Friday, August 26, 2011

3 comments Murray Chass Has Another Bad Idea to Share

I think we may end calling this blog "Fire Murray Chass," which of course would be stupid because he has already been forced ou---I mean, he is retired from his job as national baseball writer at The New York Times, so there isn't anyway to really fire him from anything. Perhaps I should call it "Block Murray Chass' Non-Blog URL," though that isn't very catchy. Either way, Murray has been doing some pondering on his non-blog about the plight of players who get traded. He believes these players who get traded should get some compensation from the team that has traded them. I feel like Murray has a rolodex of bad ideas and just pulls one out about once a week.

Some players have no-trade provisions in their contracts, meaning they have veto power over any trade. In some cases, the players want the clauses because they genuinely want to ensure that they will remain with the team they signed with. Most often, though, they have and use the provisions for economic purposes.

I pay attention to baseball. Maybe I just miss this part of when a player waives the no-trade clause that is in his contract and often gets money for doing so. I can think of a couple circumstances when players has gotten some money to waive his no-trade clause, but I don't seem to think it is in the majority of cases. Perhaps I don't pay good enough attention. Still, I would not think most players put a no-trade in their contract for the economic benefit. It is mostly to prevent getting traded to a shitty team or a team the player doesn't want to play for (i.e. the Florida Marlins).

That is, if a team wants to trade a player with such a provision, the player says how much are you willing to pay for my ok?

This is probably true in some cases, but players will often waive their no-trade clause so they have a say in where they play baseball. I can't believe a player who earns $2-$15 million would put a no-trade clause in his contract to get an extra $100,000 when getting traded. Maybe I am naive, because that is a lot of money.

It’s the latter group that prompts me to propose a revolutionary idea.

Today, for this column only, the word "revolutionary" will also mean "bad."

Unfortunately, while the union would heartily endorse the idea, the clubs would want no part of it because it would cost them money. Yet it would be well spent money.

What is the idea Murray has?

Is it putting a statue of Fay Vincent outside every MLB park? Nah, the union wouldn't care about that.

Could it be only RBI's, hits, batting average, and wins are the only statistics allowed to be used when comparing and discussing players?

I propose that when a player is traded, unless he has asked to be traded, he receives a payment as part of the deal. Either team in the trade could pay the “trade bonus.”

This is a "revolutionary" idea! It is "revolutionary" because it really doesn't seem to make a hell of a lot of sense, nor does it seem to fix a major problem that is plaguing baseball. I always say, when there are real problems present in a sport, the commissioner and owners should ignore those and focus on made-up problems that can be fixed.

While realizing players who get traded to a different team do incur costs, this brings to mind several questions:

1. "Unless he asks to be traded." What the hell does this mean and who would be arbiter of this? Under Murray's theory millionaire baseball players are greedy enough to put no-trade clauses in their contract purely for financial reasons, so wouldn't these same players fight for the "trade bonus" and fight to say they did not demand a trade. Even if they suggested strongly they wanted one, the player would say he did not demand a trade so he could keep the "trade bonus," since players put no-trade clauses in their contract for this specific reason. Logically, yes, players would rarely agree they demanded a trade. So who arbitrates this? The commissioner? When Mark Teixeira got traded to the Atlanta Braves three years ago, did he asked to be traded? Not really, but it was clear he wanted to be traded from the Texas Rangers. Would he get a "trade bonus" since he didn't demand the trade, but you know he wanted to be traded and didn't mind leaving Texas? So there was no hardship on him and it was the preferable situation. Why should he get a trade bonus?

2. Is this an elaborate ploy to get one of Murray's favorite players, Michael Young, some extra money for when he does his annual "I want a trade" demand that he really doesn't demand?

3. What about players who are released from a roster and then picked up by another team? These players were outright waived from their current team and if they are good enough will end up with another team. Shouldn't they get a bonus for essentially becoming unemployed and finding another team? That's a hardship. Why only pay players who switch teams because of a trade?

4. Do minor league players get this bonus? They have less money than MLB players and they often get traded for established players and have to join a new minor league system. These players have a bigger hardship than major league players because they generally make less money. They can not afford to own a house/apartment in one city and rent another house/apartment in a different city. Clearly, and this is typical of Murray Chass, he doesn't think about this when proposing his "revolutionary" idea. Murray only thinks about the major league players and knows the union would support this idea of a "trade bonus," thereby disproving his notion the he previously wanted us to believe in a previous article that the union looks out for every player, no matter what level that player plays at.

If you recall...

The union, Forman wrote last August, “does not and can not care one iota for players not on the 40-man and does not in any way shape or form represent them. They are the major league baseball players association. Their responsibility is to guys who have made (or will soon) make the show – full stop.

Forman, whose expertise is in statistics like WAR and VORP, strayed into unfamiliar territory, failed to see the connection between slotting and capping and demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of how the union overlooks no player, no matter where he plays.

I would really doubt, and Murray only proposes that major league players get this "trade bonus," the union would allow minor league players to get paid when they get traded. So the union in this case most likely WOULD NOT look out for every player, no matter where he plays.

(I know this idea is loosely tied into the present discussion on trade bonuses, but Murray's comment that the union doesn't overlook any players no matter what level has always irked me. I look for good reasons, like the idea of "trade bonuses," that I think goes to prove the statement the union looks out for every player isn't true...and I look for every reason Murray is wrong in saying it is true)

I’m not talking about millions of dollars or a sum that would infringe on the trade, but a payment that would acknowledge the upheaval the trade would have on the life of the player and his family

And again, Murray is only referring to major league players when talking about this. Also, if the sum of the payment isn't enough to upheave (is that a word?) the trade or really make an impact for the player, what is the point of having the payment? Isn't the point of the "trade bonus" to compensate the player enough to make an impact on a team and a player's finances?

Here's another reason I don't like Murray's idea. I am pretty sure a player already has moving expenses paid for by the union, so is Murray talking about money to buy a new house? What if the player doesn't want a new house or his family isn't going to move with him? It isn't like a player's family moves to the exact city the player plays baseball professionally in. There's no reason for a player on the Chicago Cubs to have his family with a permanent residence in Chicago, especially when he is on the road so often. So if the player gets traded to the Mets, would his family really move with him? That's debatable.

The idea came to me as I studied this year’s trades that were made in the month before the non-waiver trading deadline and realized that there are some players for whom this saying applies: If this is July, I must be changing teams.

So the reasoning behind creating a "trade bonus" is to compensate the small sub-set of players who get traded often? So create a rule to help 0.5% of the players adjust to getting traded, but don't give these players too much money. You know, whatever that means.

Look, I know it is hard on a team's family when he gets traded to a different team, but it is part of baseball, just like being waived or having to be on the road for half of the year away from your family. Players get traded and if a guy gets traded in late July he only is playing in that city until the end of the season. That's why apartments were created. The player and his family can move in the offseason to that location if they choose to. I do realize there are costs involved with moving, but I am pretty sure those costs of moving are covered by a team or the union. Basically, Murray is acting like a player puts a house and a life down in every city he plays in, which isn't entirely true.

Another somewhat important item to remember in this discussion is that some players are going to get traded because they won't re-sign with the team they currently play on. So those players are expecting to have to move, even if they haven't demanded a trade. Should C.C. Sabathia get paid to go to the Brewers when the Indians know full well he will be leaving Cleveland in three months as a free agent regardless? Sabathia didn't demand a trade, but logic dictates he won't be in Cleveland after the season, so it is not really a hardship to get traded to a competitive team.

The premier pitcher Lee, for example, was traded three times in less than a year, from the Indians to the Phillies July 29, 2009; from the Phillies to the Mariners Dec. 16 of the same year, and from the Mariners to the Rangers July 9, 2010.

This is very true. Could Cliff Lee had stayed in any of these cities and not gotten traded by signing a long-term deal with any of these three teams? Quite possibly. Again, Lee didn't demand a trade, but he fully expected to be traded when he played for the Indians and I am sure halfway through the 2010 season he knew he would be gone from the Mariners since he was a free agent after the season and the Mariners were playing terribly.

Lee finally gained control of his life last winter when he signed a 5-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies as a free agent. The contract includes a partial no-trade provision. In this instance, the provision is more about allowing Lee to say where he will play than about an ability to extract more money from the Phillies or the team they might trade him to.

Lee could have gained control by accepting the Rangers free agent offer or being more serious about contract extension talks with the Phillies, which he didn't do. Lee could have had control of his life, but he chose to become a free agent.

So if Lee's no-trade clause is more about staying where he is, rather than being about money, why give him money when he gets traded? I get it is tough to be traded, but if money isn't the reason for the no-trade clause then why use money as an incentive for a team not to trade a player?

The Rangers traded the first baseman to the Braves July 31, 2007, and two days short of a full year later the Braves sent him to the Angels. Three months later Teixeira ended the baseball version of musical chairs, became a free agent and joined the Yankees.

Again, Mark Teixeira had FULL CONTROL over his life. He chose not to sign an extension with the Rangers, then Scott Boras (Tex's agent) laughed in the face of the Braves offer, and then they didn't seriously entertain the Angels offer. At any point with the Rangers, Braves, or Angels Mark Teixeira could have ended his "musical chairs" but he chose to become a free agent instead. Logic dictates high-profile pending free agents on non-playoff teams have a high probability of being traded. Why should Mark Teixeira get money for being traded from a team he doesn't actually want to play for anyway? He had no urge to grow roots in Texas, Atlanta, or Anaheim because he wanted to choose his next team, so he should get additional cash for this?

Octavio Dotel, a 37-year-old pitcher, has never had the kind of payday Teixeira and Lee have gained, but he has had as much experience being traded as the two of them combined. He epitomizes the kind of player I’m talking about who deserves additional payment each time he is traded.

Oh yes, that word "deserves." Not sure I agree with the idea Dotel "deserves" an additional payment each time he is traded. If this bothers him so much why doesn't he put a $500,000 bonus in his contract if he gets traded by the team he signs with? You would think if Dotel was really bothered by being traded so often then his agent would do something like that.

Dotel has earned less than $40 million in his 13-year career, which in real life is nothing to sneeze at but in baseball falls short of today’s average salary.

Comparatively, maybe Dotel's salary does fall short of the average ML salary, but he has played in the majors for 13 years and made $40 million dollars. So his average may be lower comparatively, but I am guessing earning $40 million in his career is well above the average a major league player earns in his career. Murray won't add in this small detail though, because it doesn't evoke enough sympathy for Dotel. Earning $40 million in his career, I have a hard time feeling terribly bad for Dotel when he gets traded and doesn't get a bonus for switching teams.

Playing at the moment for his 12th team, the Cardinals, the Dominican right-hander has been a free agent five times and has been traded six times.

Again, when a player is a free agent most of the time he has the option of re-signing with his current team and not having to move his family again. Granted, Dotel may not have always had that option, but many players who get traded do have this option.

Club officials wouldn’t agree, but it only makes sense that a player who has endured Dotel’s and Jackson’s trials, tribulations and travels should be subsidized beyond the travel expenses the labor agreement calls for.

I am not sure I can argue it isn't somewhat of a trial to have to switch teams when a player gets traded to a new team, but that player is on the road for most of the year anyway. It isn't as if a player who gets traded is planning on buying a new home in every city he plays or moves the entirety of his possessions into the new city immediately after getting traded.

So I understand how a player may want a "trade bonus," but players want to be traded and don't publicly ask for a trade all the time. If the purpose of the "trade bonus" is to punish teams who trade or trade for players, I don't get why this should be punished. If the purpose of the "trade bonus" is to make sure a player gets compensated for moving cities and being inconvenienced, well Murray suggests the "trade bonus" should not be a lot of money and I would argue some players want to get traded or have not taken steps to prevent themselves from being traded.

So what is $500,000 (which I think is a lot of money for a team to pay the player for being traded) to a player earning $4 million? It is significant, but what tribulations should be subsidized for this player? If the player gets traded in the offseason he has plenty of time to set up his new life in a new city, if he even chooses to do so, and if a player gets traded at the trade deadline he will probably be in the new city for an entire month and a half at the most. His family isn't going to immediately pack up and move with him until at least the offseason, if they even choose to move at all. So there may be very little to be subsidized if a player merely rents an apartment during the baseball season in his new city.

What general manager would subject himself to the constant changes in place of employment as Dotel and Jackson have had?

A general manager may not subject himself to this, but a front office executive looking to move up into a general manager position may change the location of his major league employer many times during his move up the ladder. No general manager starts off his career in the front office as the general manager. I hope Murray realizes on the way to that position, family sacrifices were probably made, which most likely includes moving cities a few times.

What makes it acceptable for general managers to do it to Dotel and Jackson without compensation of some sort?

Let's consider the labor rules that in no way prohibit trades between teams, the fact the general manager is a representative of the player's employer and can trade players as they see fit, the idea players (it doesn't sound good, I know) are commodities to help one team improve that team and it is acceptable for teams to just waive a player and suddenly make him unemployed to where he has to move to a new city...there's really nothing that doesn't make trading players and displacing their lives unacceptable.

Would the player's union really accept this idea easily? On the surface, it seems like they would. But would the union want extra barriers to a player being traded to a team he may want to go to? Many of these players to get traded, at least in the majors, want to go a competitive team. Other players, at least in the minors, may want to go to a team where they have a shot to play in the majors much more quickly. Murray overlooks minor league players in this discussion. Do they get the trade bonus too? Apparently not.

Wherever the two sides are in their confidential negotiations, they have time to adopt this revolutionary step 35 years after they negotiated terms of free agency.

This should definitely be Issue #328. After everything else gets figured out, the player's union should bring this up to the owners. At least both sides could get a good laugh out of it.


HH said...

So many things to say, most of them obviously if you have ANY understanding of economics:

1. No-Trade clauses aren't free. They're items of value, and they cost a player money up front. The basic choice facing any player is $X, or $X-n plus a no trade clause. It's an important asset in negotiations, not a gift given to players. If a player, who gives up money up front to get this asset, chooses to then "sell" it back to the team, he should of course be compensated.

2. While this obviously affects some players more than others, players ALREADY get paid money because they're traded. The player lifestyle is difficult - lots of travel, a long pre-season stay in other states, and the risk of getting traded or cut. The reason baseball salaries are high and guaranteed ALREADY takes into account these risks and difficulties, much like a parole officer makes more than a social worker for doing similar work because working with felons is unpleasant and dangerous.

3. Even IF a "trade bonus" were needed, isn't Murray aware of the many many players that write these clauses into their contracts? If players get traded, their options can vest, or salaries increase, to compensate. There's no reason to use the heavy hand of Murray Chass, especially because the brain guiding that hand is pretty stupid.

rich said...

Since HH already covered most of the points (applauds) there's one thing in this article that is so incredibly stupid to me that it boggles my mind:

the upheaval the trade would have on the life of the player and his family

The reason this is stupid? Most players don't live where they play anyway. When you work from March to October you have a fourth month vacation.

Now factoring in the fact that you spend half the time on the road anyway, you have 4 months on the road, 4 months at "home" and 4 months to live where ever you damn well please.

Sure, some players (maybe even a majority) have spend those 4 off months where they play their home games, but since most trades happen during the summer, it's not like the kids are getting pulled out of school early and having to start over at a new place half-way through the school year (which I'll admit is just awful).

Even if it happens during the school year, they make enough money to leave their family behind and spend the month of whatever until the kids are done with school to move.

Basically, when you make a kajillion dollars, moving isn't a really big deal.

Even beyond that, if moving is such a hassle, then demand a no-trade clause.

Phillies July 29, 2009; from the Phillies to the Mariners Dec. 16 of the same year, and from the Mariners to the Rangers July 9, 2010.

And all that moving was so awful for him, that he decided to go back to Philadelphia rather than staying in Texas.

Here's the problem with the premise that I have (on a more general scope than HH's comment):

If you have to pay a "trade bonus" to trade someone, then the team gets screwed over. If a guy demands a trade, then the team doesn't pay the bonus, but now has a player that has lost some trade value, again, screwing them over.

Beyond that, what constitutes asking for a trade? Carson Palmer never asked for a trade, he merely issued an ultimatum, would a situation like his constitute asking for a trade?

What about Carlos Zambrano? He reportedly retired after a game, does that constitute asking for a trade?

How about Brett Favre? Retiring, coming out of retirement and not liking the situation, does that fall under the scope of asking for a trade?

The problem is that unless you force a guy to put it in writing, then it's impossible to legally prove that you don't owe the "trade bonus" and you'll see a shitload of lawsuits filed by the MLBPA.

On the flip side, if a player signs it and isn't traded, then... don't you think that would, I don't know, really fuck up team harmony?

Murray seems to base his opinion on the fact that all players demand trades in the media. What happens if a guy speaks with the GM, asks for a trade (again privately, not publicly) and then someone leaks that the guy wants a trade and signed this document? The shitstorm would be off the charts.

The problem is that without a legal document, everyone can play stupid "no one said anything about a trade" and calm everyone down. If there's an actual document though, you lose any and all forms of PR management.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, I agree with points #1-3. Basically, Murray is ignoring the idea trade clauses and bonuses are built into contracts. Players already know if they get traded at any point they are going to have to switch cities. In fact, the town they play their "home" games in may not even be the town they actually live full time in.

I feel bad for players like Dotel who get traded a lot, but at some point he should build a trade clause/bonus in his contract. There are other ways to do it outside of a trade bonus.

Rich, I am a little surprised Murray thinks players uproot their family and move like they do. Remember a few years ago Ken Griffey wanted to leave Cincinnati b/c he wanted to watch his kids play sports? His family didn't necessarily live with him in Cincinnati and while it is unfortunate when a kid has to change schools mid-year, these players often have their families in a different city or the family won't move with the player to a new city. So it is unfortunate, but I am not sure there is as much uprooting as Murray wants to believe there is.

I think the whole "no trade bonus if he demands a trade" is so gray in being able to be enforced it is pretty much pointless. What if Derek Lowe walks into the office of the Braves' GM and says, "I know I am going to be traded this offseason, can you at least let me give you a list of teams to trade me to?" Is that demanding a trade? Should he waive his "trade bonus?"

I still want to know about minor league players. Do they get a trade bonus as well? They don't make as much money and if they have families, those families probably suffer a move from Oakland farm system to St. Louis' farm system more. I would bet they don't get a trade bonus.