THE NEXT BIG THING: VOIDING ATHLETES’ CONTRACTS

In recent weeks there has been mounting speculation that the NBA’s Washington Wizards are going to attempt to void the remaining $96 million of suspended basketball player Gilbert Arenas’ guaranteed $122 million contract. Consensus seems to be that new ownership wants a fresh start and would love to get out from the albatross of a contract which Arenas signed in the summer of 2008. Arenas’ highly publicized fiasco involving firearms and possible felony gun charges may give Washington the opportunty to jettison both him and his contract. The Wizards have removed practically all evidence of Arenas from the Verizon Center including a banner of their former franchise player.

Yesterday, a couple of stories were floated about baseball’s New York Mets possibly trying to void outfielder Carlos Beltran’s contract. Beltran underwent knee surgery that was performed by a doctor who is not affiliated with the Mets. That could technically violate his contract. Somebody from the Mets leaked that they were “threatening to take some form of action” to the New York Post. The Mets are so serious about this that they reportedly alerted both the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Commissioner’s Office,

The theoretical possibility has always existed for professional sports franchises to invalidate or void the contracts of players who violate the standard injury or morals clauses in their contracts. The only incidents where a team even came close to trying to void out a major contract were:

 

JEFF KENT’S MOTORCYCLE

JEFF KENT’S MUSTACHE

In 2002 when San Francisco Giants second baseman Jeff Kent broke his wrist while doing wheelies on his motorcycle. Kent then lied to the baseball club about how he was injured. Riding a motorcycle was specifically prohibited by Kent’s contract. Also:

Last season, in basketball, when young Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis committed a similar lie after he was involved in a “low speed moped accident.” The Warriors actually suspended Ellis briefly “for violating Paragraph 12 of the Uniform Player Contract.” The suspension cost Ellis $3 million. However, the club did NOT tear up Ellis’ contract or attempt to get out of the remaining years.

The other time when a team at least talked about voiding a contract was in 2005 after New Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi admitted that he had used steroids.

Short of these few, isolated incidents, a professional sports franchise has almost never voided a player’s guaranteed contract. The Chicago Bulls kind of did after guard Jay Williams was injured following his rookie season in 2003. Williams violated his contract by riding a motorcycle. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and was not licensed to drive a motorcycle in the state of Illinois. Williams crashed his cycle into a light pole, fracturing his pelvis, tearing his ACL, and severing a main nerve in his leg. He never played professional basketball again. Although they didn’t technically void his contract, the Bulls did buy Williams out and release him.

The Mets decision to even think about voiding Beltran’s contract is completely idiotic for a myriad of reasons.

* Nobody is claiming his injury wasn’t legitimate or baseball related

* The injury was misdiagnosed by Mets team doctors who Beltran has been consulting with the entire offseason

* Beltran had the surgery so that he could perform BETTER

* The surgery was performed by one of the world’s most renowned sports physicians

However, the fact that New York is even thinking about voiding out Beltran shows how serious teams are going to get in the future about using any legal means possible to get out of bad contracts. Beltran is only expected to miss a couple of weeks of the 2010 baseball season and his contract only has one more season to run after this. Why then would the Mets bother to sue for “missed time?” One theory is the Mets might go after Beltran and sue him retroactively. Under this theory, the Mets could attempt to recoup money from Beltran for past seasons because he  violated his contract. Good luck with that. Beltran’s agent is Scott Boras, and he’s about 1,000 x smarter than Mets owner Fred Wilpon or GM Omar Minaya.

The Mets have a better chance of one of their players walking on the surface of Mars than getting any money back from Beltran and Boras.

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