Theo Epstein didn't talk in specifics, but within his message resided the reason for the 51-day delay in officially announcing J.D. Drew's contract with the Red Sox.
"It was a minor issue, but something that we wanted to get right," said Boston's general manager. "And when lawyers get involved, sometimes things take longer than they might otherwise."
While neither the Red Sox or Drew's representatives have clarified the machinations of the prolonged negotiations, John Westhoff represents the closest thing to an outsider understanding what kind of obstacles might have presented themselves.
Westhoff, the Detroit Tigers' vice president/baseball legal counsel, is one of the few people in a major league front office who has been put through the ringer that the Red Sox brass found itself in when trying to sign Drew.
In the offseason following the 2003 and '04 seasons, Westhoff was in charge of negotiating the contracts of free agents Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez. By early February 2005, Detroit had succeeded in locking up both players, but not before setting the precedent that didn't come up again until Drew's case.
In the case of Rodriguez, Ordonez, and now Drew, no deal was going to be done without the team coming away with some sort of peace of mind.
"It hasn't been done much," Westhoff said. "To the Red Sox's credit, I'm glad they were able to get something done that satisfies their concerns."
While it might make perfect sense that the Tigers implemented outs in Rodriguez's and Ordonez's contracts, contingent on injuries to specific body parts, executing such language wasn't easily done. This was a reality the Red Sox found out in the case of Drew. He agreed to have the final two years of his five-year, $70-million deal voided if an injury to his surgically-repaired shoulder puts him on the disabled list for as few as 35 days in 2009.
Part of the hold-up revolved around the lack of documented cases in relation to Drew's shoulder ailment. There is little medical data in professional sports analyzing the effects of similar surgeries. Most studies regarding similar cartilage replacement have centered around injuries to the knees.
But pinning down the effectiveness of modern medicine was only part of the problem.
"The biggest problem you run into is the collective bargaining agreement," Westhoff explained. "What a lot of people don't understand is that there is a provision which is one of the cornerstone provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, which basically tells clubs that any clauses put in players' contracts have to be an actual or potential benefit to the player. These types of clauses are obviously not a potential benefit, but a detriment if things do flare up or happen that are of concern to the club. Then you get out of the deal."
Whether it was beneficial or an impediment for the Sox, the fact that all three of the aforementioned cases involved agent Scott Boras did add some intrigue to the Drew negotiations.
Boras, of course, would have preferred to follow up his Dec. 5 announcement of Drew's agreement with a quick press conference. But, thanks to Rodriguez's and Ordonez's cases, he also realized how to close in on a contract addendum upon learning of Boston's concerns.
"It was the easiest sell, let's put it that way," said Westhoff referring to the Tigers' insistence that they have some sort of protection when it came to the previously-injured free agents. "You have to understand from (Boras') perspective. It was a tougher sell on the second one (Ordonez), and I suspect now Scott has done it with a third one it was even tougher.
"I understand from the union's perspective you waive a basic provision and their concern is the other agents, players, or clubs want to have similar type clauses in their contracts. And once you start waiving this provision it isn't really a provision any longer because it will happen in a lot of cases.
"The flip-side is that (Boras) got his client a good contract in all three cases. He's out there telling the union this is by far the best deal his players could get. They're happy with it, the doctors say this will never come to be, and this is his client's decision so they need this waiver."
Yet, as Westhoff explained, Boras has only been part of the problem in these cases.
"In the case of my two players, and I'm sure was the case with Boston as well, I insisted that we went to the Player's Association and have the Player's Association give written acknowledgement that they wouldn't challenge these deals," he said.
"I didn't want to wind up doing a deal finding the worst-case scenario happening and then have the union file a grievance saying, 'We didn't sign off on this. This violated the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement and the player has no right to sign off on something like this.'
"The language was far beyond our expertise. Scott Boras is a very skillful negotiator, but neither one of us understood the medical terminology. We would go back to our doctors and they would describe it for me, I would try and put it in writing, go back to Boras, and he would go to the doctors he was talking to.
"There were a lot of different parties involved. Finally you get to the point where everybody is agreeing to it, and then we had to go to the Players' Association and make sure they didn't have a problem. It took some time for us, and by the looks of it, it took some time for the Red Sox."
Take it or leave it
Much like the Red Sox with J.D. Drew's deal, Detroit made it clear that if either Ivan Rodriguez or Magglio Ordonez wouldn't accept the contingency put in their contracts the Tigers' offers would be off the table. As Tigers' vice president/baseball legal counsel John Westhoff explained: "Both guys had prior issues or problems to parts of their body which doctors expressed concerns about. Quite frankly, both Pudge and Magglio had (medical) cases that were probably the biggest stumbling blocks in terms of why other clubs didn't want to offer what we were in terms of a contract. ... We were very adamant from the get-go that we would only talk these dollars if we had some protection."
Here's what they ended up with:
- Four years, $40 million, $13 million 2008 option, no-trade clause
- Tigers could void contract after 2005 season and pay $5 million buyout if Rodriguez spent 35 days on disabled list with a back injury during either 2004 or 2005 seasons.
- Tigers could void contract after 2006 and pay a $4 million buyout if Rodriguez spent 35 days on disabled list with a back injury in 2006.
- Has accumulated more than 500 at-bats in each of three years with Detroit.
- Five years, $75 million, $15 million club options in 2010 and 2011.
- Tigers could void contract after 2005 season if Ordonez spent 25 or more days on disabled list in 2005 with recurrence of pre-existing left knee injury. He spent three months on disabled list with hernia but it didn't effect his contract.
- Played in 155 games with Detroit last season, hitting .298 with 24 home runs.