HOUSTON - The Mets last night announced that they have placed closer Francisco Rodriguez on the disqualified list "for conduct in violation of the uniform player's contract," which essentially means that he is indefinitely suspended without pay until he is physically and mentally ready to pitch.
The club did not attempt to void Rodriguez's contract. But the Mets did retain the right to cut K-Rod at a future date without paying him a cent of the approximately $18 million he is owed, although there seems little reason to believe such a move would be enforceable under the Basic Agreement.
Players Association executive director Michael Weiner said the Mets will be in for a fight from the union, which will attempt to have the entire punishment overturned by baseball's arbitrator. "The Mets' actions are without basis," Weiner said. "I expect the union will grieve it right away."
Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said the club had notified Rodriguez, his agent and the union of its decision to convert Rodriguez's contract from guaranteed to non-guaranteed, which is a legalized way of saying they want to be able to fire him in the future without paying him. "We're going to reserve our rights," Wilpon said. "It's not something we have to determine now."
Rodriguez is owed about $3 million for the rest of this season and $11.5 million for 2011. His contract includes a $17.5-million vesting option for 2012 with a $3.5-million buyout.
Since the dispute involves nonpayment, it will receive expedited treatment. Once a grievance is filed, a hearing with arbitrator Shyam Das could be as soon as next month.
Rodriguez had season-ending surgery Tuesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. Wilpon said Rodriguez told the Mets' trainer that the injury occurred during the Aug. 11 incident at Citi Field in which Rodriguez was arrested in the alleged assault of his fiancee's father.
"There's strong evidence and there's witnesses," Wilpon said, "and he told our trainer that's when it happened."
Rodriguez was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree harassment in the incident. He is due in court Sept. 14.
Weiner would not comment on whether Rodriguez planned to challenge the Mets' position on what he told them about the injury and when it happened.
Rodriguez was initially suspended by the Mets for two games after his arrest in a punishment Wilpon said was negotiated among the club, the union and Major League Baseball.
"We did ask for more," Wilpon said.
After the ban ended, Rodriguez pitched a scoreless inning Saturday. Wilpon said Rodriguez did not inform the team of the thumb injury until Sunday.
Wilpon said the Mets' doctors believe K-Rod will be ready to pitch in spring training. Asked if the club wanted him back when healthy, Wilpon said: "I would say absolutely," but said general manager Omar Minaya would make that decision based on the Mets' needs at the time Rodriguez is ready to return.
Said Minaya: "First of all, when he gets healthy, right now, we do plan on bringing him back next year . . . Today we want him back. That being said, let's see how this process goes."
Rodriguez issued an apology for his actions Saturday and said he was planning to undergo anger management treatment. Wilpon said the Mets wanted to make sure Rodriguez's anger issues were treated before they considered reinstating him.
Asked when the Mets might reinstate him, Wilpon said: "When we deem him able to perform his services."