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February 2, 2011

Contractual Matters

Prince Albert at the Five and Dime

by Jeff Euston

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For Albert Pujols, the 2010 season was his 10th year in the majors, meeting the requirement for election to the Hall of Fame. With the end of the season, he also earned full no-trade protection as a "10-and-5 man": a 10-year veteran who has spent the last five seasons with the same team.

Under the terms of his current contract, signed before the 2004 season, Pujols already enjoyed the right to block deals to a limited number of clubs. With the addition of 10-and-5 rights, it was hardly shocking news this weekend when word came that the Cardinals’ front office is operating under the impression Pujols will veto any trade in the event the Cardinals cannot sign him to a contract extension before spring training.

Typically, no-trade protection provides a player with added leverage by limiting his club’s options. But the Pujols situation is far from typical. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr., publicly ruled out the possibility of a trade in early July, all but acknowledging the difficulty in finding fair value for Pujols, to say nothing of the outcry from St. Louis fans if the club so much as entertained the idea of trading him.

The Cardinals still believe they can put together an agreement that keeps Pujols in town, and that distinguishes his situation from a case like that of Johan Santana in 2008, who had priced himself out of the Minnesota market. Santana had a no-trade clause in his contract that kicked in when he won the 2006 AL Cy Young, allowing his agent to give the Mets a 72-hour window to hammer out a new contract with the pitcher after the Twins reached an agreement to trade him to New York three years ago. That scenario is a non-starter for Pujols, who understandably wants the right to shop his services to all 30 clubs in the event an extension with the Cardinals does not materialize in the next three weeks.

The right of a veteran player to have some say in where he plays is at the heart of the 10-and-5 provision, which is enshrined in Article XIX of baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. The language was adopted in 1973 as part of a range of player-friendly provisions won by the fledgling players’ association. In addition to no-trade protection for 10-and-5 players, the ’73 agreement was the first to include salary arbitration for players with at least two years of service and the requirement that a club get written consent from a player with five years of service before assigning him to the minor leagues.

Ron Santo of the Cubs became the first player use his 10-and-5 rights to veto a trade later that year when, citing a desire to remain in Chicago, he blocked a deal to send him to the Angels. Later that year, the Cubs worked around that hurdle by shipping him to the White Sox.

Although service-time milestones for arbitration or assignments have been tweaked in subsequent labor negotiations, the 10-and-5 rule has survived intact. And 38 years later, the provision looms as every bit the challenge for teams that it was for the Cubs with Santo.

Last July, for example, Derrek Lee and Lance Berkman vetoed trades to the Angels and White Sox, respectively. Other players to newly earn 10-and-5 rights during the 2010 season included Pujols, Jimmy Rollins, A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, and Rafael Furcal. All but Rollins and Pierzynski, however, already enjoyed some no-trade protection under their existing contracts.

For the 2011 season, the 10-and-5 graduation list will include Michael Young, Joe Nathan, Carlos Zambrano, John McDonald, and Josh Beckett during the season, and  Carlos Lee, Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Barry Zito, and JD Drew at the end of the year, assuming they all stay with their current teams.

Many of these players already have limited no-trade clauses. Young, for example, due to earn $16 million a year from the Rangers through 2013, already has the right to name eight clubs where he would accept a trade, effectively blocking deals to 21 other teams. The Rangers explored the limited trade market for Young as they pursued free agent Cliff Lee in December, then backed off the idea when Lee jumped to Philadelphia. Though Young is tentatively slotted as Texas’ primary designated hitter and a roving backup infielder, trade rumors persist. They'd better hurry, though, as Young will earn 10-and-5 rights May 8.

One interesting 10-and-5 case is Houston’s Carlos Lee. His $100 million deal with the Astros included a complete no-trade clause, but only for the first four seasons of the six-year contract. With his right to block a trade now gone, Lee won’t reach 10-and-5 status until after the 2011 season. That gives the Astros a window to shop their left fielder, assuming they’re able to generate interest in a hitter in decline guaranteed $37 million over the next two seasons.

Another player in line to qualify as a 10-and-5 man after the 2011 season was Kansas City’s Gil Meche, who short-circuited that possibility by announcing his retirement two weeks ago. In doing so, Meche forfeited his $12 million salary for 2011 and saved the Royals the trouble of navigating around his no-trade rights as they explored the market for a middle reliever with an eight-figure salary. But Meche does have one additional benefit coming. In earning a full season of Major League service time in 2010, Meche reached the 10 years required to qualify for full pension benefits, guaranteeing him $160,000 annually once he turns 62 years old -- another echo from labor negotiations of another era.

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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