SBJ/February 20-26, 2012/Labor and Agents

Former closer, agents in dispute over fees, no-trade list

Wasserman Media Group MLB agents are embroiled in two separate, confidential arbitrations with former client Francisco Rodriguez over his trade last summer from the New York Mets to Milwaukee, a club he had on a no-trade list that was never filed.

Rick Johnson, Rodriguez’s attorney, said not filing the list of 10 teams with the Mets cost Rodriguez millions in earnings, in part because his role in Milwaukee is that of a setup reliever rather than a closer. Johnson also contends that Wasserman attorneys reneged on an agreement to make an offer of at least $1 million to settle any legal claims Rodriguez might have against the agency and his former agents, Paul Kinzer and Arn Tellem. No such lawsuit had been filed as of last Thursday, Johnson said.

Francisco Rodriguez was traded in July to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he became a setup man.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
An attorney for Wasserman contends that Rodriguez was not upset with the trade and is only bringing up the no-trade list now because he owes fees to the agency. “The no trade list is a red herring: Both the player and his agent were satisfied with the Brewers trade, and the player just signed a new contract with the Brewers,” Wasserman outside attorney Bert Deixler said via email. “Now, at the same time we are trying to collect fees that the player still owes, the list has suddenly become an issue. This fee collection matter is itself now the subject of a confidential arbitration.”

Rodriguez last year had a player’s option in his contract with the Mets, a deal negotiated by Kinzer, that called for him to be paid $17.5 million in 2012 if he finished 55 games in the 2011 season. On July 12, Rodriguez was traded to the Brewers. He had finished 34 games at that time, putting him on pace, according to Johnson, to hit the incentive mark.

Earlier that summer, Johnson said, Kinzer had approached Rodriguez and told him that he should renegotiate with the Mets and agree to take a one-year deal for 2012 for $9 million, letting go of the $17.5 million option. Rodriguez, thinking he was on pace to hit the 55-finish incentive — and not knowing the no-trade list had not been filed — said no.

“They [Wasserman Media Group] told him the Mets wanted to trade him, but they didn’t tell him that he had no ability to block the trade because they had not filed the no-trade list,” Johnson said.

“We were told that there was not a valid, approved no-trade list,” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin via email last week. “Without knowing K-Rod we felt that he would be understanding of why we traded for him [to win] and he is such a competitor and wants to win that he was coming to a club that had a chance to go to the playoffs.”

Working as a setup man in Milwaukee, where John Axford is the established closer, Rodriguez’s pace to hit the 55-games-finished incentive would be altered.

Rodriguez fired Tellem and Kinzer and hired Scott Boras just ahead of the trade. Under the old deal, the Mets would have had to pay Rodriguez $3.5 million had he not reached the 55-game mark. Boras negotiated an additional $500,000 for Rodriguez from the Brewers.

Rodriguez subsequently agreed, in January, to a one-year, $8 million deal to return to the Brewers in 2012, avoiding arbitration.

Said Melvin of Rodriguez via email, “He and his agent accepted a restructuring of the vesting option for $500,000 so he could be a free agent at the end of the year. So I assume he was okay. With all of that, he would like to be a closer and I totally understand that.”

The $4 million, plus the $8 million salary that Rodriguez agreed to this year, is $5.5 million less than the $17.5 million Rodriguez would have earned had he stayed in New York, where he was the closer — which he presumably could have done had the no-trade list been filed. Johnson is seeking that $5.5 million in damages, plus additional damages because Rodriguez is not playing as a closer and is playing in a smaller market, Milwaukee, instead of in New York.

The MLB Players Association oversees fee disputes between players and agents. MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner declined to comment.
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