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.