Last night, news broke that the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had apparently worked out a trade with the Houston Astros to send pitching prospect Garrett Gould east for first baseman Carlos Lee, were pulling out of said trade. It apparently became evident that Lee had no intention of waiving his partial no-trade clause to leave Houston so rather than wait around any longer, the Dodgers jumped ship.
Of course, Lee was perfectly within his rights to block the trade (and any subsequent trades to teams on his no-trade list) as per his contract, but that hasn’t stopped some fans and more egregiously some members of the media from lambasting Lee for being greedy, selfish and lazy.
John Royal, a blogger from the Houston Press, is one of them:
The surprising thing to come from this weekend is not that the Dodgers were so desperate that they were willing to trade for Carlos Lee, but that there are Astros fans who are shocked, SHOCKED, that Lee would dare to reject a trade to a contending team. Seriously, if you’re really a fan of the Astros, and you’ve watched Lee these past five-plus seasons, how can you be shocked that he rejected this trade?
Have you not watched Lee jog up to first base after hitting a grounder to short? Did you not see Lee, when he played in left field, walk after balls hit down the line, or not chase down balls hit off of the wall? This is a guy who got it written into his contract that he could skip out on spring training so he could come to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and buy cattle for his ranch.
But that also means that Lee would actually be under pressure. He would have to produce. He might actually be expected to run down the line after grounding out, or chase after a ball should he be put in the outfield.
There’s a month left until the trade deadline, and even then, if Lee can clear waivers, he can still be traded and on a playoff roster until August 31. So there’s plenty of time for Luhnow to get a deal involving Lee done. After all, Lee’s no-trade clause is limited, and maybe Luhnow will find a team that’s not on Lee’s no trade-list who is as desperate for Lee as the Dodgers were. But if you’re a GM on one of these other teams, don’t you kind of have to question if Lee is a guy you want on your team? He’s just declined a trade to a team that’s in the heart of a playoff race. Do you really want a guy with this type of attitude on your team?
Lee and the Astros (under the Drayton McLane ownership group) agreed to a six-year, $100-million contract back in November of 2006 that is set to expire at season’s end. Lee agreed, within the contract, to waive his 10-and-5 rights in order to receive a blanket no-trade clause in the first four years of the deal and a partial one for the final two. Players acquire 10-and-5 rights when they’ve logged at least 10 years of service time and at least five with the same team. After acquiring the rights, they have the ability to block any trade to any team.
Because he waived his rights, he can now only block trades to 14 teams (the Dodgers being one of them). If he hadn’t entered that clause into his deal, he could block trades to all 30 teams, should he so choose. This, theoretically, makes it easier for the Astros to trade the portly 36-year-old at some point this year. This crucial bit of information seems to be totally ignored by many, including Royal.
The major problem I have with this line of thinking, however, is that Lee is somehow obligated to accept a trade to any team—even if he has the right to veto it. But what does Lee owe to the Astros? Sure, they signed him to a contract that hasn’t worked out all that well for Houston, but is that his fault? In order to provide $100-million worth of value to the team, Lee would have had to accumulate roughly 20 wins above replacement in his six seasons. With only half of a season remaining on the deal, Lee has only given the team 10.6 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs, falling well short. But is Lee really to blame for that?
The Astros when owned by McLane made many questionable moves and certainly the Lee deal was one of them, but is it Lee’s fault that a front office administration—admittedly short on foresight and knowledge of how players age—gave a 31-year-old with a questionable body-type a six-year deal?
Let’s consider that in the previous six seasons before signing with Houston, Lee—while in his prime, no less—accumulated only 18 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. What made anyone think that Lee was suddenly going to produce at a higher level in his age 31-36 seasons? Considering that Lee was a 2-3 win-per-year player heading into the deal, I’d say he’s pretty much done as well as anyone could reasonably have expected. Was Lee supposed to reject the deal when the Astros came calling? Would you reject it?
Empty platitudes about players being lazy or unmotivated or selfish should ultimately fall on deaf ears because we have no idea what motivates a player. Speculating is not only irresponsible—it’s stupid. Yet, it still happens—all the time.
Lee owns a successful cattle ranch in the Houston area and presumably he has friends and family there as well. A sudden move over 2,500 kilometers west is not an easy thing for a person with a family and a life in a certain city. Just because that person makes a lot of money at his job, doesn’t make it unconscionable for him to reject such a move if he is completely within his rights to do so.
Baseball’s 10-and-5 rule was negotiated in good faith between the MLBPA and the owners in order to protect older players who have established families and lives in certain cities from being uprooted against their will. Lee agreed to waive that right, but still retains some autonomy over decisions regarding where he plays—and good for him.
Astros fans are perfectly within their right to be irked at McLane & Co. for signing Lee in the first place, but they should save the juvenile vitriol for someone other than Lee, who is merely exercising the right afforded to him in his contract.
Looking at Lee’s body type and apparent lack of hustle (something that is completely subjective for the outside viewer) cannot explain his struggles—at least not with any certainty. What we can say is that expecting Lee to be anything more than he has been, given his own history and the track record of other players his age, is foolish.
Asking why Lee wouldn’t accept a trade to a contender assumes that all baseball players exist in a vacuum where their lives outside the game are irrelevant. Ask yourself if you could survive like that. If you earned the right to decide for yourself where you ply your trade, would you ignore all outside factors, including your private and family life when asked to move over 2,500 kilometers away? I doubt it.
And the rest:
Major League Baseball announced their All-Star rosters and Final Vote candidates yesterday [Getting Blanked].
Today is the first day of the International signing period for Major League teams. The Blue Jays signed two of Baseball America’s top 20 International prospects, including number-one prospect Franklin Barrero, while the Yankees signed number-two prospect Luis Torrens [Matthew Pouliot, NBC Hardball Talk].
Yesterday, the Braves signed four-time All-Star Ben Sheets to a minor league deal as he tries to resurrect his injury-ruined career [Getting Blanked]. Today we learn that the Braves plan on inserting Sheets into the Major League starting rotation within the next two weeks [David O’Brien, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]. This should end well.
Today in unbelievably sad news: Jeff Adcock, a Brewers groundkeeper, collapsed at yesterday’s game against the Diamondbacks and later died [Adam McCalvy, Brew Beat].
Bobby Valentine has co-produced a documentary that investigates Major League Baseball’s role in the Dominican Republic and MLB is not happy about it [Ken Davidoff, New York Post].