Jordan Norberto And The Non-Disciplinary Grievance Process

This story has been updated to reflect some information provided by a source about the Norberto case after publication. We apologize for any mistakes in the original post.

We’ve focused a great deal of attention lately on MLB’s power to suspend players involved with Biogenesis and the grievance procedure available to those players who are suspended for violation of the Joint Drug Program. But the collective bargaining agreement provides for a separate and distinct grievance process for all sorts of non-disciplinary matters — namely, disputes between between a player and his club. That grievance procedure isn’t often in the news, but it is this week, and therefore, worth discussing.

Relief pitcher Jordan Norberto filed a grievance late last week against the Oakland A’s. Norberto told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that the A’s shouldn’t have released because he was injured at the time.

At the time he was released, Norberto was on the A’s 40-man roster but playing with the Sacramento River Cats, the A’s Triple-A affiliate. The A’s had optioned Norberto to Triple-A just before Opening Day. After reporting elbow soreness, he was placed on the minor league disabled list in mid-April. The A’s released him on May 8 to make room for Daric Barton on the 40-man roster. Norberto claims that he was already injured when he was optioned to Sacramento, which should have resulted in his placement on the disabled list rather than an option and eventual release.

Norberto’s complaint will be governed by grievance procedures set forth in Article XI of the CBA. It’s a straight forward process that begins with efforts to resolve the dispute informally and ends, if necessary with a formal appeal to MLB’s arbitrator. The process for resolving a player’s complaint with a club is the same as when a club has a complaint with a player. For ease of discussion, I’ll discuss the process that applies when a player has a beef, but you can substitute player for team as you read along. Start to finish, it can take more than a year for grievances to be adjudicated if it goes all the way to an arbitrator, but many are resolved in less time.

The first step in any grievance is for the player to discuss his concerns with the team that took the offending action. If the matter is not resolved, the player must file written notice of his complaint with the team within 45 days of the date the alleged improper action occurred. The team then has 10 days to respond to the player’s complaint in writing. If the player is satisfied with the response, the matter is resolved. If the player is not satisfied, he may file an appeal with MLB’s Labor Relations Division. Any appeal must be filed within 15 days of the the team’s written response.

The appeal to MLB’s Labor Relations Division triggers a meeting among that division, the player, and the MLBPA in an effort to resolve the dispute. This Step 2 meeting must take place within 35 days of the player’s appeal. After the meeting the Labor Relations Division has 10 days to issue a written decision. If the player is not satisfied with the Division’s decision, he has 15 days file an appeal with MLB’s arbitrator. The arbitrator must hold a hearing, but has one year from the date the appeal is filed to do so. That’s a much longer appeal period than for discipline-related grievances, which have priority.

The hearings follow a stripped-down version of the procedural and evidentiary rules typically used in arbitrations: essentially, parties exchange documents; witnesses are subject to cross-examination; and the arbitrator is free to consider what he wants, as long as it’s consistent with the terms of the CBA and the player’s contract. The arbitrator must issue a written decision, which is final and binding on all parties.

You can read the grievance provision in its entirety at pages 38-48 of the CBA. The procedural rules for the arbitrations are found in Appendix A to the CBA, at the very end of the document.

There’s no obligation for the player or the team to publicly disclose when grievances are filed. Often the disputes are resolved in private. But we have learned about a few grievances in recent years. Perhaps the most contentious involved Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) and the Mets in 201o. K-Rod was involved in an altercation with his girlfriend’s father during which he injured his right thumb. After he underwent season-ending surgery, the Mets placed K-Rod on the disqualified list, announced they would withhold the remainder of his 2010 salary and, sought to designate his contract as non-guaranteed. After K-Rod filed a grievance, the parties settled: the Mets reinstated Rodriguez from the disqualified list and affirmed his contract, but Rodriguez forwent the remainder of his 2010 salary.

Yorvit Torrealba was on the losing end of a grievance, also involving the Mets. The veteran catcher had agreed to a 3-year deal with New York in 2007, subject to a physical. The physical revealed concerns about Torrealba’s right shoulder and the Mets backed out of the deal. He filed a grievance in 2008 and Shyam Das — then MLB’s arbitrator — denied the grievance. The decision was issued in 2011.

Anibal Sanchez filed a grievance somewhat similar to Norberto’s back in 2007, when he pitched for the Marlins. Florida demoted Sanchez to the minors after he injured his right shoulder. Sanchez claimed the Marlins violated the CBA’s rules against demoting injured players. The Marlins claimed Sanchez didn’t inform them of the injury until after the demotion. The demotion affected not only Sanchez’s salary but his arbitration clock. The only information I found on how the grievance was resolved came from a Marlins forum, which linked to a now-dead Miami Herald story. According to the forum, Sanchez won his grievance; the Marlins were ordered to pay him more than $200,000 in salary and his arbitration clock was re-set to include the time he spent in the minors in 2007.

The relationship between a player and his team is complex. Disputes can and do arise. If the disputes can’t be resolved informally, either side can ask an arbitrator to resolve it. It’s a somewhat slow and painstaking process. And a fair one.

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Wendy's baseball writing has also been published by Sports on Earth., SB Nation, The Score, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

8 Responses to “Jordan Norberto And The Non-Disciplinary Grievance Process”

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  1. rageon says:

    I could have sworn the A’s had a similar situation come up about 10 years ago — where a pitcher was sent down and then required surgery. I believe his argument was that the A’s knew he was going to need surgery so made sure he was on the minor league DL when it happened, rather than the MLB DL. Brad Halsey, perhaps?

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  2. Matt says:

    Just wondering, how much money did Rodriguez leave on the table with his NY Mets contract? Between his 2010 lost salary and his willful voiding of his huge vesting option when traded to Milwaukee, that must be a huge sum that he didn’t get paid.

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    • Dylan says:

      The option vested upon him finishing a certain number of games, I can’t see any scenario where the Mets would have let it vest. But to answer your question, he was guaranteed a $3.5 million buyout, so he gave up a potential $14 million. He received an additional $500K for making it a mutual option, lowering the amount he gave up to $13.5 million.

      In 2010, he missed a little over 25% of the season, let’s just call it 25%. He was scheduled to make $12,166,166, so he lost about $3 million there.

      Ended up losing about $16.5 million, give or take a bit. However, he ended up making $8 million in 2012 with the Brewers, and they resigned him this year, so it seems that accepting the trade may have ended up making him money (if you assume the Mets wouldn’t have let the option vest).

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  3. rusty says:

    I’m a little confused by the use of the term “major-league roster” in the second paragraph — does that just refer to the 25-man roster (plus anyone on the 60-day DL)? If Norberto is on the 40-man, it seems like he has a MLB contract and thus should be counted as part of that “roster”.

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  4. PackBob says:

    It’s refreshing to read the article by Wendy that pays attention to spelling and grammar, with good content, as do all the FanGraphs-written posts. Correct spelling and grammar conribute to the clarity of what is presented; poor spelling and grammar are distractions at best, confusing or misleading at worst. Kudos to managing editor Cameron and all the contributing writers for holding to a high standard compared to many other sites.

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    • scraps says:

      The first clause of your comment is unclear (which is, yeah, ironic in a comment congratulating the post [however unctuously] for clarity); do you mean it is refreshing to read an article by Wendy that pays attention to spelling and grammar, because (by inference) most articles by Wendy don’t? Or do you mean Wendy belongs to that select approved set of articles described by “all the FanGraphs-written posts”? If I’m Wendy, I’m wondering how to take this: a clear compliment, or a smarmy compliment-by-criticize. If it’s a clear compliment, you’re pulling out for approval, among all articles by Wendy, this one? For correct spelling and grammar? “Kudos to managing editor Cameron”!

      “Correct spelling and grammar conribute [sic] to the clarity of what is presented,” yes. And they’re properly appreciated in silence.

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  5. BalkingHeads says:

    Jeez, everything by you is so good. Personally, I’m a big fan of these slightly lesser known issues that you shine a clear light on. Thanks.

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