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No-trade clause? No problem (usually)

08.24.10 at 1:53 pm ET
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Johnny Damon is mulling whether to return to the Red Sox after his former club claimed him on waivers on Monday. (AP)The question of whether Johnny Damon will return to the Red Sox likely hinges on whether or not he elects to exercise his power to veto a deal to Boston. The Sox are one of the eight teams to which Damon can veto a deal.

Damon, of course, has his reasons for having sought the opportunity to veto a deal to Boston. On Monday, he dredged the memories of his acrimonious departure from Boston, and his uncertainty about whether he would want to go back to the Red Sox.

But more often than not, no-trade protection ends up being less a means of avoiding going to a team than a bargaining tool should a trade occur. As one former general manager once explained:

“(The clauses) started out legitimately enough. There were certain places that players did not want to be assigned. … As time marched on, they became a hybrid between not wanting to go somewhere and wanting to leverage a potential deal.

“It’s gone full circle. … Where we are now, a ‘no trade’ doesn’t always mean you don’t want to go to that club. In many cases, it means exactly the opposite.”

Often, players simply use no-trade clauses to get some kind of bonus if they are sent to a team. The Red Sox’ recent history of deals (and near-deals) for players who had the right to veto a deal to Boston suggests as much:

Billy Wagner (2009): The Sox acquired the left-hander from the Mets a year ago. Wagner had a full no-trade clause in the deal he’d signed with the Mets, and as he continued his rehab from Tommy John surgery, he considered using his power to veto a deal, feeling that the pressure of a pennant race might be a less-than-ideal scenario in his efforts to recuperate.

But Wagner ended up agreeing to go to Boston after the Sox guaranteed that they would not exercise his option for the 2010 season. The deal was consummated, and Wagner ended up being a contributor not only over the duration of the 2009 season, but, perhaps more importantly, for the long haul, when he declined the Sox’ arbitration offer and signed with the Braves as a Type A free agent, giving the Sox a pair of compensation picks (No. 20, which turned into first rounder Kolbrin Vitek, and No. 36, which the Sox used for Bryce Brentz) in this year’s draft.

Alex Gonzalez (2009): The Sox made a waiver deal with the Reds for shortstop Gonzalez last August. Gonzalez had the power to nix a deal, armed with a no-trade clause, but he didn’t want to do anything to impede the deal.

“I didn’t ask for money,” Gonzalez said last year. “I didn’t ask for anything.”

Brian Giles and Mark Kotsay (2008): The Sox were scrambling to add outfield depth in August of 2008 (sound familiar?) as a result of an injury that sidelined J.D. Drew for most of the final six weeks of the season.

The team made a move to acquire Brian Giles from the Padres, but the veteran outfielder elected to exercise his no-trade clause to block the deal, citing his desire to stay close to his family on the West Coast. Undeterred, the Sox kept exploring outfield options, and near the end of August, they made a deal with the Braves for outfielder Mark Kotsay. But Kotsay was also armed with a limited no-trade clause that included the right to veto a deal with the Sox. In exchange for not exercising that power, Kotsay received $325,000 from the Sox.

Eric Gagne (2007): Gagne represented the evolution of no-trade protection. Prior to the ’07 season, the Sox did not have a closer (Jonathan Papelbon was being converted to the rotation), and the Sox had talked to the free-agent about signing to join their bullpen. Gagne had been interested, but had a better offer from the Rangers. Afforded the opportunity to pick a list of clubs to whom he could not be traded without his consent, he included the Sox — a team he said he was thrilled to join after being dealt at the 2007 trade deadline.

“(The clause) is not really where you want to go or not go,” Gagne conceded in the summer of 2007. “I think it was more leverage than anything else.”

The power of that clause proved significant. Gagne leveraged his veto power to have the Sox guarantee $2.5 million in potential bonus money.

Alex Rodriguez (2003): Rodriguez had a full no-trade clause from the Rangers in his landmark 10-year, $252 million deal. But he was more than willing to waive it in order to join the Sox following the 2003 season. In fact, the deal that would have brought him to Boston fell apart not because Rodriguez was seeking concessions, but instead because the MLB Players’ Association felt that he was giving up too much (approximately $28 million) in order to go to Boston.

The no-trade clause was not the hang-up in this failed deal.

Curt Schilling (2003): Schilling’s full no-trade clause created tremendous leverage in his negotiations with the Sox. He used his veto power to get a two-year, $25.5 million extension from the Sox (which became a three-year, $40.5 million deal once Boston won the World Series). The clause did not stop a deal; it just made it more expensive for the Sox.

Read More: Alex Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, billy wagner, Curt Schilling
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