HOUSTON » The New York Mets are withholding injured closer Francisco Rodriguez’s salary while he’s sidelined, and the team wants to convert his contract to a nonguaranteed deal.
The moves could be a prelude to the Mets releasing the star closer without paying most of his 2011 salary.
Rodriguez was placed on the disqualified list yesterday, six days after he tore a ligament in the thumb of his pitching hand while punching his girlfriend’s father outside a family lounge at Citi Field. Rodriguez had surgery yesterday to repair the self-inflicted injury and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
The Mets said he won’t be paid while on the disqualified list. In addition, they said they were exercising a contractual right to convert the rest of his $37 million, three-year deal to nonguaranteed, meaning they could try to avoid paying most of what’s left on it.
The players’ association planned to fight the team’s actions.
The Mets announced the move before last night’s game at Houston in a conference call that included chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, general manager Omar Minaya and executive vice president and general counsel David Cohen.
Rodriguez, a four-time All-Star, was suspended for two days without pay following the fight outside a family room at the ballpark last Wednesday.
By going on the disqualified list, Rodriguez will lose $3,016,393 of his $11.5 million salary this year. Added to the $125,683 he lost when the Mets put him on the restricted list for two days last week, the altercation already has cost him $3,142,076.
In addition, by converting his contract to nonguaranteed, the Mets gave themselves the ability to release Rodriguez in the early part of spring training next year for 30 days’ termination pay. That would mean paying $1,885,246, rather than his $11.5 million salary next year. They still likely would owe the $3.5 million buyout attached to the $17.5 million club option for 2012 that’s included in his deal.
The 28-year-old reliever was arrested and charged with third-degree assault and second-degree harassment following the fight. He was released on his own recognizance and is due back in court Sept. 14.
He will not be paid or accrue major league service time until he is deemed able to perform his job again and removed from the disqualified list, the Mets said.
"He has to get himself healthy and part of that has to do with anger management to deal with any issues he has right now," Wilpon said.
A player can remain on the disqualified list indefinitely.
"There’s no specific time limit," Cohen said. "A player can apply for reinstatement, otherwise he’s reinstated at the time that the club believes that he is ready to perform the services under his contract."
Rodriguez’s lawyer, Jay Reisinger, declined comment on the Mets’ decision. The players’ association vowed to take action.
"The Mets’ actions are without basis and I expect the union will file a challenge right away," players’ association head Michael Weiner wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
If the union files a grievance and the case isn’t settled, arbitrator Shyam Das would decide whether the Mets’ actions were justified.
The Mets said they haven’t decided if they’ll try to void the remainder of K-Rod’s contract, which would be an even stronger step that would potentially eliminate termination pay next year and the 2012 buyout. Wilpon said that’s a decision that doesn’t have to be made now, but the team will reserve its right to do that in the future.
Minaya said the club is not aware of any problems with violence in Rodriguez’s past. The GM said he hopes Rodriguez will return next season.
"We do plan on bringing him back next year," Minaya said. "Today we want him back. Let’s see how this process goes."
Doctors have told the team that if Rodriguez performs his rehabilitation, he’ll be ready for spring training next year.
When Rodriguez returned from his suspension, he apologized to teammates and fans and said he would undergo anger management counseling. Then he gave up a leadoff double but didn’t allow a run in a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel said Monday that Rodriguez didn’t indicate he was injured before pitching in Saturday’s game. Manuel said he first learned of the injury on Sunday.
Rodriguez is accused of grabbing 53-year-old Carlos Pena, hauling him into a tunnel near the family lounge beneath Citi Field and hitting him in the face. Pena was taken to a hospital with a scrape and swelling above his eyebrow.