On Thursday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports published an interview with Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. The interview mainly focused on the troubles the team has encountered after their success in 2015 (brought on by several years of strong rebuilding). But the interview began with Luhnow venting his frustration about the current state of no-trade clauses, which have made his job difficult in the last year.
But, oh, how everything could have been different if Cole Hamels didn’t exercise his no-trade rights when the Philadelphia Phillies were traded to the Astros a year ago, and Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy wouldn’t have vetoed a deal two weeks ago to the Cleveland Indians.
“It changed,’’ Luhnow said, “everything.’’
Cole Hamels accepted a trade to the Texas Rangers in July 2015, as did Jonathan Lucroy a year later. Since both those players went to the Astros’ cross-state rival, Luhnow is looking at what might have been if neither player had no-trade clauses; Hamels would be in Houston against his will, and Lucroy would be in Cleveland in the same situation.
No-trade clauses have been popular in recent years as players have demanded them as part of their contracts. Players often formulate a list of teams that they will not approve a trade to, though sometimes trades to those teams can happen if the player allows it. Hamels decided he didn’t want to play for the Astros, so he ended up going to the Rangers. Lucroy didn’t like the future catching situation in Cleveland, so he rejected that offer before accepting one to the Rangers.
“So we’ve had two deals not accepted by the player,’’ Luhnow told USA TODAY Sports, “that has directly impacted us the last two trade deadlines.
“That’s why I sure wish teams wouldn’t give out no-trade clauses.’’
But no-trade clauses aren’t the only thing that could stop players from going to Houston if they didn’t want to. MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement also grants players 10-and-5 rights. From Article XIX Section A Subsection (1):
The contract of a Player with ten or more years of Major League service, the last five of which have been with one Club, shall not be assignable to another Major League Club without the Player’s written consent.
So a player like Justin Verlander, who has 11 years of service time with the Detroit Tigers, couldn’t just be traded to any team. Thanks to that rule, he has some control over where he goes. He could veto any and every trade the Tigers brought to him from now until the end of his career.
And that’s really what Luhnow is upset about. He’s upset that players have even a little bit of control over where they go and he couldn’t make Cole Hamels play for the Astros. Not all players have that control, but the ones he wants do. And on top of that, he’s frustrated that a very talented player didn’t want to voluntarily come and play for the Astros.
In all, it’s a terrible reflection on the Astros as an organization. In a time when players at all levels are consistently being treated as properties rather than human beings, Luhnow is resentful that a baseball player can decide if he wants to go play for a team. This was a huge issue in the early days of baseball, and all the way through the mid 1970s after Curt Flood finally challenged the restrictive reserve clause, leading to its overturn in 1975. The only thing missing from Luhnow’s quotes was a reference to “the good old days” when players had zero say in anything they did.
Instead of being frustrated that some players can choose not to play for the Astros, he might want to take a look at why players are making that choice. The team has a considerable amount of talent, and one of the five (or even three) best players in all of baseball in Jose Altuve. Could it be, perhaps, that the front office hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory? From the Brady Aiken ordeal to the hacking scandal, they haven’t looked good. And more than any other franchise, they’ve developed a reputation for treating players as commodities.
No matter how much Jeff Luhnow hates no-trade clauses (not to mention other rules that would stop players from being involuntarily traded to the Astros), nothing’s going to change. Players can and will continue to request no-trade clauses when they sign contracts, and teams will give them out because that’s the cost of doing business. And 10-and-5 rights certainly aren’t going away anytime soon. The best path for Luhnow would be to figure out what exactly would make players want to come to the Astros. Until he susses that out and starts fixing it, he might want to steel himself for more disappointing trade deadlines.
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