The Coco Crisp situation

Posted by Jason Wojciechowski on August 15, 2016 at 9:55 PM

Susan Slusser has some quotes with Coco Crisp, his agent, David Forst and Bob Melvin about the fact that, as we near the end of a season in which Crisp needs to play 130 games for his $13 million option to vest, and in which he has not yet been hurt, he is not playing at all against left-handed pitchers (Davis-Smolinski-Eibner has been the lineup against portsiders, though there have only been three of those since July 26) and he is not getting any "cheap" games off the bench by pinch-hitting or coming in late as a defensive replacement, pinch-runner, or what have you. Crisp has six games all year off the bench, and the last one was on June 15.

Morally and ethically, there are two tacks we can take as fans. We can note that Crisp is not a $13 million player any longer, that nobody would pay him that sum as a free agent, even on a one-year deal, this coming offseason, and that the A's of all teams can ill afford to pay $13 million to a player who won't provide that amount of value in on-field production. We can therefore be happy that those funds will be allocated in 2017 to players who will contribute more on the field than Crisp will and that the A's will thereby win more baseball games, which is what we hope for. We can note that he hardly played last season because of injuries.

Alternatively, we can say, as Crisp did, that the point of the 130-game marker in the option was to mitigate the risk of Crisp being hurt, and to, in a sense, reward Crisp if he was healthy enough to play that number of games and good enough to be in the lineup. We can therefore conclude that the A's dicking around with his playing time is taking $13 million out of the pocket of someone who's done everything in his power to earn that $13 million, and that generally we don't look kindly on people not receiving money they've earned. We can point out that the A's participated in the drafting of the option as an either-or proposition such that it is partially irrelevant how many games Crisp played in 2015.

You know where I'm going to fall on this. I'd like to hope that you fall on Crisp's side as well. Watching a team that wins baseball games is fun, sure, and we invest ourselves in these sports teams in the hopes that they'll give us whatever little chemical rushes we get in our brains when they emerge victorious. But how can wins and losses in a game possibly compare to the basic question of did this person get paid what they earned? We go to the park to have fun; Coco Crisp goes to the park to earn his living. The size of that living is immaterial, and the size of the living he's earned prior to 2016 is just as much so. If he's done what he needs to do under the terms of the contract to continue earning that living in 2017, we simply do not get to live with ourselves rooting for our team to sit him down so that our team can win a few more games next year.

I'm speaking in a certain amount of abstraction here because I want to talk about the principles and ideals by which we should evaluate this situation. The actual evaluation is yet to be litigated, and the contentions on both sides are myriad. Would Crisp even be in a position to approach 130 games if the A's hadn't so carefully managed his playing time all year? Has Crisp actually earned additional outfield starts in August when Khris Davis, Danny Valencia, Billy Butler and Jake Smolinski are all outhitting him? And when Crisp doesn't really have the defensive chops anymore to make up that difference? And when he's only 7-of-11 on the year stealing?

But on his side, isn't it weird that he never pinch-hits for Smolinski against a right-handed pitcher or comes in on defense for Valencia? Doesn't that fail the sniff test, and thereby call into doubt the other explanations? If the A's are really into the "gotta evaluate the kids" portion of the year, then why does Khris Davis, who is under team control and about whom everything is already known, start all but one game in July and August? Where's Yonder Alonso's rest in favor of Valencia or Max Muncy, with Tyler Ladendorf getting more time all over the field?

How do you balance those arguments? Who wins? I don't know. I don't know who's got the better of it, but I do know that we need to be asking the questions, and that Crisp is 100 percent in the right to be asking those questions, and that the MLBPA would be 100 percent in the right if it takes a hard look here and maybe even files a grievance.

I think, just as a final point, it's important to remember that contract law has the notion of the "implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing." I don't know whether the A's have breached that covenant, and I frankly don't do enough naked contract law to talk about the particulars and boundaries, but I did want to flag that it's lurking out there, inexorably, so that even if you don't agree with my moral/ethical stance as laid out above, you'll have to face the fact that, contractually, the A's can't move the chess pieces around to their heart's content; they have, instead, a requirement to, basically, uphold the spirit of the deal, and to treat Crisp fairly, not taking advantage of every little opportunity to avoid their obligations under the contract.

Maybe this will all moot itself by Crisp reaching 130 games played, and the A's will just pay up and use Crisp as a fifth outfielder next year. I can't imagine things working out that happily, though, so I suspect this battle will keep raging right on through the next six weeks and then maybe into the offseason, a grievance, a settlement, etc. etc. etc. And then we'll all move on except that the billionaires will find a new way to screw the players and we'll put ourselves through these contortions yet again. And then after that. And after that. Ad nauseam.