue.

I spent a good part of yesterday going over the Uniform Players Contract in the current CBA trying to see if there was anything that might lead to an opinion on how the impasse between Alfonso Soriano and the Washington Nationals might land. This while Soriano has said today that he will play left against the Cardinals later this afternoon. Whether he continues to play left field as opposed to second base is a matter that may still be up in the air.

After going through the CBA on this issue, the answer is… it may be anybody’s guess.

I have been straining to think of an instance where a player has flat out said that they wouldn’t take a position change with the idea in mind that the position change is deemed to be the main, or for lack of a better word, chosen position that the team has decided upon for a player to play as the primary position.

Players have been docked pay for refusing to play, but in those cases it has been for short durations. This case seems to hinge on a “all or nothing” mindset by Sorianio: Play me at second base, or I won’t play.

Here’s what the Uniform Player’s Contract says under “Player Representations”:

Loyalty
3.(a) The Player agrees to perform his services hereunder diligently
and faithfully, to keep himself in first-class physical condition and to
obey the Club’s training rules, and pledges himself to the American
public and to the Club to conform to high standards of personal conduct,
fair play and good sportsmanship.

Pretty vague in terms of the situation.

There’s nothing within the provision in the Uniform Player’s Contract that says that he must play a position. Of course, there’s nothing here that says he shouldn’t, as well.

Where the Nationals may have the edge is within the following:

Ability
4.(a) The Player represents and agrees that he has exceptional and unique skill and ability as a baseball player; that his services to be rendered
hereunder are of a special, unusual and extraordinary character which gives them peculiar value which cannot be reasonably or adequately
compensated for in damages at law, and that the Player’s breach of this contract will cause the Club great and irreparable injury and damage. The Player agrees that, in addition to other remedies, the Club shall be entitled to injunctive and other equitable relief to prevent
a breach of this contract by the Player, including, among others, the right to enjoin the Player from playing baseball for any other person or organization during the term of his contract.

Mulling the situation over…

If I’m hired by contract for a company under the intent of conducting work within my given area of profession… let’s say, law, and I’m asked after signing to take over as the window washer on the high rise, one could say that there’s grounds for me not wanting to take the job.

It gets into a gray area if I’m a mechanic that works on cars, and I’m asked to start working on motorcycles. As an employee, I may not have a clear cut case for refusing to do so.

Soriano is under contract to play for the Nationals. He’s been hired to perform services as a player. Does that mean that Soriano could be made to play the position of catcher? A pitcher? As I said, it’s not a clear cut case. Could he be placed on the disqualified list on other grounds? Being a royal pain? Being insubordinate? That may certainly be an option.

If the Nationals place him on the disqualified list, he’s within his right to a grievance.

Here’s what the Contract says regarding Soriano’s options in terms of filing such a grievance:

(1) (a) “Grievance” shall mean a complaint which involves the
existence or interpretation of, or compliance with, any agreement, or
any provision of any agreement, between the Association and the
Clubs or any of them, or between a Player and a Club, except that
disputes relating to the following agreements between the Association
and the Clubs shall not be subject to the Grievance Procedure
set forth herein:

(i) The Major League Baseball Players Benefit Plan;
(ii) The Agreement Re Major League Baseball Players Benefit
Plan;
(iii) The Agreement regarding dues check-off.

If the Nationals were to go forward, place Soriano on the disqualified list without pay, it seems that the MLBPA would certainly file a grievance. Under the NLRB, Soriano’s case might be heard by a single arbitrator (Shyam Das), or a panel.

A bigger question is whether this case has any implications for Soriano in terms of free agency.

Currently, he has 5 1/2 years of service on his contract. To be a free agent, he needs 6 years of service time. If the Nationals were to win this case, and Soriano were to hold out for more than 6 months, he would not be eligible for free agency. The Nationals could simply hold on to him. This is one more reason why the MLBPA has a vested interest in this case.

This case will have far reaching implications, regardless of the outcome. If someone hasn’t already been working on the verbiage for proposing clarification on this matter for the next CBA to be discussed in the next round of collective bargaining, one would be surprised.

What’s somewhat surprising is that this issue that is occuring with Soriano isn’t covered in a Management Rights provision. The sum total of the Management Rights provision within the current CBA reads:

ARTICLE XXII—Management Rights
Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to restrict the rights of
the Clubs to manage and direct their operations in any manner whatsoever
except as specifically limited by the terms of this Agreement.

I’m going to lean in the direction of the Nationals on this matter. Players are routinely asked to play various positions on the field. After all, where did we get the term “utility player”?

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