Teams Wield Advance Consent Hammer

As Opening Day drew near, veteran Randy Wolf appeared to be the frontrunner for the No. 5 spot in the Mariners' rotation.  That's why it came as a bit of a surprise when he requested his release from the club on March 25th.  It turned out that Wolf, who missed all of 2013 as he recovered from his second Tommy John surgery, refused to sign a 45-day advance-consent form.  The form, for the uninitiated, would have allowed the M's to terminate the deal during that window for any reason except injury.  

While sources tell MLBTR that these requests are common throughout MLB, Wolf told Bob Dutton of The News Tribune that he was quite upset about it.  The 37-year-old felt as though he was put in a position where he had to renegotiate his deal just months after hammering out a team-friendly pact ($1MM for making big league roster with $3MM+ in incentives) days before the start of the season.  “The fact that I essentially made the team, in theory, I’m proud of that accomplishment.” the veteran told Dutton. “But I’m really disappointed in how it ended. The day should have started with a handshake and congratulations instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D-cell battery. So, it’s a really hard time.” 

Of course, the Mariners and General Manager Jack Zduriencik acted completely within the rights granted to them by the Collective Bargaining Agreement: the advance consent form has been in place since the end of the 1994/1995 strike.  And, as expected, Wolf wasn't out of work for very long, as he signed a similar minor league deal with the Diamondbacks late last week.  However, Wolf's ire about the relatively unknown clause raised some interesting questions about how frequently it's used, the ways it could be misused, and how it is viewed by executives, agents, players, and the players union.

"As a general matter, players hate it," one union source said. "These are players, needless to say, who did not have a lot of leverage in their negotiations in the offseason…There's no question that it is a distasteful process for players and their agents."

The use of the form varies greatly from club to club.  One high-ranking executive told MLBTR that his club has asked a player to sign an advance consent form just once over the last decade.  On the flipside, a National League executive said that anytime his team has a player with five or more years of major league service (the form cannot be extended to those with less service time per the CBA) who does not figure to be an everyday player, they will use the clause in order to give themselves as much flexibility as possible.  In line with that thinking, the club often will push for players to agree to optional assignment rather than outright assignment.  If the player consents to outright assignment, the club does not have to subject the player to waivers before demoting him.  Again, per the CBA, both types are permitted.

Because the request is traditionally made of players who don't have a ton of leverage, they often agree to sign.  The NL exec has found that there are times when agents will protest, but with the leverage being in the club's corner, they'll ultimately relent.  

"If the agent gives you push back, then you say, 'Okay, we'll go with someone else because we need the flexibility.'  I've never had an agent not back down," he explained.  "I tell them once you get [to the big league roster], you could stay there for a heck of a long time.  We never do it with the intent to send them down and keep them there."

Of course, as in Wolf's case, some players do object, and agents will often consult with the union ("We act as a sounding board," the source explained) to talk through their different options.  The form can allow for both types of assignments and the length can also be negotiated since the 45-day mark is not a hard number, but rather a maximum limit. 

The union source explained that at the beginning of the season, about a dozen players are usually asked to sign a consent form.  Over the course of the season, that number tends to grow to "30-to-36" requests.  The distinction between the number of players who are asked to sign off and the number of requests is an important one.  Several players in any given year will be asked to sign multiple consent forms, which can essentially keep them in a state of limbo.  

The aforementioned executive told MLBTR that agents often fret over the possibility of their clients being asked to sign multiple forms, though he was unsure of whether that was common practice or just a fear of player reps.  "It's absolutely a reality," the MLBPA source said. "There are players who have signed three advance consents in a season, which obviously covers the better part of a full season."  It should be noted that while there have been cases of a player being churned through consecutive advanced consent forms, the union indicated that there aren't specific clubs who are routine offenders.

Wolf felt blindsided by the Mariners' request at the end of March, but the reality is that he wasn't guaranteed at the time of signing that he wouldn't be asked to sign an advance consent form as a condition of making the major league roster, agent Joel Wolfe confirmed to MLBTR.  In this case, Wolfe and Wolf had non-roster offers from ten clubs this offseason after he impressed in his winter showcase.  Wolf and Wolfe ultimately settled on the M's because they felt that they gave him the best chance to make a big league rotation.  However, they were rebuffed when they asked for assurance that they wouldn't be asked to sign off on advance consent. 

"They told me, 'We don't do that' and, really, no team that I've dealt with does that.  They don't even want to discuss that," Wolfe said. "The team made a decision as a policy, not singling out Randy, that a player in this position must sign an advance consent or he's not going to make the team."

One would be hard-pressed to find a team in MLB that explicitly warns players about a possible advance consent request.  The union official indicated that while teams won't do it, agents usually give their low-leverage clients a heads up to brace for the possibility.  The NL exec said he does not warn players of the possibility at the time of signing, but if an agent asks, he always answers truthfully.

In a lot of cases, being asked for advance consent is a blow to a player's ego and a very real source of frustration.  However, there are certainly cases where it can work in a player's favor.  Wolfe explained that he once had a client who seemed destined to either start the season in Double-A or get released.  However, the player exceeded all expectations in Spring Training and wound up on course to make the big league roster.  The club had Wolfe's client sign an advance consent form and soon after when he suffered an serious injury, he was protected from release since a player cannot be cut due to injury.  While Wolf's situation put the notion of advance consent in a negative light, it can also be beneficial for players in a different position.

That doesn't mean that advance consent will be embraced by the majority of major leaguers.  As Wolfe explained, an accomplished veteran like Wolf is accustomed to using Spring Training as an opportunity to shake off some offseason rust and get back in the swing of things.  When that player is on a non-guaranteed deal, they now have to approach every at bat and every inning as though it were the regular season.  After putting in that kind of effort, veteran players don't want to hear, "Hey, you made the team, but…"  Whether they like it or not, players will be subjected to advance consent requests for at least a couple more years.  Even then, it's far from guaranteed that the issue will be revisited or revised in the 2016 CBA discussions.

21 Responses to Teams Wield Advance Consent Hammer Leave a Reply

  1. Very interesting and insightful read, thanks Zach.

  2. Damon Bowman 1 year ago

    While I’m sure most of us can understand the difficulty a veteran like Wolf has in not being treated like the upper-tier player he once was, I think there’s something else to take away from the whole advance consent form episode with Wolf. The Mariners still come across as a second-class organization. When you’re meeting with a player to tell him he’ll make the team and the starting rotation and turn around and ask him to sign off on the advance consent form is just in poor taste. Talk to the agent ahead of time and try to work something out so it doesn’t become something we’re all still reading & talking about two and three weeks later.

    • Agreed, especially since it looks like they were doing it to get out of paying him when Iwamura gets back.

      • James Attwood 1 year ago

        This. This is why it looks so bad. It appears that the Mariners were blatantly trying to use the loophole in order to get a veteran presence to fill in for Iwakuma without actually paying for him. It was under-handed not in the fact that they were using the loophole, but in that they negotiated one deal with him and then backed out of it AFTER he had stopped marketing himself to other teams.

  3. harperhill 1 year ago

    Good for Randy for not accepting it. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

    • Karkat 1 year ago

      Being “employee at will” is pretty common in a lot of fields, however.

      • johnsilver 1 year ago

        Good point.. Temp’s are everywhere. Not going to get political, as it crosses both spectrum’s, but if a company, MLB even and it’s cheaper to have an employee on the payroll for 3-4 months, then rehire them for another 3-4 months, or just have Wolfie around for a month until Iwakuma gets back? Is it really any different?

      • mrsjohnmiltonrocks 1 year ago

        No kidding. In my occupation, I am hired from year to year. I work next to an incompetent buffoon that has protection. Twenty one years of doing a poor job and they can’t get rid of ’em!

        The way many job classifications are handled is blatantly unfair. Randy Wolf felt what he was asked was unfair to him. Good for him not agreeing to it.

  4. Huff's dog 1 year ago

    Lol I have no idea what this is talking about.

  5. kcstengelSr 1 year ago

    I hope Wolf proves Seattle wrong, but we are dealing with TJ recovery with nothing guaranteed.

  6. disadvantage 1 year ago

    “…instead of a 24-hour feeling of licking a D-cell battery.”

    Did he learn about this sensation playing along side Manny Ramirez?

  7. $40129616 1 year ago

    “The form, for the uninitiated, would have allowed the M’s to terminate the deal during that window for any reason except injury.”

    So let me get this straight. He has a contract. He’s playing along. Suddenly, the team says, “sign this!” If he signs it, they can fire him for any reason except injury within 45 days of signing. If he doesn’t sign it, then…what? He’s released? It’s like an automatic “get out of contract free” card for the team? What am I missing here?

    • jb226 1 year ago

      Unfortunately you’re not missing anything. It’s little more than a team piling on a guy with no leverage, who probably signed a cheap-as-dirt contract to begin with.

    • Karkat 1 year ago

      The one piece was that the money in his contract was contingent on him making the team. The Mariners basically said they’d add him to the team if he signed the advance consent form. So the decision for Wolf became: 1. sign the form, accept a pro-rated portion of 1mil and hope he pitches well enough to stick/earn incentives, 2. accept a minor league assignment (and make a lot less), or 3. request release.

      It’s a bit unsavory, but Seattle isn’t actually weaseling out of a contract guarantee. It’s more that they tacked on a less-than-friendly contingency to letting Wolf on the major league roster.

      • $40129616 1 year ago

        “The one piece was that the money in his contract was contingent on him making the team. The Mariners basically said they’d add him to the team if he signed the advance consent form.”

        Yeah, that’s what I was missing. It’s not that a team can pull this on any player; only on those with non-guaranteed contracts. Thank you.

  8. Lance Pistachio 1 year ago

    I think most would agree that the clause being used in this way is not fair. Hopefully this story is picked up by sportswriters/sports networks and some light is shed on it. ‘ve been coming to this site more often than I’d like to admit during the past 8 years and this might be the best piece that I’ve read.

    • John Evers 1 year ago

      Most would NOT agree that this clause is being used in a way that is unfair to the player. Clubs are not “out to get” players by asking them to sign the advance consent form. They are simply protecting themselves from a full season contract guarantee for a player that hasn’t earned this type of commitment. Keep in mind that the only players that can be asked to sign this waiver are guys that have more than five full years of ML service and come to spring training on a minor league contract. This type of player is usually a veteran (like Wolf) that is either coming off injury, or coming off a season of poor performance to the point where they were taken off the 40-man roster. This is a specific pool of players that frankly don’t deserve a contract guarantee at the moment. Here is a small sample of the type of players that signed an advance consent waiver this year – Xavier Nady, Reed Johnson, Kevin Slowey, John Lannan, Chris Young (SEA), Jason Giambi, and more… Wolf would have been paid for every day that he was on the ML roster and if he had pitched well, would have stayed on the roster and in the ML’s. Wolf has his reasons, but it seems like the ego got the best of him. He made a ML club after not pitching in ML’s for a year and turned it down because they won’t guarantee the contract. His ego got in the way and now he’s pitching at AAA Reno while Chris Young makes what would have been Wolf’s starts in the big leagues. Not smart.

      • Lance Pistachio 1 year ago

        Wow, you jumped to a few conclusions there from my comment. Didn’t say the clubs were “out to get” the player. All I said that in THIS situation that it is being used unfairly. As mentioned by others, it seems the Mariners are taking advantage of this rule to have Wolf as a stopgap until Iwakuma came back. Not exactly in the spirit of the rule.

  9. Greg Murphy 1 year ago

    The part about the form potentially working to a player’s favor is simply inaccurate. No player can be released due to injury without the team having to pay his contract. Under your scenario, if the player hadn’t signed the advance consent form the outcome would have been exactly the same.

  10. Bobby Lipovsky 4 months ago

    Clap,for the ‘Wolfman”……………

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