Cubs, Chatwood agree to contract change to prevent award ineligibility

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Tyler Chatwood had a tough time trying to win a Cy Young Award pitching at Coors Field for the Rockies.

Language in his newly-signed,  three-year contract with the Cubs almost made it impossible to win it in Chicago.

Because of escalator clauses in the $38 million deal based on receiving even a single Cy Young vote in either 2018 or 2019, the Baseball Writers Association of America resolved on Tuesday morning to consider making him ineligible for its National League Cy Young Award if the language isn’t changed or removed.

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Tyler Chatwood

It’s considered an issue of gross conflict of interest for writers who vote for the award.

After discussions throughout the day between BBWAA representatives and officials for MLB and the union, including a rep from Chatwood’s agency, all sides agreed to change the problematic language.

The issue isn’t new to Cubs president Theo Epstein, who as general manager of the Red Sox in 2007 agreed to a similar clause with Curt Schilling.

The BBWAA voted at that time to make players with incentives linked to its awards ineligible after a period to allow current contracts to expire, which, in turn, raised vigorous blowback from the players’ union. Discussions between the union, commissioner’s office and BBWAA resulted in the vote being nullified and handshake assurances from the union and MLB that such clauses would no longer be allowed.

Chatwood’s contract called for increases in his 2020 salary from its $13 million base to $15 million if he receives even one Cy Young vote in either 2018 or ’19 — to $17 million if he receives even one vote in both years.

This is believed to be the first recurrence of such contract language.

The Cubs were trying to find a quality-based measure that didn’t set the bar unreasonably high for the escalator when they offered the single-vote clause to Chatwood, said general manager Jed Hoyer, who was Epstein’s assistant GM in Boston in 2007. (MLB doesn’t allow performance-based stats such as wins and losses or ERA to be used).

At its annual meeting Tuesday, the BBWAA voted to authorize its executive board to explore the details with all parties and determine whether to make Chatwood ineligible for the Cy Young.

“I respect that side of the argument. I get it,” said Hoyer, who pointed out the language essentially is equivalent to setting the bar at a Cy Young finish between, say, sixth and 10th place, a commonly used clause (So many pitchers rarely receive votes). All-Star selections are flawed, he said, in part because it measures only the first part of the season.

“If this is the one that brings this subject to a head, I’m OK with that,” he added. “I just hope that the writers will come up with something else that teams are able to use in order to put in contracts. I think we can write better contracts, that we can be more creative if there are ways to qualitatively measure a player.”

The MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year awards are independent BBWAA awards determined by 30-member voting panels in each league annually.

Acceptable contract language traditionally has included performance bonuses for winning such awards or specific high-ranking finishes in the voting totals.

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Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com