Darren Oliver is the Brett Favre of useful journeyman middle relievers.
For individuals like Favre, Michael Jordan, Bill Parcells and Oliver, retirement is a state of mind, state of being, alluring option, threat, or all of the above.
But there are differences in status and need.
The Packers had to take Favre’s annual vacillation because they had no choice. The last time he tried it with them in 2008, they walked away, shunning Favre and avoiding the organization-wide distraction that had the potential to split the club into destructive factions. If they let him do it again, they knew it would repeat in 2009, 2010, 2011 and possibly never end until Favre was carted off the field once and for all. Most importantly, the last time Favre pulled the trick (with the Packers anyway—he did it twice more with the Jets and Vikings), Aaron Rodgers was ready and they finally told Favre to take a hike.
Jordan’s return with the Bulls was understandable considering that he retired at age 29 and did so, in part, because of his father’s death. When he came back again, it was with the Wizards and he was a part owner of the club with the biggest selling point he had to make more money for himself was…himself.
Parcells’s personality and energy levels were such that a team could only deal with him for 3-4 years and he’d only last there for 3-4 years. It was a trade they made for his acumen at rebuilding moribund franchises in exchange for the public insubordination, power struggles and behind the scenes complaints about the one thing that was always first and foremost in his mind: money.
Oliver isn’t in the conversation with the above examples and isn’t as costly. He’s a reliable, versatile veteran reliever who’s well-liked by his teammates and by baseball in general. The Blue Jays would miss him, but would there be a drastic difference in the clubhouse or on the field if he’s not there? Probably not.
But Oliver is making an unreasonable demand/threat to be traded to Texas to pitch closer to home for the Rangers or he’ll simply retire from the Blue Jays. It’s nervy of Oliver to make a request for a raise when he signed the contract with the Blue Jays for a guaranteed $4.5 million after 2011 and was leaving the club he wants to rejoin, the Rangers. He made $4 million in 2012, had a buyout for $500,000 and an option for 2013 at $3 million. Oliver equates this as a paycut, but would he not have signed if the deal was reversed and he got $3 million in 2012 with $4 million in 2013? He could have stayed in Texas after 2011 if he wanted so badly to be in Texas. That he went all the way to Canada isn’t the same thing as him having signed with, for example, the Cardinals. He went to the Blue Jays for the money. Now he wants more money or to be sent back to the Rangers. There’s no harm in asking, but it speaks of an entitlement that, in other industries and for a non-essential cog, would be responded to with an angry frown and a “get outta here” reply. In sports, it’s seen as nothing unusual.
With the new thinking in baseball having been imported from other industries using data, corporate terminology and separation of channels, the one remaining obstacle to that complete transformation is the athletic ego and short-term nature of an athlete’s ability to contribute. In banking, Oliver’s age of 42 is judged as in his prime; in sports, it’s ancient. As lucrative as his contract seems, perhaps he’d like to go back to Texas to take advantage of the no-state income tax and not have to pay to live away from home, amid other factors that are costing him more money and giving him less take-home pay.
Oliver has “retired” and unretired when it’s suited him. Now he’s again telling the Blue Jays that he’s not going to pitch for them one way or the other, so they might as well trade him to Texas.
It’s an empty threat that the Blue Jays aren’t going to bow to. In fact, given his history and that he’ll have the option of collecting $3 million plus the very real opportunity at a post-season share or going home, he’ll shrug and pitch for the Blue Jays and then sign with the Rangers again after the season after “contemplating” retirment.
There’s no reason for the Blue Jays to entertain this somewhat absurd request because, in the end, Oliver will likely be sitting in their bullpen on opening day.