This topic came to mind recently with the whole Jose Reyes situation. It’s well known that the Hawaii police were summoned to a hotel that Reyes shared with his wife after she was allegedly assaulted by him. He was arrested and trial was set for April 4th. Reyes has the ignominious distinction of being the first test of Major League Baseball’s new Domestic Violence policy. Under the provisions of this plan, it” permits the Commissioner to impose a paid suspension pending resolution of the legal proceedings or an investigation.” This suspension can be indefinite at the Commissioner’s discretion.
Towards that end baseball commissioner Rob Manfred levied just such a suspension on February 23rd, prohibiting Reyes from reporting to the Rockies’ Spring Training camp to prepare for the season. On Colorado’s opening day Reyes was scheduled to appear in court but the prosecutor decided to drop the case stating that Reyes’ wife was an uncooperative witness. Theoretically the case remains open until October of 2017 for her to refile charges. Right now Reyes remains under suspension and has not appeared in a Rockies uniform.
While the intent of the cooperative decision between the Players Union and MLB is a good one, the execution may be somewhat flawed. If Reyes is not convicted of a crime, why then is he still not permitted to play for the Rockies? No one is advocating nor dismissing the heinous nature of what he did in Hawaii. However, a ballplayer is an athlete, not a role model. As such, would an accountant, a warehouse worker or a bartender be denied his right to work? Now what complicates this matter further is the toothless nature of the agreement. Reyes is being paid despite not playing. It’s not as if he’s suffering financially. That wrinkle makes you wonder whether or not it’s merely politically correct lip service on the issue of domestic violence rather than a threat of losing an inflated paycheck for violating the law. The Denver Post recently ran a story which indicated that after just 4 days of suspension Jose Reyes will have earned more money than his replacement, Trevor Story, will earn for the entire season.
So what lesson did Jose Reyes learn from this suspension? It’s not that there are financial ramifications to what he did. He’s getting full pay. It’s not that he’s been put under undue strain in the workplace. He’s not working. In fact, the Rockies are on the hook for his full $22 million salary this year, next year and then a $4 million buyout option in 2018, too.
There is an interesting provision in the Domestic Violence policy which the Rockies are probably chomping at the bit to get Manfred to exercise. MLB, “may suspend the player with pay until legal proceedings are completed (at which point the paid suspension may be converted to an unpaid suspension)” Wow, that’s pretty vague. It doesn’t spell out justification for why a suspension would be converted to unpaid, though a reasonable person would expect it would be in the case of a player who must be incarcerated and thus is unable to play. Reyes does not fall into this category, so if the league tried to withhold his salary then the union would likely file a grievance on his behalf before the ink was dry on the documents signed to suspend his pay.
Of course, each state has its own policies regarding how to prosecute people charged with domestic violence. Hawaii only mandates a 2-day jail sentence for a first time offender found guilty, so even if that had happened the suspension without pay would represent just 2 days of a roughly 180 day baseball season…stiff at Reyes’ pay rate but easily handled within the budget of a guy earning 500 times more than the average family of four.
So what should Commissioner Manfred do? What should the Rockies do?