Jeff Bagwell’s situation looks like it could get a lot worse before it gets better. And Bagwell’s “situation” isn’t a reference to his shredded shoulder — it’s a reference to the contractual conundrum and public relations fiasco Bagwell, the Astros and the Astros’ insurer are in.
It appears Bagwell may have been wasting his time getting ready to try to play first base for the Astros this season. That’s because, for unexplained reasons, January 31, 2006 is the deadline for the Astros to file an insurance claim to collect on a policy taken out on Bagwell’s $17-million-per-year contract.
Also for unexplained reasons, very few people seem to have been aware of this deadline until a week or two ago. Or at least that’s the first time it was reported publicly. In any event, Bagwell apparently must be able to show he can throw — a prerequisite for playing in the National League — as early as two months before Opening Day.
None of this makes much sense looking in from the outside. Bagwell obviously very much wants to attempt to play. He may be unable to do so, if his shoulder won’t let him get the ball even to second base without a skip or two. In which case, he’ll go on the disabled list, collect the rest of what’s owed him on his contract and hope to get a phone call from Cooperstown in late 2010.
But he does not want that decision made before he gets to step on the field again at spring training. He has reportedly been working hard to get the shoulder ready for another go.
From the Astros’ perspective, a retired Bagwell is better than a Bagwell shell of his former self. Even if Bagwell can throw, there is virtually no chance of him contributing at a level that makes $17 million a sound expenditure on him.
But even if Drayton McLane, for reasons of loyalty and sentimentality, really hopes Bagwell’s shoulder performs well enough for him to play first base, the Astros would be financially foolish not to file a claim in case Bagwell’s wing is too lame. And January 31, 2006 is the date the Astros must act to get the insurer to pick up $15.6 million of Bagwell’s hefty tab.
But maybe there is hope. Bagwell will get paid either way. The Astros, by filing a timely claim, will be covered for more than 90 percent of Bagwell’s salary. The one party really on the hook here is the insurer.
And the only way the insurer foists a pricey Bagwell farewell tour back to McLane is if the insurer’s doctors determine that Bagwell is able to play. Why would the insurer, on the hook for a sum equal to the per capita GDP of 10,000 Laotians, not want to give Bagwell a chance, even if it means waiting until spring training, to show he can play?
McLane says he wants to see if the insurer will let Bagwell attend spring training even if the Astros file the claim. This seems to be in the insurer’s best interest, in the event Bagwell shows he can play, making the Astros fully responsible for his salary.
Of course, there is another way: Bagwell could also be willing to cede his salary if he goes to spring training, finds he’s unable to play and the Astros fail to collect from their insurer. But that’s a lot to ask of any man, even if it means a final shot at reclaiming the position he has played as well as only a handful of men in baseball history.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to Bagwell having to retire without getting the chance to prove whether he still has something left in the tank — or having to consider putting $17 million on the line for the opportunity.