The Phillies Got Petty with a College Pitcher

Background for this story: the Phillies selected left-handed pitcher Ben Wetzler in the fifth round of last June’s draft. Wetzler, however, turned down the Phillies’ signing bonus of about $400,000 to return to Oregon State for his senior season. Wetzler was a first-team all-Pac-12 selection in his junior year.

According to Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt, the Phillies turned in Wetzler to the NCAA for “inappropriate contact” with a financial advisor. Fitt added:

Wetzler was suspended indefinitely by the NCAA last week.

Jim Callis of MLB.com interprets it as the Phillies being petty because Wetzler didn’t sign a contract with them last June. Callis also said this issue will make the agents of non-senior players drafted by the Phillies concerned about their ability to arrive at a deal.

Scout.com‘s Kiley McDaniel is a bit more harsh, writing that the Phillies will be viewed as untrustworthy:

Fitt reported that the Phillies also tried to turn in first baseman/outfielder Jason Monda, taken in the sixth round last year, but he was cleared to play last week.

This whole situation is a mess for the Phillies. They had absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose, which is why teams have rarely pursued these issues. And this is entirely ignoring the unfairness of the claim in the first place, but such is life when college athletes, sans union, are powerless against the NCAA. Wetzler may have broken the rules, but the Phillies come out of this looking poorly and it could hurt their ability to procure college talent from the draft going forward.

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38 comments

  1. whatmighthavebeen

    February 20, 2014 07:36 AM

    someone that wants to leave college and play minor league ball will go back because the phillies are mean?

    • Bill Baer

      February 20, 2014 07:43 AM

      They’ll just refuse to sign with the Phillies and pursue work with any of the up to 29 potentially interested teams.

      • whatmighthavebeen

        February 20, 2014 08:44 AM

        after another year in school

    • tom b

      February 20, 2014 10:41 AM

      so you’re saying the phillies were right to do this?

      • whatmighthavebeen

        February 20, 2014 11:34 AM

        not at all, although i do think there’s a little bit of piling on b/c it’s another stone to throw at amaro/management (which frankly deserves everything it gets). i’m just saying that i think the impact on the phillies is overstated.

      • Phillie697

        February 20, 2014 01:03 PM

        If you know the person you’re negotiating with can’t be trusted to negotiate with you earnestly and/or confidentially when confidentiality is a significant issue, what will you do? Exactly, you’ll just not negotiate. Although you’re right, players will still want to play professional baseball and the draft takes a way a lot of their leverage, but ultimately the effect to the phillies isn’t lost players, but having to pay more money to sign draftees, for the simple reason that negotiations will not be smooth as players realize they are not dealing from a position of trust. I’ll leave it up to you to judge whether the financial hit we will take, plus an increased chance of the J.D. Drew situation happening, will significantly affect the ML club.

      • hk

        February 21, 2014 05:49 AM

        whatmighthavebeen,

        If what is being alleged is actually what happened, in one fell swoop, the Phillies hurt their standing and trustworthiness with three important entities in the draft process, NCAA teams, high school players and college juniors and agents. How do you not see that this is a big deal?

        I believe that NCAA teams have the right to bar any MLB team they want from their campuses to meet the players and watch them work out. After what the Phillies allegedly did to Oregon State – drafted their ace and told on him when he decided to return to school – I would have to think they’ll be barred from some (many? all?) college campuses. Don’t you think that hurts the Philllies ability to scout?

        The Phillies have drafted and signed many high school players and college juniors in the past, all because they knew in advance approximately what it would take to sign them. Don’t you think it hurts the Phillies draft plans if some players refuse to let team into their homes to discuss what it might take to sign those players?

        The Phillies silence on this issue is interesting. It leads me to believe that they either realized that one of their employees screwed the pooch and they’re still working to put their best spin on it or that there’s more to this than what’s being reported and that they are barred from commenting. If it’s the latter, maybe they’ll deserve a pass when we learn the true story.

  2. Ginner207

    February 20, 2014 08:47 AM

    It’s like the Phillies have just fallen off a Cliff. Such dicks.

  3. josh

    February 20, 2014 09:43 AM

    I’m wondering who on the phillies pursued this. Was it Reuben? Or someone lower than him. I almost hope it was reuben and it greases the skids to get him out of here.

    • hk

      February 21, 2014 05:57 AM

      Regardless of who is actually to blame – and who eventually becomes the scapegoat – if it indeed turns out that someone in the organization just ratted these kids out because they changed their minds and cost the Phillies their picks and the slot money, the buck has to stop at the top of the organization (Amaro / Montgomery) or at least the scouting department (Woelever). It’s a somewhat similar situation as BridgeGate. It looks like either the head of the organization knew and signed off on the bad behavior or the head of the organization had such little control over the organization that an employee was allowed to do something that could have very long-term detrimental effects on the organization.

  4. Bob

    February 20, 2014 09:56 AM

    If this is true, it’s shameful on the part of the Phillies. The diminishing respect I had for the front office is further eroding.

  5. Kyle

    February 20, 2014 09:58 AM

    I’m just impressed the Phillies attempted to sign a college player.

    • Tim

      February 20, 2014 11:01 AM

      Hopefully he was toolsy

      • Chris S.

        February 20, 2014 11:06 AM

        I do believe the Phillies front office was being Toolsy in this situation. How are college players supposed to get a contract without doing their due dilligence by talking to all the right people. This is their lives and they should be able to talk to whomever they please it wasn’t like he was getting unfair treatment by talking to a financial advisor, he was getting advice on what would be best for him.

  6. Gabe

    February 20, 2014 11:47 AM

    Wow! So a kid cannot go to a financial advisor. The NCAA should take a serious look at that. Isn’t it better to have a KID with a good head on his shoulder and get sound advice? Maybe this was a “financial advisor” but all my experiences with them is…save save save save! I wonder if a lot of this type of stuff happens all the time and the Phillies were just not smart enough to hide it.

  7. larry

    February 20, 2014 12:37 PM

    if a few other teams do this, it will save MLB a lot of money and weaken agents.(note i am not a big fan of “everyone does it even though it is illegal” defense) as far the negotiations will be tough, per the scout.com guy did the phils gain the “we wll turn you in” card?

    but i wouldn’t worry too much about college guys going back another year over this, since the players don’t get to decide who drafts them, they will either get the money they want and play for the phils or go back to college

    • hk

      February 21, 2014 06:09 AM

      “…since the players don’t get to decide who drafts them, they will either get the money they want and play for the phils or go back to college.”

      That’s not exactly how it works. Teams generally know in advance how much it will take to sign a college junior. That’s why so few college juniors who get drafted end up returning to college and why the situation with these two guys is pretty unique. If this move leads to the Phils being barred by schools, agents / advisors and/or players from negotiating in advance, the Phils will not be able to draft as many high school seniors and college juniors and will be at a competitive disadvantage. I don’t think that this will be a big issue in the 1st or 2nd rounds, but some kids who are projected to go in the 3rd round or later who fear that the Phils will rat on them if they get the advice of an agent, then go (back) to college may not allow the Phils in their living room to know their price. If the Phils don’t know what a certain player says he’ll take, they can’t draft that player and risk losing the pick and the slot money that comes with it.

  8. SteveH

    February 20, 2014 12:43 PM

    @ Bill B

    Bill, I am wondering how these negotiations go in general. Does a kid speak with an advisor and then say no I am not ready to leave college or does a kid say to an MLB team, my financial advisor told me to turn you down so I am. In that latter case, I would be pretty pissed off too. I’m not saying what the Phils did isn’t petty but I get why they might be angry.

    • Phillie697

      February 20, 2014 01:07 PM

      Last time I checked, even a draft system isn’t freaking slavery. Phillies have NO right to be angry about ANYTHING if the player decides not to sign with them. Are you fing kidding me? They’re ALREADY handicapped because of the draft system, and now they have to deal with the perceived notion, at least as far as the Phillies are concerned, that the MLB club “owns” them? Phillies were douchebags no matter how you look at it.

      • hk

        February 21, 2014 06:20 AM

        Exactly. Everyone should think of this as if the kid in question is their own son who:

        1. just finished his junior year in college
        2. is a nice college pitcher with a chance at an MLB career
        3. has this one sure chance at a big payday as MLB success is far from guaranteed
        4. is not free to shop his services in the free market
        5. must negotiate with a multi-billion dollar company that has endless experience in these types of negotiations
        6. cannot pay for advice

  9. Hog

    February 20, 2014 03:25 PM

    That is the worst thing I’ve heard of a club doing to a player not on their books in any sport ever. It’s the act of someone petty and vindictive which reflects terribly on the whole organisation.

    • Taco

      February 20, 2014 09:55 PM

      meh, unless I am missing something, it seems the details are not there to make this assertion. Isn’t it possible that the following scenario is how things went down:

      Wetzler talks to the phillies, assures that the if he is drafted he will sign. The phillies take Wetzler at his word, and draft him, forgoing the opportunity to draft any other players with that pick. Wetzler then talks to an agent, who then tells the Phillies that Wetzler will not accept a $400,000 signing bonus, instead he wants $1,000,000.00 The phillies refuse, and Wetzler attempts to return to college ball, at which point the Phillies file a complaint.

      Again, pure speculation on my part, but if this or something very similar is what happened, I am kinda on the Phillies’ side.

  10. SLS

    February 20, 2014 03:55 PM

    I wonder: Is this what gets RAJ fired?

  11. SteveH

    February 20, 2014 04:19 PM

    Now guys, lets not be naive here. Do you think his “financial” advisor told him go back to school next year and graduate or did he tell him go back next year, pitch well, and I will get you more money after you’re drafted again?

    Now again, I think it was a low and petty move by the Phils, but I understand.

    • Phillie697

      February 23, 2014 03:08 AM

      I don’t give a f what the reason was the kid didn’t sign. It could be pure greed for all I care. IT’S HIS RIGHT!!! You’re talking about a team with $100M+ payroll, and you’re saying you “understand” the MLB club being mad because they are too cheap to cough up the money needed to convince the player to sign with them? Are you nuts? What are you smoking, I want some.

  12. Kevin H

    February 20, 2014 05:45 PM

    Just another example of how the Phillies lack a basic understanding of how the professional sports business works. There is absolutely no benefit and lots of harm since their negotiation reputation comes in to play with sponsors, major league free agents etc. They are already a joke, so I expect it to continue for years.

  13. Drew C

    February 20, 2014 05:49 PM

    I predict some low-level scout type gets fired as a scapegoat over this.

  14. Gabes

    February 20, 2014 06:02 PM

    This criticism of the Phillies organization is totally unjustified. It’s a business. The Phillies did not make the rules, but they would be foolish not to use them to their advantage. The Phillies took a chance on these kids USING THEIR draft picks. This means they spent money on scouting and negotiating. They do all this and end up with nothing? How is that fair or in the advantage of the fans? Hmm, less young talent and lost picks… I thought everybody wanted the Phillies to go younger, now everyone is trashing them for this decision. Meanwhile, everybody is supporting these athletes and their “advisors” who clearly don’t give a damn that there supposed to be a distinction between college athletics and professional sports. Oh, just go back to your scholarship and cash in next year. Now you have a kid who is clearly just at school for athletics and could care less about academics. This is one of the things that the NCAA rule is trying to avoid!!

  15. Bill Baer

    February 20, 2014 07:15 PM

    And the dominoes start to fall:

    One agent: "As of today, Phillies are out. Phillies are not getting into any more of our households. We're shutting down all communications"— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) February 20, 2014

    • Pete

      February 21, 2014 03:49 AM

      I cannot help but wonder if the Phillies wanted this dominoe to fall.

      Other posts have mentioned that we really don’t have a lot of information here. Perhaps not enough information to draw the conclusion that what the Phillies did was purely motivated from pettiness and without any thought of the consequences. Doing something this drastic, which on the surface seems only to hurt the Phillies in future negotiations, makes me wonder if something else happened during the negotiations. In other words, there was some bad faith on the part of the player and his people.

      If Aaron Fitt and other bad actors (a big assumption) close their doors to the Phillies, maybe that’s a good thing in the long run if it results in fewer “lost” picks. I don’t know. Perhaps I’m reaching (feel free to down vote me to death), but I want to believe something else was behind this rather than a multi-billion dollar organization punishing a college kid who couldn’t make up his mind. The Phillies organization isn’t that bad, are they?

    • JM

      February 21, 2014 10:17 PM

      This would not make sense. Why would an agent refer to “our” households if the player is an amateur and cannot have an agent. Agents have much more to lose in improper contact cases than any organization. Someone will play for the phillies money. Agents NEED their players. I would imagine, if the phillies are the whistle blowers, it has more to do with the the agent than some 5th round pick.

  16. Jared

    February 20, 2014 11:32 PM

    Ok, here’s a thought. I am Pro Phillies on this. For years now the draftee, who isn’t a senior in college, would decide to not sign with a team they don’t want to play for. These teams, using top picks on the player, see that guy go back to school and hope to get drafted by a more preferred team the following year.. The team loses it’s pick, although there is some MLB compensation, it doesn’t make up for this, especially teams trying to fill a holes in the farm. If you are a Junior and are declaring yourself eligible for the draft you should not have the option to go back to school. NFL works that way. The MLB team getting your senior year suspended seems like just desserts. You screwed them, they screwed you. I think it will make more Juniors think twice about the draft.

    • Jamal

      February 21, 2014 03:27 AM

      But but but… The baseball draft doesn’t work like that. No one declares for the draft. Teams are free to draft anyone and everyone (of a certain age) that they want, including you. It’s up to the team to determine the likely hood of a draftee signing a contract before hand.

  17. Jim

    February 21, 2014 09:20 AM

    So many people making snap judgements based on one person’s assumption, which is based on one scant detail of information. We need to hear the whole story before making any judgements. For example, the Phillies supposedly “ratted” these guys out 4 months after the signing period ended. Why would they wait that long? Maybe the NCAA came to them asking for info, which the Phillies are obligated to comply with. Maybe the guy reniged on an agreed deal at the very last second and negotiated in bad faith. Maybe someone not involved in the process at all had a grudge and ratted him out.

    I seriously doubt after decades of doing business this way they would all of a sudden decide to screw a player and themselves over out of spite. There is definitely much more to this story than what little has been reported.

  18. Kerry Butler

    February 21, 2014 10:54 AM

    Another great move by RA, Jr. (tongue-in-cheek). This guy’s gotta go.

  19. Boo-urns

    February 21, 2014 02:29 PM

    But wait, is it fair that the Phillies wasted a pick on this kid who right up until the end made it appear that he was interested in and willing to be drafted, only to pull the rug out from under the team?

    To me the whole system is completely screwed up and needs a complete overhaul.

  20. The Fish

    February 22, 2014 07:55 PM

    The implications from this story are taking on a new life that are missing some understanding of the system.
    1) Wetzler did not turn down the Phils to try to get more money next year- as a college senior he’ll be lucky to get half of what he was offered.
    2) Oregon may refuse the Phils ‘special’ access to players but they won’t be prohibited from getting in the door to scout anyone.
    3) an agent refusing to deal with the Phils is like a team unwilling to negotiate with Boras- all that accomplishes is missing out on the access to achieve your goals- agents to get big checks and teams to have access to the best players.
    4) a system which requires players to declare eligibility doesn’t work for baseball. For example, If a kid goes into the draft thinking he has a chance to be a 5th round pick, but ends up being a 9th round pick that could mean the difference of a 300k bonus and a 100k bonus which then may not make it worth turning pro at the moment (if for example you were coming out of high school or wanted to return to college to finish out your degree or compete for a national championship. The potential cash differential is just too much to ask someone to put that on the line.

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