Guest Post: Maddon and the Cubs: What is Tampering

Editor's Note: I tend to get quite a few submissions for guest post and this one is a perfect storm in the sense that it is A) a very current topic, B) it answers a question that a lot of people are asking, and C) it is written by someone who has special knowledge of the subject.  Thanks to John for helping us understand more about tampering from a legal perspective.


By: John Lowery

With the (imminent) signing of former Rays manager Joe Maddon to a lucrative deal managing the Chicago Cubs, many people both in and out of the industry are accusing the Cubs and PBO Theo Epstein of “tampering.”  Tampering is shorthand for “tortious interference with contractual relations” and a person (or entity) can be held liable for interfering with the contractual relationship between two other parties.  In this case, the Cubs are being accused of interfering with the relationship between Maddon and his former employer, the Tampa Bay Rays.  There was a  clause in the contract which gave Maddon a fourteen (14) day window to exit the agreement if the team changed general managers.  This opt-out clause was triggered when Andrew Freidman left the Rays for a staggering financial package offered by the Dodgers. Absent the opt-out clause, Maddon was locked into employment with the Rays until the end of the 2015 MLB season. There has been no mention of an exclusive negotiating window for the Rays with Maddon if he exercised his option, which he famously did just before game three of the World Series.

Looking at this from a lawyer’s perspective, it appears the tampering/interference charges are unfounded. Unless there was a clause or bargained for exchange giving Tampa Bay an exclusive negotiating window, Maddon was effectively a free agent the moment he or his agent began negotiating a new agreement because in so doing they had necessarily elected to discard the original agreement and replace it with a new one. Big caveat: if they were exclusively discussing an extension to the original contract that would not change his 2015 salary or working conditions, the contract could still be deemed in place. Media accounts seem to indicate however the discussions involved an immediate raise and extension.  Since the parties were negotiating for a new deal to be effective immediately, the old agreement has been already set aside even if there had been no public announced.  Unless it can be shown that without the Cubs involvement Maddon never would have entered discussions with the Rays to redo the 2015 agreement, no tampering charge can be proven.  The moment Maddon (or his agent) began discussing a raise for 2015, he had effectively excercised his option and was a free agent, although not a public one.  If his agent and the Cubs spoke about the parameters of a deal at any time after those negotiations began, there is no tampering.

All this is to say this lawyer (and Cubs fan) at least isn’t troubled in the least by allegations of tampering. They don’t appear to have merit and are most likely calculated to help the Rays save face with their Florida fan base after losing arguably the game’s best manager to the Chicago National League team.  Now about some pitching….


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  • Thanks a lot John. This answers just about all my questions.

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    Love it! Does the league have any different rules on tampering other than just the legal definition?

  • Good article thank you.

  • MLB does not have a specific definition set out in it's rules. I should have included that in the post. Thanks for catching it.

  • In reply to jllowery:

    Thought another lawyer should chime in here. Rule 3(k) Tampering states:

    "To preserve discipline and competition, and to prevent the enticement of players, coaches, managers and umpires, there shall be no negotiations or dealings respecting employment, either present or prospective, between any player, coach or manager and any Major or Minor League Club other than the Club with which the player is under contract, or acceptance of terms, or by which the player is reserved or which has the player on its Negotiation List, or between any umpire and any baseball employer other than the baseball employer with which the umpire is under contract, or acceptance of terms, unless the Club or baseball employer with which the person is connected shall have, in writing, expressly authorized such negotiations or dealings prior to their commencement."

    Read that however you want, but it seems to me that if the Cubs were in contact with Maddon before he exercised his opt-out it's tampering as long as Maddon had a valid contract for the 2015 season, which he did. Attempting to negotiate a raise does not automatically void an existing contract.

  • In reply to pje319:

    That being said, I don't think they'll be able to prove anything

  • In reply to pje319:

    y'all are the lawyers, but John seems to disagree with this: "if the Cubs were in contact with Maddon before he exercised his opt-out it's tampering as long as Maddon had a valid contract for the 2015 season, which he did. Attempting to negotiate a raise does not automatically void an existing contract."

    Do you expressly disagree with him that the moment the Rays began negotiations--assuming the 2015 year was also going to be replaced at a greater salary--that he essentially, at that moment, "opted out" per his old contract? That would seem to be the sticking point, if I'm reading it correctly. There is a difference, from my understanding, of attempting to negotiate a raise, and negotiating a new contract when you have an opt-out clause that you can exercise in the old contract.

    Did I read John wrong? Is John incorrect? Can MLB use definitions/rules that supersede the Law?

  • So if TB and Maddon were negotiating a new salary for 2015, any discussions between the Cubs and Maddon prior to Maddon exercising his opt out would not be tampering?

    If they were not negotiating a raise for 2015, but were negotiating an extension for 2016 and beyond, then any discussions or communications between the Maddon camp and the Cubs before he exercised the opt out would be tampering? Including for example a call by his agent to the Cubs to gauge Cubs' interest?

  • In reply to TTP:

    Part of it is semantics, but if that is basically it. I don't think a call FROM the agent, couched in hypotheticals, would land the Cubs in hot water. A call TO the agent is more troubling, but again would surely have been couched in hypotheticals.

  • TB just wants to raid our farm system. Any "tampering" charge is baloney. The Rays have only themselves to blame. They gave him the opt-out clause.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    TB is acting like the guy who got broke up with by the hottest girl in town, of course they are butthurt but they have to say publically that she was a cheating tramp and the guy stole her unfairly to try to save face. Forget the fact that they gave her (Maddon) an out clause (permission to see other people) lol

  • Maybe we can "tamper " with Alex Cobb for the Rays ownership wasting our time.

  • If its going to cost us someone good then don't sign him

  • unless the Cubs have the OJ Simpson prosecuting team on the case I think the Rays get nothing but a kick in the ole ding ding .

  • I haven't followed all the reports, so I must have missed it. Has there been reported any specific instance in which the Cubs contacted Maddon or his agent prior to his opting out of his contract? Or is someone just speculating that they MIGHT have done so.

  • Probably can kiss the idea of trading for Zobrist goodbye now

  • Rays never won the series. So there's no Tampa ring.

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    In reply to wastrel:
  • In reply to wastrel:

    Well done. We will keep Tampa at bay….

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    In reply to wastrel:


  • My question is that how would anyone (Cubs) know if he opted out without someone telling them? If there was an exclusive negotiating clause, how would the Cubs know that? If they thought he was available, what source could they rely upon to confirm that they could indeed negotiate in good faith?

  • The speculation is that Maddon's agent, Alan Nero, contacted the Cubs along with other teams to gauge the interest for Maddon were he to use his opt-out clause, and during those conversations Nero was told by the Cubs that they WOULD be very interested if he were to become available. Based on the MLB definition of Tampering (yes, their is an MLB definition as pje319 posted above), that most likely would constitute Tampering (by the MLB definition). However, as many have pointed out, the problem with accusations of tampering has always been proving that it took place. Most conversations like this are private and only between two parties (Nero & Epstein or Hoyer). Tampa & MLB would have to somehow prove what was said in the conversation between the parties, but the only two people privy to them aren't going to tell on themselves. Short of a confession, the Rays would also need to show that the contact between Nero and the Cubs was a direct cause (at least in part) to Maddon utilizing his opt-out. The fact that Maddon is considered a top Manager, with the hardware to match, lends credence to the idea that both Maddon & his agent (a specialist in the field well versed in the current market dynamics and going rate for top managers) wouldn't need the Cubs to tell them that Maddon's services would be in high demand were he to become available on the open market.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I realize that that has been the speculation.

    But has it been reported by ANYONE that is in a position to know, or anyone claiming a SOURCE that is in a position to know?

    It sounds like a few SCR types around the country are pulling things out of their --- in order to drive readership or listenership.

  • Thanks for the legal explanation. Sometimes is seems like commissioners of professional sports have powers which appear above the law, like fining and suspending players, coaches, and even owners. I don't think anything will come from this specific situation but Selig will try to find some way to punish the Cubs if he can.

  • If, in fact there was an inducement before he opted out, that is clearly tampering. However, media reports seem to imply TB and Maddon were working toward an agreement when suddenly Maddon elected to break off negotiations and that would imply contact with the Cubs came at some point after the onset of negotiations with TB. The gist of the post is that, if the parties were in negotiations for a new 2015 deal, there had necessarily been a de facto exercise of the opt-out clause and everything was fair game at that point, unless there was an exclusive window. Otherwise, there would be no reason to discuss Maddon's 2015 compensation since a deal was in place covering that period. If the negotiations were strictly for an extension not affecting 2015 and the Cubs made an offer, tampering would be in play, but that does not seem to be the case. In candor, I missed the MLB definition, but it is no more broad than the common law definition, so all principles remain the same.

  • In reply to jllowery:

    No harm no foul. I just wanted to put the rule out there for everyone to see. Otherwise, I pretty much agree with what you said. I'm glad someone took the time to actually look into what tampering entails.

  • In reply to pje319:

    No offense taken. I did a quick google search but should have dived a little deeper. I'm glad you corrected me. And also glad I made the mistake of cutting a research corner too closely here instead of say, the court of appeals.

  • There is only speculation. There would be now way to prove that either party made contact early unless one of the parties admitted it.
    They would need hard evidence to prove tampering. I can't see how they would get it.
    There were no rumors of other teams before he opted out.
    Clearly he and his agent would know that the market would be strong for him if he opted out. There would be no need to call early.

  • The most viable case of tortious interference of contract is held be Rick Renteria, who could potentially have a claim against Maddon and his agent if they reached out to the Cubs. That is unlikely and a far fetched scenario, but he probably has a far better legal case than do the Tampa Bay Rays. This would be true even if he gets his full salary since he is obviously disadvantaged going forward in his baseball career.

  • In reply to jllowery:

    Pretty good jllowery explaining what is commonly known as Tampering, which in all reality is a contract interference. When I first heard that during negotiations which were opened by the Rays and that Madden had an out clause or termination option without penalty my take was that Madden was an unannounced free agent and his agent had due diligence to seek out a market unless that was precluded by agreement. The Rays should have had a right to match or something and allowed Madden the freedom to seek another deal.

    Proving something would be close to impossible unless something we don't know but that out clause is probably standard among highly compensated managers closely aligned with a GM.

    As for the PR angle the Rays have to scream foul because in many ways he is or was the face of the franchise and the Rays allowed him an out.

    Renteria might have a case, especially if he doesn't land a spot next year and feels shafted, esp if the Cubs make it to the playoffs.

    But the reality is there is no crying in the baseball business

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Exactly. Although RR might have a viable claim, I'd think the downside would be far larger than his potential recovery if he wants to work in professional baseball. His best gambit is playing the loyal soldier and rolling with the punches. He's acquitted himself nicely, will continue to have nice paydays and will get another opportunity.

  • This tampering story is fairly outlandish. As a former journalist, I always suggest going back to the source to track to start tracking fact from rumor. From my review, the Rays have never charged the Cubs with tampering. They answered a hypothetical question "IF the Cubs or any other team tampered what would they do?" by answering they naturally would have it investigated. But they've never publicly accused or suspected the Cubs. It's all come from out of context suppositions by others.

    In fact, the first suspected tampering target were the Dodgers, with the rumor-mongers preferring to first assume Friedman had pre-arranged something with Maddon before joining the Dodgers a week earlier. Once the the Dodgers weren't suitors, speculation turned to the Cubs as the tamperers. Sounds like a lot of conspiracy theorists running willy nilly to me. It's all fairly ridiculous and pointless, as if there ever was real tampering, we'll never know because why would the parties involved ever admit it?

  • I think the gm for the rays figure when he did maddon contract that if he left the team maddon might not want to be there so that may be the reason for the opt out clause.

  • After losing Friedman, that has to be Maddoning for the Rays.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    Yes, but ironically, Maddon is the Freed Man.

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