I think the entire Jeff Bagwell situation is ridiculous. Now, I will tell you why.
First of all, what kind of insurance policy would rather take a team’s word for it that a player is disabled than actually see evidence. Here’s my understanding of the way this policy works: If Jeff Bagwell shows up at spring training, the Astros can’t collect on the insurance. Forget the fact that Bagwell and the Astros don’t have any realistic way of KNOWING if he is capable of playing UNLESS he shows up at spring training to give it a go. So if Bagwell shows up and tries to play, then realizes that his shoulder is too messed up, the Astros CAN’T collect on the insurance policy because he tried. Now, where I come from, an unsuccessful attempt is far better evidence of a person’s inability to do something than no attempt at all, but I am not in the insurance business.
Second: what sort of insurance policy requires that a claim be made by January 31? The season doesn’t start until April. Spring training doesn’t start until mid-to-late-February. So what if Bagwell had been completely healthy on January 31, then blew out his shoulder on February 1, long before the start of spring training or the season? The Astros would have been out of luck.
Third: the Astros’ policy on Bagwell is all-or-nothing. If Bagwell plays one inning on opening day, blows out his shoulder again, and never plays again, the Astros can’t collect anything. Is this standard procedure for insurance policies on baseball players? If so, it better be CHEAP insurance, because it sure doesn’t offer much protection. But if this isn’t standard, and I have read articles indicating that it isn’t, you have to question the wisdom on the part of the Astros in getting such a lousy policy. You’d think that an insurance policy on a baseball player would protect against injuries incurred in the act of playing baseball.
The final ridiculous thing: what an utter lack of communication. I know the media likes to blow things out of proportion, but Astros owner Drayton McLane has to take some major responsibility here. The fact of the matter is that the Astros had to make an insurance claim by January 31 in order to have any chance of collecting the insurance on Bagwell. McLane should have called Bagwell and said, “We are putting in this claim just in case you can’t play this year. We hope to have you healthy and on the team, but we have to file now to protect ourselves in case you are unable to play.” Instead, the Astros made the insurance claim and allowed the media, correctly or not, to report that they are trying to force Bagwell out.
The only person who is blameless here: Jeff Bagwell. After the 2001 season, coming off a five-year span in which he averaged 41 homers and 127 RBI, Bagwell signed a contract that paid him less than market value at the beginning of the contract, because the Astros decided then that they would rather pay him more later. Now the Astros’ poor credit decision is coming back to bite them. Bagwell’s $17 million that he is due to make this season isn’t just payment for 2006. It is payment for 2002-2004, when he averaged 32 homers and 96 RBI. It is payment for 1992-2001, when he averaged 32 home runs a season (349 total) while making an average of $4.6 million a season. If Bagwell doesn’t play a single inning this season, he has still earned nearly every penny of his 2006 salary. He played 14 good-to-great seasons for the Astros, gave them a hometown discount to stick around, and is probably going to be the first player to go into the Hall of Fame wearing an Astros hat.
The Astros made their bed, and now they have to sleep in it. That they have dragged Bagwell into a controversy that is really nothing more than their own poor financial planning and stupid insurance decisions … that’s ridiculous.