Yesterday, we considered the legal viability of baseball players using Section 2855 of the California Labor Code to enter free agency early. The state law stipulates that employees cannot be held to contracts of longer than seven years; over at FanGraphs, Nathaniel Grow speculated that Mike Trout—and other California players who had been with the same organization for at least seven years—could cite it in declaring free agency before their CBA-mandated six years of major-league service. We decided that although MLB would be able to mount a number of different legal defenses against such a claim, a player willing to take the risk would have a decent case, at least according to the letter of the law.
Still intrigued by the curious loophole, we asked baseball agent (and California lawyer) Scott Boras, renowned for his willingness to use aggressive tactics to advance the interests of his clients, if he would ever consider exploiting this law for one of them. He said that, realistically, “the logistics of this don’t work.”
Boras was previously aware of the potential of Section 2855, and read the FanGraphs article before we spoke. He said that even theoretically, challenging the CBA using state law in court would be risky since Section 2855 is designed to protect people who don’t already have a union negotiating their rights for them.
But even if he was more confident in his hypothetical client’s case, it just doesn’t make baseball sense.
“To litigate this, probably you’re going to have to go to a federal judge, and then the appeals court, the the Supreme Court,” Boras said. “So you’re looking at a four year run. And you’re talking about a player who is going to spend the prime of his career tied up in litigation.” Such an interruption would create a distraction for a young player, drawing his focus away from the game and potentially costing him more in baseball value than he stands to gain on the free market.
So in the reading of the agent perhaps likeliest to use a loophole like this, players don’t try it—and agents don’t recommend it—because there’s not enough upside.
Besides, “a team can just take this case and make it go away by just trading you,” Boras said. “And then how’s it going to affect the fan base that you’re trying to get free agency from the team you’re playing for? And what’s the union going to think of this? You’ll have union members saying ‘why do California players get rights we don’t get under the CBA?’
“You don’t want,” he said, “to be a pariah.”