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July 5, 2010

Contractual Matters

An All-Star Payday

by Jeff Euston

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In 19 seasons in the major leagues, Reds reliever Arthur Rhodes had never been an All-Star. Until now.

Managers, coaches, and players selected Rhodes to the National League's All-Star pitching staff Sunday, rewarding the 40-year-old lefty specialist for a hot start in 2010. In 33 innings, Rhodes has allowed only 18 hits and four runs, while striking out 32.

The trip to Anaheim next week will provide Rhodes with a reward for a long career as a situational lefty, a role not often showered with high praise in the form of Cy Young votes or spots on an All-Star roster. The honor comes with another perk for Rhodes: a $25,000 award bonus as part of his free-agent deal with the Reds that he signed last December.

In the era of free agency, it has become standard operating procedure for most clubs to dole out a wide variety of award bonuses. Once reserved for free agents, All-Star award clauses now sometimes go to back-up players or those who are not yet eligible for arbitration. For example, the contracts for Omar Infante and Willie Bloomquist pay $50,000 should either make an All-Star team one day. (What's that? Infante was selected? … Well, you get the idea.) Though those kinds of award bonuses might seem like overkill, they can be vital in negotiations because they can help bridge the gap between a player's salary demand and the amount a club is willing to offer. And a club can include award bonuses in contracts for several players, safe in the assumption it will actually pay out the money in only a handful of cases.

A typical award clause includes bonuses for players who receive MVP or Cy Young awards, World Series or League Championship Series MVP awards, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and All-Star selections. Unlike salaries, which have risen steadily, the bonus amounts have largely remained flat, despite the fact that they were not originally negotiated with players who had signed eight- or nine-figure contracts. In 1988, for example, Wade Boggs and George Brett parlayed berths on the AL All-Star team into bonuses of $50,000 each, the same amount the Rays will pay to All-Star starters Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria this season.

In fact, Rhodes' bonus for making the 2010 team is only half of the $50,000 he stood to earn had he made the All-Star team under the terms of the three-year deal he signed with Oakland before the 2004 season.

But bonuses are not necessarily paid to every All-Star. One team-the Yankees-has simply refused to include award bonuses in contracts, positioning the Steinbrenners' club as a lone voice of fiscal sanity-when it comes to All-Star perks, anyway. The Yankees' policy presumably stems from the principle that, given the salaries their players earn, performing at an All-Star level is the least they can do. As a result, 11-time All-Stars Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera receive no bonuses for making the AL roster.

One player who got around the Yankee policy-at least for a while-was Alex Rodriguez, dealt to New York in 2004 with an existing contract guaranteeing him $100,000 for making the All-Star team and another $100,000 for receiving the most All-Star votes. A-Rod was an All-Star in each of his first four years in New York, and he was the top vote-getter in 2007, earning an additional $500,000 in All-Star bonuses from 2004-07. However, his bonus clauses were lost when he opted out of his contract after the 2007 season. Though he ultimately re-signed with the Yankees, his new deal did not include any extras beyond payments for "special achievements" based on career home-run totals. So, despite repeating as the top All-Star vote-getter in 2008, Rodriguez joined the ranks of Yankee All-Stars receiving no bonus.

Another player who willingly chose to forgo a bonus was Juan Gonzalez, who placed fourth behind three Cleveland Indians outfielders in the 1999 AL All-Star fan vote. Gonzalez, slighted after winning MVP awards in two of the previous three seasons, announced he would not play in the game as a reserve, and AL manager Joe Torre obliged him, leaving him off the roster. Juan Gone's decision cost him an All-Star bonus of $50,000.

No selection process is perfect, however. AL players voted Kansas City's Carlos Beltran to the 2004 All-Star team, but he was traded to Houston on June 24, which was too late in the process to include him on the National League ballot. Major League Baseball allowed Beltran to attend the game and festivities as an Astro, but he was not permitted to play for either team in his first All-Star appearance. Beltran was left to find solace in the fact that his 2004 contract paid him a $50,000 All-Star bonus, while his new teammates-Jeff Kent, Lance Berkman, and Roger Clemens-each earned just $25,000 for earning NL roster spots.

For some players, the chance they'll collect an All-Star bonus isn't just unlikely, it's all but impossible. Longtime reliever Alan Embree once signed a deal with San Diego guaranteeing him $50,000 if he was selected as the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game. Embree had made four starts as a rookie with Cleveland in 1992, but hadn't made another during his 16-year career. Recent contracts for San Diego relievers Doug Brocail and Heath Bell have included similar provisions in the unlikely event they were chosen to start the Midsummer Classic.

 One of the more surprising All-Star provisions surfaced in the monster $126 million contract for Toronto outfielder Vernon Wells. His deal pays him $100,000 for receiving the most All-Star votes in the American League, but no bonus for simply being elected as a starter or chosen as a reserve. Wells' 2010 performance won him a spot on the roster, though he ranked nowhere near the overall vote leader, Joe Mauer of Minnesota. So Wells will take the field in Anaheim, but as bonuses go, he'll get nothing and like it.  

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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