SBJ/20100830/Labor & Agents

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  • Clubs seek friendly venues for workers’ comp cases

    Multiple MLB clubs have added clauses to the contracts of newly drafted players that require workers’ compensation claims to be filed outside the club’s home state, in a state with laws more favorable toward employers, something lawyers say is unenforceable.

    The Los Angeles Angels have added clauses that say any workers’ comp claim brought by a player drafted this year must be brought in Arizona, instead of in California, where the law is much more favorable to employees, sources said. Angels spokesman Tim Mead confirmed that such language was in contracts, but would not comment further.

    Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of labor relations, said, “There are a number of clubs that regulate workers’ comp claims via special covenants in minor league contracts.”

    The cost of workers’ compensation claims is “a huge issue” for MLB clubs, Manfred said, although he would not provide cost numbers. “We have a lot of minor league players, way more players than in football, and in any professional sport there is a lot of work-related injuries,” he said.

    Manfred would not say how many clubs were adding the clauses, or whether the commissioner’s office was advising them to do so. “I am not going to get into advice we give clubs,” he said.

    But some lawyers who were asked about such clauses, including NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen, said they were unenforceable.

    Manfred said, “Dick is entitled to his opinion. But I am sure all the clubs routinely get advice about the clauses they have in their contracts and they are including them on the premise that they are, in fact, enforceable.”

    Berthelsen retorted, “Manfred may disagree, but no less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court is totally on the players’ side in this argument.”

    Berthelsen was referring to a 1935 decision, known as Alaska Packers, in which the court ruled that a California law saying that no employee could give up his right to file in that state was valid and therefore provisions in contracts stating that you could not file in California were invalid.

    Ned Ehrlich, an attorney who has represented injured professional athletes in workers’ comp claims, agrees that the clauses are unenforceable. “You can’t contract that right away,” he said.

    Agents said the provisions began appearing in minor league contracts last year. One agent said virtually all MLB clubs were insisting on them in one form or another. “I think that would be exaggerating,” Manfred said. “A number of clubs are using them.”

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  • Guaranteed money for NFL first-rounders continues to rise

    The amount of guaranteed dollars going to first-round NFL draft picks increased by 8.5 percent this year, to $452 million.

    That’s up from $416.5 million for last year’s top selections, said Mark Levin, NFL Players Association director of salary cap and agent administration.

    The amount of guaranteed dollars, which are paid to players even if they suffer a career-ending injury or otherwise do not perform, has gone up for the last several years. The increase from 2008 to 2009 was 9.1 percent. The increase from 2007 to 2008 was 6.5 percent, and from 2006 to 2007 it was 4.5 percent.

    But that trend could very well halt after this year, as the NFL has proposed a rookie wage scale in which first-round picks would be paid a set amount, based on their position in the draft. The NFLPA has also proposed major changes to the rookie system, namely that contract lengths for all drafted players be limited to three years.

    First-round draft picks typically sign deals that are five to six years in length.

    This year, the NFL is operating without a salary cap, but the rookie pool, a cap within the overall salary cap that limits the amount of money clubs can pay rookies, was in effect.

     CAA SIGNS FIRST ROOKIE GOLF CLIENT: CAA Sports has signed its first young golf client since it entered the golf business in April of last year: 21-year-old USC four-time all-American Belen Mozo.

    Mozo, a native of Spain who is bilingual, charismatic and good-looking, won both the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship and the Girls’ British Open Amateur, the first player to do so since 1972. She also qualified for three women’s professional golf championships while competing as an amateur.

    Dustin Johnson missed
    a rule but found some
    new opportunities.

    Mozo, who recently turned pro after recovering from shoulder surgery, is represented by a team of agents led by Mike Rielly at CAA. Mozo played mostly Titleist clubs at USC, where she is still in school and working toward getting a degree by the end of the year. CAA agents are said to be talking to both endemic and non-endemic sponsors, and Mozo plans to go to Q school for both the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour.

    CAA also represents golf legends Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus.

     TWO STROKES, TWO DEALS?: Don’t feel too sorry for PGA Tour player Dustin Johnson, who lost the chance to be in the playoff at this year’s PGA Championship after he was penalized two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker he didn’t know was a bunker.

    The next day, Johnson’s agent, Rocky Hambric, received more than 500 e-mails and many phone calls, including calls from sponsors and overseas tournaments who wanted to increase Johnson’s appearance fee. Johnson is 11th on the money list and, at age 26, is becoming a tour favorite because of his athleticism, Hambric says.

    “He can dunk a basketball flat-footed with jeans and a regular shirt on,” Hambric said. “By golf standards, he’s an animal.”

    Hambric, who has been in the business 33 years and has represented Phil Mickelson, Lorena Ochoa and Anthony Kim, among others, said he has never seen a loss generate so much fan and sponsor interest. “I think I will sign two deals because of it,” he said.

     SFX ADDS HUFF: SFX Baseball has signed San Francisco Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff for representation. Mark Pieper, managing partner of Chicago-based SFX Baseball, will represent Huff, who had been agent-less for a few months and was previously represented by ACES Inc.

    Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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  • Union wants change in rules on physicals

    Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association expect to  begin talks soon on how to solve the problem of players losing their college eligibility when they agree to a club contract and then fail the club’s physical exam.

    Barret Loux, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ first-round pick this year, agreed to a contract but then failed the physical. Loux is now a free agent represented by SFX Baseball, but he cannot return to college because of NCAA rules.

    Barret Loux, drafted out of Texas A&M, failed his
    physical and is now a free agent.

    Agents say the problem has occurred before and gives  clubs leverage in signing such players at discount prices.

    “The issue … has been out there for at least a few years,” said MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner. “I would expect the union and the commissioner’s office in relatively short order to begin discussions to see if we can come up with a more workable set of rules in this area.” Weiner declined further comment on the subject.

    Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of labor relations, said, “From our perspective, we are happy to have conversations with the MLBPA” on the issue.

    Manfred said it would be beneficial to the clubs to have medical information on prospective draft picks before they are selected in the draft. “If we have medical information before the draft, the chances of having this eligibility problem dramatically decrease,” he said.

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