Just spoke to Ryan Rowland-Smith, who is about to start a mixed martial arts training session at the Los Angeles gym he frequents. Rowland-Smith woke up this morning to a plethora of phone messages, emails and texts from all the people he’s come across during his years with the Mariners organization.
“It’s bittersweet, really,” he said. “I’m excited to be moving on with the process and seeing what it’s going to lead to. But I’m going to miss Seattle. The fans and the city. For what it’s worth, last night, on my Twitter, the things that the fans were writing in and saying, it’s really amazing. I spent 10 years in the organization and made a lot of good friends with fans and people who work for the team. It was such a good relationship and it’s a real shame it’s come down to this.”
But baseball is a business, not a social gathering. Rowland-Smith understands that part of it today, perhaps better than a couple of days ago.
After a dismal 1-10 record with a 6.75 earned run average last season, he embarked on the mixed martial arts workouts, hoping the physical improvements — like a stronger core — and mental boost of training with some of the world’s toughest fighters would help him regain the confidence he’d had previously since breaking in with Seattle in 2007.
Then, on Wednesday, the team made him a contract offer. It was non-guaranteed, meaning Rowland-Smith would have to make the team out of spring training for it to apply. But that’s actually standard for arbitration eligible players, whereas the exact opposite applies to a free agent like Erik Bedard, which is why his deal with the team yesterday raised some eyebrows in its uniqueness.
Rowland-Smith understands that and didn’t have a problem with it. What he didn’t like, though, were the terms of the deal.
“It was basically, ‘This is what we’re willing to give you’,” he said. “I just didn’t feel it was right and I decided to turn them down.”
Rowland-Smith said he was not offered a pay cut. But he declined to go into any more detail about the specifics of the offer.
It’s important to remember that arbitration eligible players almost always get raises, especially guys who are eligible for the first time. It has very little to do with performance and is more about service time.
So, the fact the M’s weren’t cutting his pay really isn’t an indicator of much one way or the other. And no, this isn’t like our daily jobs, where we have to produce if we expect to get raises. MLB players are on a schedule of sorts, where they usually get relatively (important word here) small incremental raises from the league’s six-figure minimum until their arbitration years, then progressively bigger hikes after that until free agency following their sixth year of service time.
Performance doesn’t really play into it, except to determine how big the raises will be in arbitration. So, although Rowland-Smith had a terrible year, he was almost certainly going to get raise because of the way MLB is structured.
It was only a question of how much.
“I felt that, despite the rough year I had, being 27 and being healthy, and taking steps to prevent what happened from happening again, I felt like the contract they were offering me didn’t match my expectations,” he said. “So, I knew then that they were either going to tender me the contract and go through the arbitration process. Or, they were going to non-tender me and let me become a free agent.”
Rowland-Smith said he had a good conversation with GM Jack Zduriencik and isn’t leaving with any hard feelings about him or the way his situation was handled. But Rowland-Smith did sound like a guy who plans on making a clean break from the organization.
“I’m excited to see where this takes me,” he said. “I’ve done a lot to ensure that what happened to me last year doesn’t happen again and I’m excited about next season. I’m excited about how I’m going to perform.”