No-Trade Clauses And This Season’s Trade Deadline

We’re only five-plus weeks into the season. Each team has at least 128 games left to play. It’s not too early, though, to talk about players who might be trade targets this summer, as teams fall out of contention. (Is it ever too early, really? This is what we dream up all day long, right?)

Today, we’re going to focus on players with no-trade clauses on teams that may very well be sellers come mid-July. That means starting with the Phillies. Philadelphia has several expensive players who could be quite valuable to contenders down stretch. All of them have no-trade clauses.

The Phillies’ most valuable trade asset is Cliff Lee. The 34-year-old lefty (he’ll turn 35 in late August) is off to a tremendous start this season. In 49 2/3 innings, he has a 5.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a .240 batting average against, a 1.07 WHIP, and a 2.87 FIP — all better than his career numbers. Lee is in the third year of his five-year/$120 million contract with the Phillies. He’s owed $25 million this year, in 2014 and in 2015. There’s a team option for $27.5 million for 2016, with a $12.5 million buyout. Lee’s no-trade clause allows him to block a trade to 21 teams he identifies at the beginning of each season. The names of those 21 teams has not been made public.

Lee’s no-trade clause sets the standard for several other Phillies who have “most-favored nation” no trade-clauses in their contracts. What does that mean? If a player has a “most-favored nation” clause, he gets the benefits of any no-trade clause included in the contract of a later-signed player. Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard have “most-favored nation” no-trade provisions in their contracts, so they all get the 21-team no-trade protection included in Lee’s contract. With Halladay’s injuries and Howard’s price tag-to-production ratio, it’s unlikely either will be trade chips at the deadline.

But Utley could very well be. The 34-year-old Phillies second baseman in the final year of his 7-year/$85 million contract. After two injury-riddled seasons, Utley is healthy and is looking good at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. His .276/.326/.512 slash slightly off his career averages, but not by much.

Two other Phillies who may become trade chips also have no-trade clauses: Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon. Rollins is also 34, but is showing his age more than Utley and Lee are. His current .234/.288/.344 slash is well-below his career averages. The Phillies will pay Rollins $11 million this season and next. He also has an option for the 2015 season if he accumulates more than 600 plate appearances next season. Rollins has a full no-trade clause. Papelbon is a more interesting possibility, as he has a 12-team no-trade provision in his contract. The Phillies closer is off to a terrific start. In 13 innings pitched, he’s sporting an 8.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a .116 batting average against, a 0.46 WHIP, and a 3.00 FIP. Papelbon is in the second year of his 4-year/$52 million contract. An option for 2016 will best if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014 and 2015.

The Angels also have expensive players with no-trade clauses, and the way they’re playing, it doesn’t look like the Angels will be contenders come July. Of course, there’s the question of whether any of their expensive players could be valuable enough to another team to spur a trade. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson top the list. Weaver’s been out with an elbow injury and didn’t pitch all that effectively before that. Wilson’s walk rate is through the roof at 5.14 walks-per-nine and his FIP is 4.31, the highest since 2008. The Angels are so desperate for starting pitching, a trade of either Weaver or Wilson seems highly unlikely, and yet more likely than a trade of either Josh Hamilton or Albert Pujols.

The most likely Angels trade candidate with a no-trade clause is 29-year-old second baseman Howie Kendrick. He’s signed through 2015 and will be paid more than $18 million for 2014 and 2015, in addition to the $8.75 million this season. Kendrick can block a trade to 12 teams. That drops to six teams next season and to four teams in 2015. Kendrick’s played well out of the gate, with a .299/.328/.457 slash in 135 plate appearances, a smidge above his career numbers.

Perhaps the most attractive — and most expensive — player with a no-trade clause is Joe Mauer. The Twins catcher had a rough, injury-plagued 2011, the first year of his 8-year/$184 million contract. But Mauer was quite productive in 2012 (.319/.416/.446) and was off to a blazing start this season, before cooling off the last two weeks. Still, his current .298/.380/.430 slash gives him a .355 wOBA and a 125 wRC+, behind only Carlos Santana among American League catchers. Mauer has a full no-trade clause.

No discussion of no-trade clauses would be complete without mentioning Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs left fielder has been the subject of trade rumors every summer, as Chicago looked to move his 8-year/$136 million contract. The Cubs owe Soriano $18 million this year and next; the deal expires after the 2014 season. Soriano has reportedly used his full no-trade clause to block a move to the Giants, saying the cold weather would be hard on his knees. At 37, Soriano is off to a slow start, with a .276/.310/.407 slash. He has only three home runs, but hit 32 last season. In a more home-run friendly (and warm) ballpark, he could be a nice summer addition.

The season is still early. The standings will likely look quite different come the end of  June. But if the Phillies, Twins, Angels and Cubs don’t charge to the top of their divisions, expect to see these players and their no-trade clauses at the top of the rumor mill.




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Wendy is also a contributing writer for Sports on Earth. Her writing has appeared on ESPN.com, Baseball Nation, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Score, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

37 Responses to “No-Trade Clauses And This Season’s Trade Deadline”

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  1. Jose Bautista says:

    Their/they’re. Mediocre, Wendy.

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  2. Tim says:

    Zero chance Mauer is moved.

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  3. NatsFan73 says:

    Does “most favored nation” mean they can block trades to the same 21 teams Lee names? Or do they get to select their own 21 teams ?

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      Good question. My understanding is that each player names his own 21 teams.

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      • Bill G. says:

        Is this an actual term? It has the opposite meaning of most favored nation in an international trade context, i.e. tariffs and trade barriers reduced when new agreements are signed…

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        • Brazen Reader says:

          It is an actual term and it means the same thing in all contexts. If Brazil has a MFN trade agreement with the U.S. that means Brazil enjoys the best benefits afforded to any U.S. trade partner, just like every MFN Philly enjoys the maximum amount of No Trade Teams earned by any Philly.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      If they had to use Lee’s list of teams, that would be a bizarre contract. I briefly imagined them all getting together at Lee’s house and saying, “okay, which 21 teams can we agree we don’t like?”

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      • joser says:

        It’s not just/necessarily teams they don’t like. It may be teams they do like which happen to be big spenders, like the Yankees (historically) or the Dodgers (lately) — by putting such teams in the list of “no-trade” teams the player improves your bargaining position (“Ok, I’ll waive my no-trade for that team as long as they give me the full Clemens… no, the full Clemens and an extra couple of million”)

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      If “’most-favored nation’” clause” means “he gets the benefits of any no-trade clause included in the contract of a later-signed player” why isn’t Rollins’s full no-trade clause the operative one?

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  4. LaLoosh says:

    Rollins was off to an equally or worse start last season and eventually picked it up to finish with a pretty typical Rollins year.

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  5. Anon says:

    I’m surprised to learn that Utley isn’t covered by 5/10 rights, but I just checked and he only has 9 years and change of service time.

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    • DD says:

      He’ll have it in august, so not in time to veto a trade, beyond the most favored nation, at the deadline.

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  6. Eminor3rd says:

    Can you imagine someone trying acquire Ryan Howard? Lol

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    • Rick says:

      Maybe if Adrian Gonzalez were to go down with a serious injury, then maybe the Dodgers would go after Howard. Can you imagine that, especially for the next few years?

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    • Bill says:

      That would be like someone trying to acquire Vernon Wells. Maybe the Yankees will trade for Howard, give him whatever they gave Wells, Hafner, and Overbay, then enjoy his 50 homer season.

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  7. DD says:

    Confused on “most favored nation”. You describe it as “If a player has a “most-favored nation” clause, he gets the benefits of any no-trade clause included in the contract of a later-signed player”. However, Rollis signed his contract, as a free agent, after Lee did, and Rollins has a full no-trade. Is he different because he has 10 and 5 rights, so that is an exception to most favored nation?

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      Rollins has a full no-trade clause. The others, signed before Lee, had most favored nation clauses. They benefited from Lee’s later-signed contract with the 21-team no trade clause.

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      • DD says:

        Right. But my point is Rollins signed aftger them too, and he has a full no-trade clause. Shouldn’t their (not They’re) most favored nation provisions revert to Rollins now, since he has the most favorable terms?

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      • DD says:

        It must be that Rollins’ no-trade is due to 10-and-5, not his contract (Cot’s doesn’t show the no-trade at all). that would make Lee’s no-trade list the most extensive, and it is therefore the basis of the other players’ most favored nation list.

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        • Dave S says:

          So, if Lee gets traded, who’s contract is the next basis for that MFN number of teams no-trade list?

          Also, when would that new basis begin? As soon as Lee gets traded, or at the beginning of next season? Is there a set date for determining the number for the MFN trade lists?

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        • DD says:

          The guys with MFN seem to have their own lists of no-trade teams. For example, Utley has a 9 team no-trade. He may be the new baseline if Lee leaves, and I assume it would be as soon as the trade is official.

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  8. Hurtlockertwo says:

    The crazy thing is that any of these guys could get traded, baseball has a way of surprising us every year.

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  9. rubesandbabes says:

    Nice article.

    Reading this makes it sound like the most favored nation Phillies could also opt for the 12 team no-trade clause of Papelbon, if the Cliff Lee no-trade clause wasn’t a perfect fit.

    I doubt the most favored nation Phillies guys have already named 21 other teams…and also named a different 12 teams under the Papelbon option.

    CJ Wilson and Weaver the Younger are SoCal guys. They aren’t going anywhere…

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  10. dtpollitt says:

    “Soriano has reportedly used his full no-trade clause to block a move to the Giants, saying the cold weather would be hard on his knees.”

    How is San Fran any colder than Chicago??

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    • Krog says:

      San Francisco is cold in the summer, but has mild winters. Old Mark Twain quote: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

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    • Balthazar says:

      It’s quite damp also, and the park is right at sea level. Even on days when it’s 90+ degrees, you’ll get a mist up off the water in the evening, and if the fog comes in you feel like it’s October in the stands. It all depends on how his knees take that, but if SorAlf says he feels it then he’s the expert.

      But ” . . . a more home-run friendly ball park” than Wrigley? Hard to see that. Cubs will _still_ have to eat the larger part of what’s owed ‘The Galloping Albatross’ to move him. A. Soriano’s contract looked like a cross to be borne on the day it was announced, yet DESPITE that we see eight or ten year contracts going up every offseason now. These are just bad bets. And that’s if the player is (or was ever) even legitimately good.

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  11. Ben says:

    Unfortunately we have to start with the Phillies. Sad but true, and quite possibly should be mandatory for there to be a future in Philadelphia.
    http://thatballsouttahere.com/2013/05/08/farm-systems-giancarlo-stanton-chase-utley-and-the-revolving-door/

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  12. ALFONSO SORIANO'S WALLET says:

    Send him back to the Rangers. Or the Yankees. Or Colorado. Or Cincinnati. Keep him out of pitcher’s parks.

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