As we’re reminded every year, baseball at the professional level is a business first. If teams can cut corners to save even the slightest bit of money, you better believe they’ll do it.
Unfortunately for players with vesting options and incentive clauses in their contracts, one of the easiest ways to cut costs is to avoid those incentives being met. Though the Los Angeles Angels are denying that as motivation, it appears recent changes to their pitching alignment may have been aimed at saving up to $750,000 in bonuses potentially owed to two pitchers.
Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times specifically points to two decisions made last Friday as being a little too convenient for the team when considering the terms of Bud Norris’ and Jesse Chavez’s contracts.
Norris, who had served as the team’s primary closer when healthy this season, was moved into a starting role for this game. The reason given by the Angels was that they needed a starter for the injured Andrew Heaney. But Moura notes that Norris would be due a $500,000 bonus if he makes 60 relief appearances this season.
It’s a very specific clause, and considering that start had been Norris’ only appearance over a 10-day stretch, it added more fuel to Moura’s speculation the Angels have been limiting Norris’ relief appearances. It should be noted that Norris pitched in relief on Tuesday, giving him 57 relief appearances on the season. That one could come right down to the wire and will no doubt be watched very closely.
In the same game, Jesse Chavez, who has made 21 starts and 13 relief appearances for the Angels this season, appeared as a reliever. That’s worth mentioning for a couple reasons. One, he would have seemed a more logical choice to start given that he’s already logged 21 this season. The other being that had he made a 22nd start this season, it would have triggered a $250,000 clause in Chavez’s contract. Beyond that, Chavez had another $250,000 bonus coming if he reached 24 starts this season, but that very clearly is not going to happen.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Times on Tuesday that he was completely unaware of the incentives in either players’ contracts. General manager Billy Eppler offered a similar denial, stating that it’s “just a coincidence” things lined up as they did.
Perhaps that’s true. You almost hope it is considering the Angels should have bigger priorities with a postseason spot still well within reach. But man, what a coincidence when you consider the players involved and their roles.
You can draw your own conclusions on whether the Angels worked this situation to their advantage. All we can tell you with certainty is that the Angels are still paying the over $26 million that was owed to Josh Hamilton this season, not to mention they’ll be on the hook for the over $100 million still owed to Albert Pujols over the next four seasons. Saving money isn’t just a hobby for them. It’s a necessity.
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