Sometimes, sending a player to the minor-leagues can be a whole lot more complicated than it sounds.
Take Dustin McGowan, for instance.
The Toronto Blue Jays can’t send the 31-year-old to the minor-leagues without exposing him to other MLB teams because he’s out of options.
That’s not all, though. They may not be able to send McGowan to the minor-leagues without taking the risk that he’ll effectively force the team to release him while continuing to earn his salary.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos clearly likes what McGowan offers and manager John Gibbons seems to enjoy having the right-hander in his bullpen. “He only makes us stronger,” Gibbons said soon after McGowan joined the big league team.
Yet the Blue Jays have only used McGowan two times in the last two weeks, and he entered both games with a lead of five runs or more. He’s not one of their primary relievers, so it’s at least conceivable that the Blue Jays could remove him from their active roster, whether it’s to create space for Jose Reyes or later in the season when currently disabled players return to Toronto.
WHAT THE RULES SAY: McGowan has more than five years of major-league service time, which gives him considerable power under Article XIX of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.
Players such as Ricky Romero who have limited big-league experience must accept minor-league assignments. Conversely, players with as much service time as McGowan can’t be sent to the minor-leagues without consent.
Teams intending to assign players with at least five years of service time to the minor-leagues must first advise the player that he has three choices. The player can:
(i) consent to the assignment
(ii) refuse the assignment
(iii) elect to become a free agent
If the player elects free agency instead of accepting the assignment, he isn’t entitled to any termination pay. This means he can sign where he likes but no longer gets paid under the terms of his original deal. The initial contract ends under this scenario.
But that’s not the avenue many players in McGowan’s position choose. Instead of electing free agency, they can take the second option and refuse the assignment.
In doing so, they effectively force the team to release them, an MLB source confirmed to Sportsnet. Under this scenario the players can obtain the full balance of their salaries as termination pay.
In other words, players with five years of service can effectively assure themselves of getting released with pay once their teams attempt to assign them to the minor-leagues.
SPECIAL CASE: There are exceptions, however. Some players sign documents giving advance consent in case their teams wish to demote them. It’s not known if McGowan, an ACES client, has signed a document consenting to a demotion in advance.
The set of circumstances surrounding McGowan are unique. The Blue Jays stuck with him during the course of his injury rehabilitation, which may mean that he would be more willing than many players to accept a minor-league assignment should the team push for one.
Players who accept minor-league assignments may also elect free agency after the season if they aren’t returned to the MLB roster by that point.
McGowan earns $1.5 million in both 2013 and 2014 and his contract includes a $500,000 buyout for 2015. For many teams the cost of claiming McGowan on waivers would outweigh the benefit of adding a hard-throwing reliever to the roster.
But even if McGowan were to pass through waivers unclaimed, adding him to the roster of a minor-league affiliate could prove challenging. It’s possible he could effectively force the Blue Jays to release him while continuing to earn his salary.