Commentary

Players show they have a little creativity

Many contracts signed this offseason are filled with the most imaginative clauses

Originally Published: January 18, 2011
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Always check out the small print.

If your mom and dad never told you that, once upon a time, then hopefully your lawyer did.

Why? Because there's some fascinating stuff going on down there at the bottom of the page, after your eyes have started doing somersaults. And you'd sure hate to miss it.

Luckily for you, we've been combing through the small print of as many baseball contracts from this winter as we could get our hands on. So here they come, the Most Creative Contract Clauses of the Offseason (so far):

Don't Lose That Number

Jayson Werth isn't the first player in history with a powerful attachment to his uniform number.

[+] EnlargeJayson Werth
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireJayson Werth has a special affection for No. 28.

Rickey Henderson once paid Turner Ward $25,000 to get No. 24. Doug Glanville once bought Jimmy Rollins a laptop in exchange for No. 6. And many a Rolex -- not to mention a beverage or 20 -- has changed hands over the years after players switched teams and found their favorite numbers on somebody else's back.

But Werth, baseball's newest $126 million man, might have taken uniform-bartering to a whole new level when he signed with the Nationals this winter:

He went to the trouble of getting his uniform number -- which would be 28, in case you don't have this sort of thing memorized -- written into the contract.

So what's up with that? Ever since he switched to No. 28 (in 2004) from the No. 13 he once wore with Toronto, his teams have gone to the postseason five times, Werth told us. So why would he take any chances on losing his hold on a number with that much winning in it?

For the record, No. 28 was worn last year in Washington by utility man Mike Morse. But he'll now be switching to No. 38. Which might come as news to him …

Unless he's read the small print.

Silver Lining

If Albert Pujols has a Silver Slugger incentive clause, we get it. If Josh Hamilton has a Silver Slugger incentive clause, no big deal. Heck, even if Corky Miller has a Silver Slugger clause, there's some semblance of logic in there someplace.

But Chien-Ming Wang?

The sweet-swinging ex-Yankees pitcher has all kinds of incentive clauses included in the contract he signed with Washington last month. And in the case of most of them, that makes sense, considering he hasn't been healthy in 2½ years.

But a Silver Slugger clause?

Well, he has one, all right. It'll pay him $50,000 if he out-swats every pitcher in the National League this year. But let's just say the Nationals probably don't need to put that money in an escrow account so they have it handy in case he wins.

How many hits has Wang gotten in his career? That would be zero -- in 15 journeys to home plate. He's 0-for-14 -- with eight strikeouts, one GIDP and one sac bunt. So he actually owns more career outs (16) than plate appearances (15) -- which isn't easy.

But that isn't all. Wang's whole career took a major U-turn south thanks to his offensive misadventures.

On June 15, 2008, during interleague play, he failed to get a decent bunt down, bunted into a forceout and wound up spraining a ligament in his foot trying to run the bases. His career has never been the same since.

So maybe that Silver Slugger clause is about revenge. Or incentive. Or a private joke. At any rate, once again, it paid to read THAT small print.

Captaincy

Derek Jeter's new contract might be the most inventive deal of the whole winter. He doesn't just have incentive clauses. His whole deal is like one of those falling-dominoes tricks, in which everything that happens in the first three seasons helps determine his salary for the 2014 season -- assuming he's still playing in the 2014 season.

But the clause that caught our attention wasn't any of the numerous trigger clauses splattered all over the contract.

Instead, it's this:

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe language in the contract Derek Jeter signed last month is rather interesting.

In 2014, Jeter holds a player-only option clause worth $8 million (or possibly a lot more than that, depending on those other clauses), unless …

He chooses not to pick up his own option. In which case …

He still gets a $3 million buyout clause.

Good deal, huh?

OK, so technically, this isn't that unique. Teams sometimes structure contracts like this in order to backload some of the money. But this isn't just anybody's contract. This is Derek Jeter's contract.

So every time we think of Derek Jeter cashing in the buyout of HIS OWN OPTION, we think: Is there anything that sums up what a crazy contract he wound up negotiating for himself better than that?

Thinking Big

You don't have to rummage through Bing Crosby's basement to know it has been more than half a century since Bill Mazeroski's most famous home run trot.

And you don't have to be Andy Van Slyke to know this year will be the 19th season since the last time the Pirates played a postseason game -- or even had a winning season, for that matter.

But that doesn't mean it's no longer legal to think big thoughts or dream big dreams inside the Pittsburgh city limits. Heck, no. In fact, it's encouraged.

And not just about the Steelers, the Penguins and the Pitt Panthers, either.

No sir. That positivity goes for the Pirates, too. And all the proof you need can be found in the contracts the Buccos have handed out this winter.

They've signed five established players as free agents this offseason -- Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay, Garrett Atkins, Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen. And all five of them (plus holdover shortstop Ronny Cedeno) had World Series MVP clauses included in their new contracts.

So here's the irony:

You know how many World Series MVP incentive clauses the Yankees have given out to their current roster? That would be nada. (And no, clauses they inherited from other teams don't count -- and neither does the base-salary trigger in Jeter's new deal.)

But the Pirates have doled out six WS MVP clauses in one offseason. There's a subplot in there someplace.

For Starters

All teams have what their accountants like to refer to, catchily, as "the standard awards package," so they can throw that package into contracts for veteran players when the haggling over deals mounts at crunch time.

But every once in a while, those "standard" awards packages aren't as standard as the accountants might have thought when they drew them up. For instance:

We ran across three free-agent pitchers who signed deals this winter that will pay them between $10,000 and $25,000 if they're chosen to start the All-Star Game. Now, that sounds pretty standard, right?

Except the three pitchers in question are Will Ohman (White Sox), Jesse Crain (White Sox) and Takashi Saito (Brewers).

And what do those three have in common?

(A) They're all RELIEF pitchers. And (B) none of them has ever started a single game in the big leagues -- not ONE. See for yourself:

Ohman: 392 appearances -- 0 starts.
Crain: 376 appearances -- 0 starts.
Saito: 292 appearances -- 0 starts.

So if one of those three guys starts the All-Star Game in July, why do we have a feeling the biggest story of the day will NOT be his incentive clause?

Five Other Classic Clauses

Adam Dunn
Dunn

• Adam Dunn got a $25,000 Gold Glove incentive from the White Sox. Like his chances to be the best-fielding DH in the American League?

• The Orioles tossed a $25,000 Silver Slugger clause into Cesar Izturis' contract. In case they didn't know (and we're guessing they did), he owns the second-lowest career OPS (.619) of any player with 2,000 or more plate appearances who is currently on a 40-man roster.

• You can't say the Dodgers aren't doing everything possible to help Hiroki Kuroda's family adjust to the life and culture on this side of the Pacific. They're giving his family more interpreters (two) than they're supplying him (one).

J.C. Romero
Romero

• Phillies reliever J.C. Romero got a $50,000 Silver Slugger incentive in his new deal. OK, so he may not be in Wang's offensive class. But Romero's most recent at-bat was in 2007, he's gotten one at-bat since 2003, and June 15 will mark the 10th anniversary of his last (and only) hit -- a double off Julian Tavarez.

• Finally, we know exactly what kind of vehicle Takashi Saito will be driving in his first spring training with the Brewers. It'll be an SUV. And how do we know? It's right there in the small print of his contract -- of course.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com