On the Phillies, and Despicable Business Decisions

Early this morning, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt reported that the Phillies had formally accused Ben Wetzler, last year’s fifth-round draft pick, to the NCAA for violating its strict “no agent” rule. This comes on the heels of the Phillies reporting last year’s sixth-round drat pick, Jason Monda, for the same violation. What do the two have in common? Well, aside from the fact that they, like most every other amateur player negotiating with a Major League team, has some form of representation at the table? Both spurned the overtures of the Phillies, and chose to return to college for their senior years.

Speaking in generalities, this simply does not happen (at the very least, it hasn’t happened since A.J. Hinch was an 18-year-old draftee, as opposed to the Vice President of Professional Scouting for the Padres). It may be due to the fact that a large percentage of these players end up signing (particularly those that are drafted in the first several rounds, and offered bonuses of six figures or more), or it may be a product of teams realizing the nature of the beast, and avoiding the possibility of burning any bridges, with respect to agencies and talent – either way, this maneuver by the Phillies is essentially uncharted territory.

So what does this all mean? In short, the NCAA is a veritable villain, and the Phillies may well be even worse.

The NCAA’s “no agent” rule states that a “lawyer may not be present during discussions of a contract offer with a professional organization or have any direct contact (in person, by telephone or by mail) with a professional sports organization on behalf of the individual. A lawyer’s presence during such discussions is considered representation by an agent.” The purpose of this rule is … unclear, at best. It is ostensibly a means of protecting the player’s best interests, shielding a young man and his family from falling prey to the wheelings and dealings of self-interested sports agencies. Color me skeptical that this is the NCAA’s true motivation, however, as the players are still allowed to be advised by agents and lawyers alike – the distinction seems trivial. The likeliest motivation for this rule is the NCAA’s interests in keeping these players in college, and profiting from their on-field performance. And remember, college baseball teams do not

In other words, this rule is complete and utter drivel.

For the vast majority of these athletes – the majority of which are between 17 and 21 years old – deciding whether to attend college or head to the Majors is the biggest decision that they will ever face. And there are varying degrees of decision-making, as well. How much money is the player worth now? Will more college seasoning help his draft stock? How much would he benefit from garnering a college education? Is the signing bonus enough should he not be cut out for professional baseball? Should the player fail to reach the Majors, will he be able to attend college without a scholarship? And this ignores issues like the player’s family situation, his ability to handle money, and the difficulties associated with negotiating on one’s own behalf. The NCAA expects these players to sit across the table from Major League executives and their attorneys without the benefit of a trained representative, or else risk becoming ineligible to play college baseball. It is unfair, and inconsistent with the notion that college is preparing these young men for adulthood – nobody should be told that they cannot seek representation in the face of a semi-adversarial process.

There have been rumblings for years that the NCAA would be changing this rule, and that be for the best. It would allow the student athlete to make a more well-informed decision, without fear of repercussions should they decide that they would rather play college baseball than sign with a Major League team – which is the NCAA’s goal in all of this.

Despite my misgivings about the NCAA’s indentured servitude, it must be said that Monda has already been cleared to play, and many expect to see Wetzler on the field, as well (though, the NCAA is taking its sweet time in his investigation). Heel dragging aside, it seems that they have done the right thing. The Phillies, however, are an entirely different story.

What, pray tell, do the Phillies gain from this? Absolutely nothing.

This is little more than an infantile temper tantrum, akin to a child having his toy taken away. This was done out of spite, as the Phillies likely felt insulted by Wetzler and Monda choosing college over their money. They were not prepared to play the role of the jilted lover, as they allegedly were willing to go over-slot to sign both, so they took the only recourse available to them, and attempted to ruin the amateur careers of two young men. If it is true that every player utilizes an agent at the bargaining table, then it is safe to assume that this was not the first time the Phillies dealt with this very scenario. This means that, in addition to having nothing to gain, they may well have burned bridges with agents and young talent alike. As such, their actions here were unprofessional and idiotic at the very best – or reprehensible at the worst.

The Phillies should be ashamed of themselves, and I would be embarrassed were I a fan of that organization.

Follow me on Twitter – @DomenicLanza.

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