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].

The Phillies are apparently shopping lefthander Cole Hamels fo rilz this time [Jon Heyman, CBS Sports]. Still, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll be dealt [Ken Rosenthal, FOX Sports].

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].

For all your Getting Blanked needs, follow us on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook. Do the same for our friends at DJF [Twitter/Facebook].

Comments (11)

  1. Nice post. It is always nice to hear a somewhat dispassionate voice on these issues. I think fans sometimes get so emotionally invested that they forget these players do (or should) have lives beyond baseball. When viewed objectively it seems weird that Royal lambasts Lee for being unwilling to uproot his life in order to be a rental on a contender.

  2. While I can agree with your opinion in theory, I can’t help but think it’s incomplete. As a former employer and a current employee, I am gracious and appreciative of the opportunities afforded to me by my employer. If my company agreed to give me more (money, perks, etc) than any other company – and we’re talking making more money than literally anything else I could do to make money, wealthy beyond my highest aspirations – I owe a debt of appreciation to this company. If I know that the company is changing directions and I will no longer be with them in three months time, why not do what I could to help repay the generosity that they have shown me? Ethical? Selfish? I think these questions are indeed, at least to some degree.

    • I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you. The amount of “more” that you are being given is irrelevant. All an employee owes his\her employer is to perform their assigned duties to the utmost of their ability. Nothing else. If a clause is written into your contract giving you rights in a certain situation, you certainly don’t owe it to your employer to waive it. Regardless of the money you are paid. The Astros paid what they paid for Lee, they didn’t do him any favors, nor he them. Nor should he. Look at the NBA, where contracts are being amnestied. Did any of these players, whose contracts are being voided, do any favors for their teams? If so, I’m sure they regret it. Sports are a business, athletes are paid what the market allows, and a signed, certified contract is exactly that. Carlos Lee doesn’t owe the Astros shit.

      • So you’re wearing your 15 pieces of flare. Gotcha.

        I never said anything about what he *has* to do, because that’s in black and white. I’m talking about what is the *decent* thing to do – to do more than the bare minimum that the terms dictate. The “more” is very relevant indeed. It’s the difference in being a decent human being and being just another waste of skin do-the-very-least-that’s- required-of-me human being. It speaks to one’s character, point blank.

        • Wow, really? Because I don’t believe an employee “owes” anything to their employer, that makes me (and I guess Carlos Lee by extention) a “waste of skin”? I regularly go outside of my proscribed duties at work, but I don’t think I owe it to my employer and I don’t think people who don’t are somehow less valuable as people than I am. Everyone involved in a employer\employee relationship should have a clear idea of what they can reasonable expect, especially if these terms have specifically included in a contract. Carlos Lee already essentially waived his 5 and 10 rights to make it easier for the Astros to move him if necessary. Now he should forget about the rights he retained? Forget that. If the Astros were holding the leverage now do you think they would care about Lee. I don’t. So why should he compromise himself for an entity that would gladly dump his corpse in a river if it would mean another win?

          • I agree entirely with Not Sure. Lee owes nothing to the Astros here and if the tables were turned, the Astros would drop him faster than glowing iron.

            We tend to think of players as these inhuman, fluid objects. Because they play a game for a living and make a lot of money doing it, we think they should just shut up and take whatever their employers throw at them.

            If Lee had no value on the trade market, was underperforming to the point where he could be released, and had an unguaranteed contract, the Astros would drop him without a second thought. Teams do this all the time.

            Just because Lee played well enough to earn this contract doesn’t mean he should just throw away the rights he’s afforded for the sake of decency. Ultimately, the Astros entered trade negotiations with LA knowing that Lee had the right to veto the deal. Because he did tells us nothing about Lee’s character and to assume it does is downright foolish.

            • I’ll never claim to know the behind the scene details, nor could I. However, that’s not my argument. The contract is guaranteed, and Lee will likely be traded to Cleveland or something as a part-time bat acquired for a song. He’s hindering his team’s chance to get the best possible return (from the Dodgers) because it’s his want, geographically speaking. Your argument is positive, mine is normative.

              Teams do, in fact, sacrifice for a player – Ozzie Smith in ’96, Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter, even Cito in 2010. There is a human side to this business – I think the “players aren’t robots” argument goes both ways.

              C’est la vie – we’ll agree to disagree.

  3. I’d send him to the minor leagues. It’s not like he’s contributing all that much and if he’s not worth anything to the Astros (as a trade piece or otherwise), then send him down like Lind. He’ll probably pass through waivers and it kicks the rebuilding of the Astros into 5th gear.

    • Players with over 5 years experience can refuse a minor-league assignment, regardless if they have options remaining or not

  4. I have difficulty cheering (or respecting) any athlete who would rather four months of convenience over a chance at a championship.

    • I’m sure his famly is more important than a championship. Again, it’s impossible to know the motivations of players and some of them don’t necessarily want to win a championship over all else. For some, it’s a job–and awesome job, but a job nonetheless–and things like family are going to be more important to them.

      I’m speculating here, but what if Lee has a young child. Maybe a child with special needs. Maybe his wife and him are going through a tough time. Maybe he just didn’t want to go to the Dodgers!! I mean, in theory, that’s why he has them on his no-trade list, right?

      I think it’s way too simplistic to say that Lee should just waive the clause because people who don’t know him or his situation think he should.

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