The 'Santo Clause': No-trade provisions reshape market

December 10th, 2016

The Indians had their man, and then they didn't. It would have been a stunning Trade Deadline two-fer. The Tribe was set to bring not just relief stud , but also two-time All-Star catcher into the midseason fold, and all that was left was for Lucroy to sign off on it.

But as luck, fate and perhaps proper planning would have it, the Indians were one of eight teams on Lucroy's no-trade list, a sweetener written into Lucroy's 2012 contract extension with the Brewers. And around 10 a.m. on Sunday, July 31, nine hours after Indians and Brewers executives nailed down a late-night deal, Lucroy, who would later say he was concerned about how the 2017 return of then-injured Indians catcher would affect his playing time behind the plate in Lucroy's contract year, had made up his mind:

No deal.

"Trades are already difficult to complete," Indians president Chris Antonetti said, reflecting on the trade that wasn't. "When you have to navigate another obstacle to get something done, it creates a big challenge."

Hot Stove Tracker

That the Indians and Brewers, who wound up moving Lucroy to the Rangers a day later, could spend so much time on something that didn't even happen speaks to the scope of that challenge.

That the Indians wound up making it to Game 7 of the World Series with the help of some big October homers from light-hitting backup catcher speaks to the beautiful unpredictability of baseball.

But no-trade clauses are an interesting wrinkle woven into baseball's midseason and offseason swap seasons. And in the thick of a Hot Stove season that is especially active on the trade discussion front, their history and their impact on the current climate is worth exploring.

Ron Santo started all of this. After the 1973 season, the Cubs tried to trade the eventual Hall of Famer to the California Angels. But a then-new and now-standard clause in the collective bargaining agreement afforded players with 10 years of service time, and the last five with the same team, the right to veto any trade.

Santo was the first player to exercise that right. Maybe we ought to call it the "Santo Clause."

Ho, ho … hold it up!

Over time, it wasn't just 10-and-5 players with veto power. Players began requesting that no-trade power be baked into their free-agent contracts and extensions, and now such clauses are the land mines scattered throughout the field of trade dialogue.

Though not necessarily a complete accounting of the no-trade clauses baked into current contracts, a study of the information available at Cot's Contracts database on Baseball Prospectus found 63 active players with either limited or full no-trade protection.

Of those 63 players, 33 have full no-trade rights afforded either by contractual guarantee or 10-and-5 status. The rest are limited no-trade provisions that vary significantly from player to player. While , for example, can block trades to 20 teams, can only select three.

Most partial lists are able to be adjusted each year, allowing the player to be tactical with his selections. While you might think a no-trade list would be focused solely on clubs a player is averse to joining, that's not always the case.

"Sometimes you put the clubs you're most likely to get traded to," an agent explained, "just so you can use it as leverage for more money."

One of the most famous non-trades because of a no-trade clause occurred after the 1999 season, when the Mariners agreed to send Ken Griffey Jr. to the Mets, with , Armando Benitez and Roger Cedeno the key pieces coming back to the M's. Griffey was darn near paired with his eventual Hall of Fame entrymate, Mike Piazza, but he used his 10-and-5 rights to reject the deal. The Mets had given him a deadline, and he didn't want to rush into a major life decision. Griffey was dealt a short time later to Cincinnati, while the Mets used Dotel and Cedeno to get Mike Hampton and Derek Bell, going on to the World Series.

That would be far from the last time a non-trade would wind up working out well for the spurned team.

A year ago, the rebuilding Reds tried to trade second baseman and 10-and-5 rightsholder . Twice. On separate occasions, they had a deal worked out with the Nationals and a deal worked out with the D-backs. On both occasions, Phillips' wishes for an extension beyond the deal paying him a total of $27 million over 2016-17 killed the trade.

The Nats sure recovered well. They pivoted to free agent , who became the runner-up in the National League MVP race.

In the current market we've heard reports that Tigers second baseman won't waive his trade protection without an extension. We've heard that 's already difficult-to-move contract is basically made unmovable by his full no-trade protection. We've seen many a rumor doused by the very simple reality that Votto, who has a full no-trade clause, has zero interest in leaving Cincinnati.

Conceivably, there are times when no-trade protection can encourage a trade, as opposed to hampering it.

, for instance, can block trades to all but six teams. But in May of the coming season, he'll attain 10-and-5 rights and will then be able to veto a trade to any team. So there could be incentive for the rebuilding Brewers to move him to one of those six (and the Dodgers, notably, are on that short list) sooner rather than later.

The Rays' , who has zero no-trade protection currently, will reach 10-and-5 status early in 2018, so Tampa Bay could be nearing similar incentive.

Generally speaking, though, no-trade clauses are a swap sticking point.

"They create big challenges for GMs," said an NL executive who asked to be quoted anonymously. "You've got to be very careful about giving them out, especially for longer-term deals, because even the partial no-trades can really mess with you. Maybe limiting it to five or eight teams gives you flexibility, but you just really don't know, year to year, who's going to have the interest in the player."

Obviously, the majority of free agents are not in a position to demand no-trade protection when negotiating with teams. But sometimes the distinction between those who have them and those who don't is surprising. Red Sox ace has one of the largest contracts ever given to a pitcher, and he doesn't have trade protection. Yet reliever , who pitched just 36 2/3 innings with a 3.93 ERA last year, received full no-trade protection in his new four-year contract with the Cardinals.

Some clauses are more creative than others.

's new contract with the Yankees will give him full no-trade protection for three years, and limited protection for the final two. The limited protection includes the stipulation that he cannot be dealt to a team in California (and here we thought Chapman liked the heat).

When signed an extension with the Rockies, it included a clause that he could be traded once -- and only once -- without his approval. When Tulo was dealt to the Blue Jays in 2015, he received a $2 million "assignment bonus" and full no-trade protection moving forward.

The Indians' has an interesting arrangement in which he can't reject trades, but a trade would impact his option years. If he's traded anytime between now and the end of the 2019 season, his new club must exercise or decline both his 2020 and 2021 club options (valued at $27.5 million total) within three days of the conclusion of the '19 World Series.

"On any decision you make," former Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said, "you've got to ask yourself what your alternative is. If you let a no-trade or a partial no-trade stop [a contract discussion], you better have a good alternative."

Zduriencik ran head-on into the complications created by no-trade clauses in January 2013, when D-backs outfielder used his clause to reject a trade to the Mariners. The D-backs would have received , , and one of , or, coincidentally, , who was just traded from Seattle to Arizona last month.

"Kevin Towers was [Arizona's] general manager, and he was convinced he could talk Justin Upton into coming to Seattle," Zduriencik recalled. "He felt his days in Arizona were over and he would waive the no-trade. So you really have to trust sometimes what the other general manager is telling you, because he has the relationship with the player and with the agent. But it can be difficult, because once you broach that and say you have a deal and then you don't have a deal because he won't go, now it's almost like a betrayal. You already told him you traded him, but he's still with you."

The NL executive referred to this as "crossing the Rubicon."

"It's an interesting debate," he said. "Do you go to the player and see if he'll consider it? Or do you try to get the deal teed up first? I don't want to tell a player I'm working on a trade and then not be able to find anything for him, because then I've upset him. But if word gets out [about trade discussions] before you talk to your player, that looks bad, too."

These are the tricky trade waters execs are navigating in the current climate. As we saw with the Indians and Brewers this summer and as we see when even sensible swaps struggle to gain traction, a deal can break down when Santo Clause comes to town.