Chris Young Isn’t Randy Wolf

Jeff Sullivan · March 28, 2014 at 6:22 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s because of Randy Wolf we’ve all learned about the existence of the 45-day advanced-consent release. And it’s because of the 45-day advanced-consent release that Randy Wolf isn’t on the Mariners anymore, after having learned they wanted him in the starting rotation. Basically, the Mariners didn’t want to guarantee seven figures to a potentially temporary starting pitcher. Wolf wanted the commitment. Ultimately he opted out, preferring the freedom of free agency. That’s how Randy Wolf ceased playing for Seattle before even setting foot in the actual city.

And so began the most surreal chapter of my entire month, and earlier this month I got into a staring contest with a cat in another apartment. The Internet was suddenly flooded with angry, emotional Mariners fans. Mariners fans who were angry because Randy Wolf wasn’t going to be a part of the roster in the year 2014. Mariners fans who immediately assumed the worst of the whole situation, which, I’ll grant, is sort of what we’ve been conditioned to do. But everybody took Wolf’s side. Everybody got on the organization, and the controversy(?) even made its way to god-damned Deadspin, the young white Internet’s primary go-to source of whatever it does. “The Mariners are cheap!” they yelled. “The Mariners are embarrassing!” they…yelled, too.

Chris Young has taken Randy Wolf’s place. From Shannon Drayer:

“Yeah I signed an advance consent. It really was a non-issue,” [Young] said of the document that allows the club to release him for any non-health related reason in the first 45 days of the season. “I always tell myself it is a performance-based game and the club has the right to release you at any point. It’s just a matter of whether your salary is guaranteed for the rest of the season. For me I don’t play for the money. I play because I love the game. The opportunity to be out here and be healthy, I am just super excited to be out there and making the most of the opportunity.”

It reads, a tiny little bit, as a shot at Randy Wolf. Probably, that’s not what was intended, and Young really is just thankful for this opportunity. For him, it was a non-issue. And that’s more or less what the Mariners thought it would be for Randy Wolf: a non-issue. Young didn’t pitch in the majors in 2013 after surgery. He can expect only so much of a commitment. Wolf didn’t pitch in the majors in 2013 after surgery. He, too, can expect only so much of a commitment. What the Mariners presented to Wolf was something common, something accepted. The response had less to do with the team, and more to do with Wolf.

Players sign these things every year. It’s usually the teams that have all the leverage, and while players would prefer to have guaranteed full-year salaries, the sort of player who ends up in this situation is the sort of player fighting for any kind of playing time. You can see why Wolf would’ve been bothered by the paperwork, which the Mariners, by rule, couldn’t have introduced when they first inked him as an NRI. You can also see why the Mariners wouldn’t have expected Wolf to react as he did. Players might sometimes sign these things begrudgingly, but they haven’t made a habit of complaining to the press.

Think about what the Mariners were then faced with. They could’ve guaranteed Wolf’s seven-figure salary. Or they could’ve opted for the alternatives. Is Wolf really better than Blake Beavan and Roenis Elias? Those two guys are cheaper. And then there were free agents, free agents just like Chris Young. Was it worth it to give Wolf what he wanted, or were there other deals? Seems to me the Mariners wound up with a good deal. Young’s inexpensive, and he seems a bit promising.

With Randy Wolf, the Mariners made a business decision. That cost them Wolf, but they’ve emerged none the worse for wear. Without question, I think they’ve looked a little bad. This makes them look really cheap, and Wolf’s story was published by someone as prominent as Ken Rosenthal. Maybe this makes you question the Mariners’ ethics. But while the Mariners are stingy with even just six-figure sums, that’s hardly unique to them. You want to pretend like you’re watching fair, ethical baseball? Don’t examine the baseball too closely.

Remember: front offices don’t do players favors. Nobody gives money away if money doesn’t need to be given away. Pretty much every single contract has a team paying a player as little as it can get away with, and the whole search for inefficiencies is built around the principle of paying players less than they’re worth. Every team wants to maximize every dollar. Every team thinks about every little payment, even if the roster happens to feature a $240-million second baseman.

The Mariners liked Randy Wolf the most, but the margin wasn’t worth Wolf’s guarantee. So they went in search of a better deal. Baseball is about business, not people, and the business can be judgmental and cold. You like Kyle Seager, right? Important part of the ballclub. This year the Mariners will pay him $0.54 million. Basically half what they’ll pay John Buck. Last year Seager made $0.51 million. The Mariners are paying Seager only what they need to, even though he’s an important everyday contributor. I also remember a controversy with the Angels a year ago. They renewed Mike Trout’s contract at $0.51 million, despite him having been the best player in baseball the season before. Trout’s agent complained to the media. The Angels didn’t care. Pretty soon the two sides will agree to a massive multi-year contract extension. Baseball is a lopsided game, in terms of financial “fairness”, and the Mariners aren’t the first team to make a decision over a seemingly inconsequential amount of cash. Everybody does it, and Randy Wolf just called attention to the factually ordinary.

I imagine this reads like I’m on the Mariners’ side. I don’t have a side. There’s no question Randy Wolf made the Mariners look bad. They did make a decision to go another way over a few hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s enough to rub people the wrong way, but I think what’s important to understand is that the Mariners didn’t do anything unusual. Wolf’s is the party that acted unusually, as every team in baseball makes these kinds of calls. If you don’t like it, you can plead for change within the industry, and sit there dissatisfied over the injustice. Or, if you don’t like it, you can try to put it out of mind, and just watch the baseball players play baseball and think of other things. You know who has an incredible story? Roenis Elias. It’s so good of the Mariners to give him a chance to fulfill his wildest dreams. What an organization!


8 Responses to “Chris Young Isn’t Randy Wolf”

  1. don52656 on March 28th, 2014 6:38 pm

    Amen, amen, and amen. Nicely done, Jeff. While I can somewhat understand people being frustrated by 10 years in a baseball fan’s wasteland, I had a hard time believing the reaction to the Randy Wolf situation. I just can’t express it as well as you can.

    I’m excited for the season and hope we win enough games to be in an actual pennant race and play games in September that mean something. We’re starting out okay….if I’m not mistaken, the M’s are tied for first….

  2. phineasphreak on March 28th, 2014 6:57 pm

    Of course, the Wolf story is exacerbated because the Mariners front office woes have become more national news instead of just local.

    If a competent organization makes this move, I doubt it becomes an issue.

    Thanks for the read, Jeff.

  3. Hutch on March 28th, 2014 7:13 pm

    This is mostly the fault of lazy baseball writers like Heyman and Rosenthal that prefer dog piling on an overused narrative over real analysis.

  4. redgum on March 28th, 2014 8:10 pm

    Totally agree. And laughed out loud reading the last 4 sentences – really.

  5. Westside guy on March 28th, 2014 8:35 pm

    I suspect the truth, such as it is, lies somewhere in the middle. This organization is not exactly known for its communication skills. Heck, for all we know, Wolf was given some sort of verbal reassurance that if he made the opening day roster he’d be kept around in the organization for the season.

    Chris Young could end up being a nice addition to the team – but other teams weren’t beating down his door, clamoring for his services. He was without a job less than a week before opening day. That probably had at least a little to do with his willingness to sign the release.

  6. bermanator on March 29th, 2014 5:47 am

    He wasn’t sitting around on his rear end all spring though — he was in Washington’s camp and used his opt-out when he didn’t win the competition to be the fifth starter.

    Not saying he’s an All-Star in the making, but I’m also not surprised he got a major league deal.

    I’m more surprised that Wolf didn’t sign the release — there’s a guy who people weren’t clamoring to sign and would seem to have very little upside. What’s he going to be doing for these next 45 days that will help him more than making a few starts for Seattle?

  7. jordan on March 30th, 2014 9:42 am

    Exactly my thoughts bermanator. It’s not like Wolf has much ground to stand on right now. I think he just saw the writing on the wall that as soon as Walker or Iwakuma came back, he was out. But making a few big league starts is better than what he is doing now.

  8. CCW on March 30th, 2014 9:17 pm

    This article contains the claim that “players sign these things every year.” Is that true? How common is it really? And under Wolf’s circumstances? Doesn’t seem like Wolf had ever heard of it. I’m not so sure that the way the Mariners handled this was completely typical. It certainly does come across as a re-trade. What they were saying was, “We’ve concluded that you are the best person to be our fifth starter, but we do not want to pay you the $1,000,000 that was previously agreed. Therefore, we propose a revised deal where (in all likelihood), we’ll pay you $100-200,000 and then cut you in a month.”

    I wonder what significance the agreed $1,000,000 really had. Are there any reasonable circumstances in which the M’s would ever have paid the full amount, or was it kind of irrelevant from the beginning? If they knew they were likely to do this, should they have shared that with Wolf?

    Chris Young was in a completely different position when he signed with the M’s. The 45 day thing makes perfect sense in his case. There wasn’t a contract amount agreed to a month earlier in his case.

    Bottom line: I can see how the 45-day advanced-consent release could be used in a lot of circumstances where it wouldn’t have come across as such a dick (and cheap) move (as in the Chris Young situation). I’m not convinced that the M’s use of it was completely normal and fair. I could be convinced, I suppose, if someone could show that other teams of done this is in similar circumstances without generating any hubbub. Tough information to find, though, I bet. The M’s have lost the benefit of the doubt in my mind.

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