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January 30, 2013

The Lineup Card

Six Contract Incentives that Should Happen

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. Rod Barajas Gets a Bonus for Every Caught Stealing
I hate to poke fun at fat guys since I am one of them, but I do find it amusing that the Phillies felt compelled to add weight bonuses into the contract of free agent “outfielder” Delmon Young. One would think staying in shape would be a prerequisite for a professional athlete and he shouldn’t have to be bribed to keep his weight down. Heck, I don’t get a bonus for keeping up on baseball. That’s part of my job.

Then again, part of a catcher’s job is to occasionally throw out a baserunner attempting to steal. Rod Barajas was abysmal at that aspect of his game last season for the Pirates, catching just six of 99. Six of 99! It wasn’t all Barajas’ fault, because Pirates pitchers were so bad at holding runners that they couldn’t even keep a rotund runner like Delmon Young from stealing a base. It got so bad that the Pirates thought about changing their regular promotion after Sunday afternoon home games at PNC Park. Instead of letting all fans 12 and under run the bases, the Pirates were going to let the children run the bases against Barajas.

OK, so that was never actually discussed because the Pirates don’t have that much marketing savvy. It would have been a fun idea and interesting to see if Barajas could throw out at least six percent of the youngsters. Not surprisingly, the 37-year-old Barajas remains a free agent with pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in two weeks. Thus, a 13-year career could be over for a thoroughly decent guy. If some team does decide to sign Barajas, though, it is too bad Major League Baseball rules prohibit performance bonuses based on runners caught stealing. Barajas would be the perfect candidate—and I’m talking about throwing out major leaguers, not little kids. —John Perrotto

2. Standing Up to Cancer with Shelley Duncan
It’s not uncommon for blockbuster contracts to include a promise by the player to make a donation to the team charity. The Angels turned that idea on its head this winter by promising to donate $400,000 a year to Josh Hamilton’s charity as part of his $125 million free-agent contract.

In that spirit, I suggest that the Rays donate cash to MLB partner Stand Up To Cancer for each plate appearance made by Shelley Duncan, who signed a minor-league deal with Tampa Bay earlier this month. Duncan’s mother, Jeanine, was treated for a brain tumor in August 2011, prompting her husband Dave to take a leave of absence from his duties as Cardinals pitching coach. And Shelley’s younger brother, Chris Duncan—a former major leaguer himself—had a brain tumor removed in October 2012. —Jeff Euston

3. Ben Revere: A Bonus When He Catches a Ball in Foul Territory From Center Field
Congratulations, Mr. Revere, on your trade from Minnesota to Philadelphia. Your reward: Playing between first baseman Darin Ruf in left field and designated hitter Delmon Young, the inspiration for it all, in right. Good luck to you, sir. —Zachary Levine

4. The Four Incentives
The Office of the Commissioner should institute these four incentives:

1. The Bocce Jeter Incentive: The hitter with the ground ball that got closest to Derek Jeter without touching him by the end of the season is awarded $1 million.

2. The Alexi Ramirez Disincentive: Any pitcher who throws a strike to Alexi Ramirez, owner of a 2.6 percent walk rate last season, shall be fined. The money will be donated to help teach toddlers to walk.

3. The Beat Bryce Harper Incentive: The team that puts the youngest player in a major-league game wins five games in the standings. In the event of a tie, the player left in the longest will win. Hopefully this results in the Astros playing an infant in right field. (Note: This might be unfair as, depending on the state, life begins at conception.)

4. The Obvious Groundskeeping Incentive: The team that attempts the most painfully obvious groundskeeping feat in an attempt to gain an advantage by the end of the season wins. Examples include, but are not limited to, building moats along the basepaths to slow opposing runners (alligators are encouraged), employing dropped ceilings in indoor parks to keep opposing power hitters at bay, and lowering home plate (raising the mound is illegal, but...) to give your lousy hitting team a chance against better-hitting teams. —Matthew Kory

5. Bryce Harper: $10,000 for Reaching First Base on Outfield Hits in Under 4.5 seconds (up to $1 million)
If anything was obvious about the way Bryce Harper played baseball in his rookie season, it was just how hard he runs on the basepaths. He ended the season with the two fastest traditional tater trots of the year, and his hustle in turning singles into doubles or doubles into triples has been mentioned countless times. With the speed that he has, Harper can turn routine base hits into stressful situations for the defense. It is something to be encouraged, especially as the 20-year-old spends more time in the league. If this kind of incentive were legal, Washington would be wise to offer to pay Harper for using his speed on the bases. Not only might it continue to give the Nationals more scoring opportunities by placing Harper that much closer to home and by putting stress on the defense, possibly forcing errors we wouldn't normally see, it would also help ingrain the hustle into Harper, maybe making it more likely he would keep that kind of disruptive play as part of his game as he ages into his 30s. In fact, this kind of incentive could work for any speedy players a club might hope to get the most out of (Carlos Gomez, Dee Gordon, Prince Fielder, etc.).

"Drop the bat and run hard to first! It could be worth a win—and $1 million!" Who wouldn't want to go for that?! —Larry Granillo

6. A Bonus for Every Aaron Cook Strikeout
Last year, Aaron Cook was really bad at striking people out. Historically bad. We're in a strikeout-heavy era; it's the easiest way to ensure that a pitcher does not have to rely on his defense for outs, and batters are more than willing to take a hack and risk a strikeout instead of a twin-killing. Cook simply could not get batters to offer at his 90 mph sinker, leading to his horrendous 1.9 K/9 ratio.

The righty signed with the Phillies earlier this offseason, but maybe it's not too late for Philadelphia to offer $25,000 for every strikeout Cook records. C'mon. The guy whiffed just 20 guys last season; that's only an extra $500,000 to tack onto his contract. And considering Philadelphia's defense, the Phillies would do well to pray that Cook's pitches find the catcher's mitt rather than an iron glove. —Stephani Bee

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