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July 13, 2004

Breaking Balls

Wanting What's Best

by Derek Zumsteg

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I wrote a whole column last Thursday about how players don't owe it to their teams to waive their no-trade clauses. One weekend later, Randy Johnson comes out and says that if, maybe, he were to think about leaving Arizona, well... "The only way I'd probably want to leave is if a trade would benefit the Diamondbacks by my leaving. And maybe the way to do that is if they wouldn't have to pay my salary and it could go to some other players that would help them--and if I got to a situation that was going to work for me."

Randy's now saying he'd require that:

  • The Diamondbacks wouldn't have to pick up his salary
  • They would have to get players back who'd help them
  • His new team would have to be contending

Sure, there are players who have emotional ties to an organization and a city such that they'd like to see their soon-to-be-old team do well. Some players have tried to make sure that their new team doesn't give up too much. The most obvious example of this was Ken Griffey Jr., who when demanding a trade from the Mariners to the Reds seemed to be actively involved in who'd be traded for, which is kind of weird since he instigated the whole thing. It'd be cool if us average people could do that for our jobs. ("I've decided you're going to offer me $125 grand to watch baseball and drink beer in the comfort of my house, and you're going to pay for the recliner." "Remember not to put your breakable mugs on the bottom of the box when you clean out your desk, because you're fired.")

Other cool questions about trades and no-trades:

It would be great fun to see a player, in lieu of a no-trade clause, require that he be paid (CPI New City)/(CPI Original City) * (Remaining portion of his contract) in the event that he is traded. Would such a clause be legal?

--U

(CPI is the Consumer Price Index here, unless I'm way off base.) Why not? All kinds of crazy stuff goes into contracts with variable costs. Luxury suites at the ballpark. Roombas. Alex Rodriguez has crazy escalator clauses that in today's market would almost certainly never be tripped.

The problem would probably be that contracts have to be approved by both MLB and the MLBPA, and defining the cost of living by city could be the kind of complicated negotiation that takes months to hash out. Do you count cereal? Should gasoline costs play a larger role if the player owns more than one Ford Extinction ("When the world isn't warming fast enough")? Would local laws on child support and alimony adversely affect the player's cost of living?

In some cases that's what a no-trade clause is for. When Gary Sheffield was traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers, he demanded a lump sum of cash to waive the no-trade, because it would cost him more to live there. Or that's what he said, anyway. Given that Sheffield spent so much time talking about how awful it was playing for the post-immolation Marlins, you'd have thought he'd have jumped at the chance to pay California's income tax if it meant he could play on a contender. I guess his accountant got to him.

The other problem is that no player wants to see the value of their contract go down. They want to see their money go farther. If you're a Yankee and about to be dumped to Pittsburgh, you're not going to want to take that salary hit. So a no-trade clause provides a way for players to negotiate these things at the time of trade--do I really want to get out of this hellhole of a city and join a contending team enough to eat the taxes I'll pay in Boston? Can I get my agent to threaten Boston for a buyout? How big?

Here's another good reader point:

Sometimes players accept a 'hometown discount' to keep playing for the same team. Giambi was someone who was willing to do this. Would it not be unfair to trade this player at the lower rate to a team that would have had to pay him more to sign him in the first place? In this regard, I think a player would be foolish to accept a 'hometown discount' without a no-trade clause, or other consideration (i.e., a salary step-up if traded).

--TD

This is an important reason why players look for no-trade clauses. Some GMs (like Jim Bowden, when he was with Cincinnati) did exactly that. After signing players who take less to play near home, teams flip these bargains off to contenders. As tempting as this is for the team, it's not in their long-term interest and it only works once in a long while, because the next year everyone's going to be looking for a no-trade clause when they sit down at the negotiating table.

It's an illustration of exactly what I wrote about last week: Players make a value decision that staying in town is worth some amount of money, so they ask for less and a guarantee that they'll stay in town. There's nothing wrong or even greedy about that.

A team does not always have a choice as to whether to give a player a no-trade clause. The CBA includes the 10-5 Rule, which means that a team CANNOT extend a player's contract beyond the 10-5 point without giving him the equivalent of a no-trade clause.

--Jay Levin

That's kind of true, except you point out the problem inherent in that objection: The team can't extend a player past the 10-5 point without essentially giving him a no-trade clause. It becomes, essentially, a mandatory part of the contract discussions. However, the team's under no obligation to extend a player that far out. If you've got a player you're not sure you want around past three years because he's rapidly declining, he becomes a 10-5 guy, and you're concerned that his new interest in competitive paint huffing will affect his long-term prospects, nothing forces you to extend him past three years.

The player can then demand four, five, six years, of course. The two sides come to nearly the same decision they would if the no-trade wasn't automatically included in the contract at year four. For the team, is it worth the gamble to have the player for the money he wants if it means in the last year the team would be stuck with him? For the player, is it worth demanding that fourth year and the attendant no-trade clause if it means the two sides might not come to any agreement, and he'd go back on the market where his value is uncertain?

It's a complicated thing. Teams, players, their conflicting desires. Randy Johnson wants everyone to win if he goes. Others have different priorities. As we approach the trading deadline, we'll see who believes in what, and how much it's worth to them.

Related Content:  Trade,  No-Trade Clause,  The Who,  Trade To Dodgers

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