Veteran starter Randy Wolf asked for and received his release from the Mariners yesterday, the same day he was informed he would make the team's rotation. At issue was a little-known but increasingly used quirk of the CBA, a waiver that makes a guaranteed contract anything but. Seattle tried to spring it on Wolf at the last minute, but he wasn't willing to sign.
"The day should have started with a handshake and congratulations instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D cell battery," Wolf said.
The 37-year-old lefty signed a minor league deal in February, a team-friendly contract that would have paid him about $1 million if he made the team. He appeared set to, clearly being one of the Mariners' best five healthy starters coming out of camp. But after telling Wolf he would start the season in the rotation, the M's told him he would have to sign something called an advanced-consent release form.
It is, essentially, a waiver that allows a team to demote or release a player within 45 days, without having to pay him a full season's salary. Former pitcher C.J. Nitkowski, who signed two of these waivers in his career, explains:
Sorry, on a plane, the quick version of the 45 day waiver, how it works and how teams manipulate players with it. pic.twitter.com/LV6Qf7fuWI
— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) March 25, 2014
While advanced-consent waivers can't be signed until a player makes the roster, they are almost always agreed to when a player signs his contract. That's what has Wolf so offended—the Mariners didn't tell him they'd require him to sign the waiver until Tuesday.
"I principally objected to that simply because we negotiated in good faith in February on a team friendly contract, if I were to make the team," Wolf said. ""I felt like I came in amazing shape, I pitched great and I earned a spot on the team. They told me I earned the spot on team. But to me, that advanced consent thing is kind of renegotiating a contract so I told them I wouldn't sign in and I disagreed with it."
Wolf told Ken Rosenthal that the Mariners said they would not make him sign the waiver if he agreed to re-do his contract—presumably with a lot less in guaranteed money.
Advanced-consent waivers have been permitted under the CBA since 1997 (one agent told Rosenthal that they've become "much more widespread" recently), and have often been utilized by teams looking to minimize risk on players under minor-league contracts. And it is the teams who have all the leverage—as non-roster invitees, players are so desperate to make a big league club that they'll sign on under any onerous restriction.
But for Wolf, who presumably values job security over all else, there's good reason to be wary of the waiver. Three Mariners starters are injured, and two of them—Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma—should be back within the month. There's every chance that Wolf makes his five starts, but gets released once Walker and Iwakuma are healthy. With the waiver, Wolf would only receive the prorated portion of his salary, much of which was already dependent on hitting incentives.
"It made me feel uncomfortable," Wolf said. "I had to take a stand and not accept that. I just felt it was wrong. I understand they were within the rules. I just felt it was not good business."
It also has to rub Wolf the wrong way that the Mariners, a team with a ton of holes, dropped $240 million on Robinson Cano, but can't commit $1 million to a potential starter. Nitkowski brought this up, and maybe Rosenthal's report from December was true: the Cano signing was all the spending Seattle was willing to do.