Pay not to play?

Some of you may be familiar with game theory.  I'm no expert, but I do use and teach it in my work.  For those of you not familiar, game theory is used when there are only a few players (or a few types of players), only a few variables that determine outcomes, and you can make assumptions about which outcomes each player prefers.  One creative suggestion that sometimes comes out of a game theory analysis is that you might pay someone NOT to play a game. 

For example, say Bank 1 is thinking of acquiring Bank 2.  Bank 2 is concerned about Bank 1's plans, and tries to get Bank 3 to also bid, as a "white knight."  Bank 1 may approach Bank 3 and say "We'll pay you NOT to bid on Bank 2."  That payment may not be a cash transfer; it may be favorable business terms or something else.  In certain situations, this kind of payment is not illegal, and actually makes everything work out to be most economically efficient.  Anyway...

Does this have an application in baseball?  I was thinking about the remaining free agents with some injury history, like Ken Griffey, Jr.  Ironically, if he doesn't sign anywhere, the Reds are paying him even though he's not playing, because he gets $5 M a year over the next several from when he renegotiated his contract a while back.  That's not what I mean by pay not to play.

What I mean is, could a team go to Griffey and say, "We think you might sign with one of our competitors.  Now, we don't have a spot for you unless one of our players gets hurt.  But we would like to have you available if that happens.  We'll pay you $1 M to not sign a contract with any other team before June 30.  If any one of our starting outfielders goes on the DL prior to June 30, we will promise to sign you for a minimum of $2 M plus incentives.  Anytime after June 30, you can sign with whoever you want." 

Clearly, the Cubs couldn't sign Griffey and just stash him on the DL.  They could send him to the minors with his approval, so he could stay in shape.  But they could also make him a coach, or announcer, or "Spring Training Instructor" or "Goodwill Ambassador" etc.  He could live at home until his kids finish school for the year, go work out in Arizona for a few weeks, and join the team if needed. 

Recall Roger Clemens' contract with the Astros a few years back.  He pitched at home, rarely traveled, and took the first couple of months off. 

Can you imagine the Cubs doing that in the future?  What type of player would be involved?  Is this a strategy a high-payroll team could use to keep certain free agents from signing with other teams in the division? 

To push it a bit further, would the collective bargaining agreement and the commissioner's office allow a payment like this: "The Cubs have agreed to pay Ben Sheets $1 million to NOT sign with any other club in the NL Central Division over the next 3 years."  Just an interesting (to me) thought experiment. 

C'mon Spring Training!



This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or Al Yellon, managing editor (unless it's a FanPost posted by Al). FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable baseball fans.

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