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Comment of the Day: on Carlos Lee and no-trade clauses

Jul 2, 2012, 8:23 AM EDT

Carlos Lee’s decision not to accept a trade to L.A. inspired reader sincitybonobo to ponder what it all means:

I will preface this by saying he simply exercised an option that was available to him and broke no rules.

However, at the tail end of a contract that he never came close to justifying, he has a chance to save the woebegone Astros some money, let them pick up a couple of prospects, and make a push for October with a storied franchise.

He’d be spending six extra weeks in the regular season away from his ranch. Half of his remaining games as an Astro will be played on the road.

Weak. If he weren’t ridiculously overpaid, I wouldn’t be so hard on him. Exercising this option is permissible. However, it does not prevent you from being perceived as gutless and selfish.

We hear this sentiment a lot when someone with a no-trade clause says no. I agree with the commenter that the primary blame in such situations should fall on the team for foolishly agreeing to a no-trade clause like the Astros did with Lee, but it is understandable for fans to also be upset at the player to some degree too, even if it’s not necessarily justified. The fans care a lot and they want the best thing for their team. In this case, losing Carlos Lee is absolutely the best thing for the Astros.

Ultimately, however, I think this serves as a lesson that, contrary to what a lot of fans want to believe, players often — maybe more often than we realize — think of baseball as their job and nothing more. And no matter how much money is involved, many of them view a trade the same way you’d view being transferred to another city for your job. It’s disruptive and, if it can be avoided, it’d be nice to.

Carlos Lee negotiated the right to tell his boss he didn’t want a transfer. It seems unsatisfying in the context of sports because we feel like the players owe their team and/or the fans something more than they do, but that’s all it is.

  1. paperlions - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    The negotiated no trade clause is irrelevant, isn’t it? Lee is a 10/5 guy, so he has those rights anyway.

    • wlschneider09 - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:36 AM

      Or I could just wait until Paper points this out, making my post irrelevant even as I type it.

  2. wlschneider09 - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    Wasn’t this Lee exercising his 5 and 10 rights? I don’t think the Astros negotiated this.

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    He has a limited NTC he negotiated with the Astros. And I believe he waived 10-5 because of it.

    • stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:39 AM


    • paperlions - Jul 2, 2012 at 9:23 AM

      Still, if he had negotiated no such thing, now he’d be a 10/5 guy and the Astros would have had to trade him last year to avoid him nixing the deal.

  4. kkolchak - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    You have to wonder if this move will make Carols Lee next year’s version of Derreck Lee, the declining slugger nobody wants on their team. Not wanting to be traded to a contender says everything you need to know about his desire to be a winner at this point in his career. Of course, maybe he’s made enough money that he simply doesn’t care if nobody wants him next season.

    • stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:40 AM


  5. stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    I made this point on the other thread, and I will continue to make it. As a Houston fan, I really wanted him to go. It was a good deal for the Astros. But he was perfectly within his rights, and the limited no-trade was discussed in the press when he signed. Carlos gave the Astros a discount over San Francisco when he signed. He gave the Astros three very good years, and he hasn’t been bad for the last three. Average OPS+ about 117. Was he overpaid? Sure. It was a Carlos Beltran kind of contract. But if the rest of the Astros team had improved, he might have been a solid contributor to a champion.

    I expect he will continue to play until the trade deadline (hope springs eternal) and then they will bench him for Wallace. But he didn’t do anything wrong. It’s his job. 90% of us would have done the same thing.

    • pipkin42 - Jul 2, 2012 at 5:31 PM

      Except that Carlos Beltran was a legitimately great player with the Mets. He wasn’t overpaid, at least not significantly. Lee is.

      But otherwise I think you’re right.

  6. vanmorrissey - Jul 2, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    He wants to stay since next year he will DH.and the Astros resign him at a discount. Think thisis a move Ttp stay pyut until retirement in a place he has. settled down for the rest of his life.

    • kkolchak - Jul 2, 2012 at 9:22 AM

      Why would you want a guy with a loser attitude on your team at ANY price? If people are going to defend Lee’s “right” to say no to the trade, they should acknowledge that having a complacent, burned out coworker with no desire to succeed is the VERY WORST thing you want to have around your enthusiastic young employees. in fact, by the office politics logic, the Astros would probably be better off cutting him right now to prevent his attitude from poisoning the clubhouse.

      • bigtunany - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:58 PM

        The larger point you’re making has merit, and while I can’t fully endorse it because we can’t truly know what Lee’s motivations for making the decision are, I find the comparison between the world of the multimillion dollar athlete and the workaday world of your average American misguided. The concerns and realities of those two world are VERY far apart and I mostly have sympathy for co-workers who have “burned out”. Numbness can often be the outcome after years of the corporate policy whip. I wish companies spent a little more time trying to find ways to avoid having their workers become used up before simply jettisoning them for “enthusiastic young” (read: lesser paid) replacements.

    • stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 9:55 AM

      I see exactly .00000000001% likelihood of the Astros giving him anything next year. I thought there were club and player options, but apparently not. He is exactly what they don’t want as they move forward with their rebuild. Wallace is hitting at AAA, and Singleton is hot on his heels (and the best prospect in the Astros system).

      I think Carlos will play until the trade deadline in the slight hope the Astros can get a deal for him. Then I think he sits for the rest of the year.

  7. florida76 - Jul 2, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Lee’s attitude has become more prevalent as salaries have increased, Fred McGriff pulled the same stunt late in his career on a proposed trade to the Cubs. The issue isn’t what a player owes the fans or teammates, but what about himself? Lee has never played in a World Series his entire career, and you would think as his career is winding down, that missed opportunity would mean something to him. The notion Lee would be so inconvenienced by moving to LA is laughable.

    But in the end, players like Lee will be remembered for actions like this, and years from now, Lee will have his own regrets. Loser attitude sums it up best.

  8. ezthinking - Jul 2, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Funny how fans berate players for leaving teams, Pujols comes to mind, and now berate a player for staying. He has the right to stay, so stay he will. Good for Carlos.

    • paperlions - Jul 2, 2012 at 11:41 AM

      That would be true if leaving was the reason Pujols was criticized. He was criticized for lying and hypocrisy, not for leaving.

    • stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 12:21 PM

      Fans criticize players for not doing what is in the best interests of the team. In Pujols’ case, they see it as staying. In Carlos’s case, they see it as going. That’s the difference. No question the Astros would be better off if Lee had taken the deal.

      Given Pujols’ subsequent numbers, the Cards can probably count themselves lucky over the long haul.

  9. hk62 - Jul 2, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    Been an Astros fan for a long time – and completely agree that Lee has the right to Veto the trade. But if I were the GM and or Mills, Sunday’s game was the last one he took the field as a starter. But the bad part is how do you get Wallace up to the big club to play 1B – can always cut him, but that move is best saved for Aug 1 in normal situations. In Lee’s, there is no way he’s going to accept a trade to one of the 14 teams on his no go list and its now HIGHLY unlikely anyone else would want him or if they did, that they would pay the majority of the salary. So getting Wallace PT at the mlb level is more important than anything Lee is going to bring from now until the end of October – I’d cut him loose. I respect stex52’s comments, but in this case four more weeks won’t net anything and I have to have a spot to bring up Wallace.

  10. stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    If I were GM, I would do what you suggest, hk. It’s a bit scary, because they have very little hitting as it is. But they aren’t winning with Carlos in there any more than they will when he is out. I think they will keep him in for a month because the upside of getting out of 6-8 MM$ contract is so big that they will gamble on it no matter how unlikely it is.

    But I would be tempted to go ahead and cut the cord.

    • ezthinking - Jul 2, 2012 at 12:50 PM

      These cut Carlos comments are easily the stupidest ideas offered. The guy is well liked by the fan base and even more liked by his teammates. The Astros want him around to help teach the youngsters how to play. Without him, the team has no leadership.

      • kkolchak - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:27 PM

        Sounds to me like they have no leadership either way. If the Astros really want him around to teach the youngsters how to not care about winning, they are going to be bad for a LONG time.

      • stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:36 PM

        I see the leadership issue as completely irrelevant here. They may not cut Carlos, because they are carrying 13 pitchers right now and one will go down. But if he plays in August/September I will be very surprised. If they ask permission to trade you, they have no interest in your leadership potential.

  11. gostros19 - Jul 2, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    Stex, off subject here sorry, but what are your thoughts on Jimmy Paredes? Is he not in the Astros plans anymore? The guy is tearing it up in AAA but he’s playing 2nd an he will never play there with Altuve. I still say bring this guy up and get rid of downs/bixler. I can’t stand these two anymore

  12. stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    Good question. I’m not sure. I’m clearly behind the times, because I thought he was playing 3rd still. I mean face it. The Astros’ infield is wide open for any good young player. Altuve has been more of a pleasant surprise but he is playing above his projected potential right now. Can he keep it up? And everyone thinks Lowrie is a pass-through for prospects. I am not a believer in Wallace or Johnson at this point. Even if Johnson keeps up the hitting he needs more power and he will always be a liability in the field. And Wallace reminds me of an old moneyball out-of-shape hitter.

    If I were to guess, and I am more up on the obvious moves, I think they are leaving Paredes down to work on his plate discipline. Johnson (and Wallace shortly) are getting the chance to prove if they are really major leaguers. After that, I imagine Paredes gets a chance.

  13. rooney24 - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Sorry, but Craig’s comparing this to one of the readers getting transferred in their job is night and day different. If a reader were transferred, they would have to pack up their house and move, maybe find new schools if they have kids, leave their friends behind, and start a whole new life in another city. Carlos would merely have had to find an apartment for a couple of months (which the Dodgers would likely have done for him if he asked), and go work in another city for a couple of months, all while making an insane amount of money compared to what the majority of America makes. Gee, that doesn’t sound like a very level comparison to me.

  14. jkaflagg - Jul 2, 2012 at 1:46 PM


    No problem with Lee exercising the rights he negotiated into the contract; any ” blame”, if you want to call it that, goes to the former Astros ” brain trust” that gave him the concession, and ignored what every baseball man said at the time: ” this guy will NOT age well ” !!!!

    Dodgers were right to pull out of deal when Lee started to hem and haw; a guy who has to think that long about leaving one of baseball’s worst teams to join a contender for a half season and possibly win a championship probably isn’t the type of ” spark plug” you’re looking for anyway…..

    Finally, kind of shocked anyone thinks there was any chance Lee would have been resigned in Houston next year, even before this issue…..even if the team could somehow overlook his rapidly eroding skills, they could easily replace him with Bret Wallace and see no falloff in performance. But most of all, the team needs to remove the albatross that Lee and his ill-advised deal represent that hovers over Astro baseball. While I understand that Carlos is a nice guy, he is unfortunately the symbol of the epic fail of Houston baseball in recent years.

  15. djpostl - Jul 2, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    Whether he views it as a job or not, the simple fact is he was a shitty employee for all those years, with his productivity coming nowhere near his level of compensation.

    Would have been nice to see him remove his head from his rather large ass long enough to notice this would benefit the team & more importantly its fans.

    • stex52 - Jul 2, 2012 at 2:29 PM

      Carlos gave them exactly what they bargained for; especially in the first three years of the contract. The problem is, they should never have made the deal. They kidded themselves into believing that all they needed to be contenders was a stud hitter. He came in and gave them a great OPS+ and no fielding. Big surprise. Meanwhile, the rest of the team was falling apart.

      Drayton loved the big, flashy signings. He just couldn’t hang in there with the nuts and bolts of building a solid team.

      I wish Carlos had gone to LA. But you can be too hard on him, too.

  16. sincitybonobo - Jul 2, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    “Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” – Annie Savoy, “Bull Durham”

    Lee and the Astros negotiated this contract and he’s not violating it. Family and bovine considerations are perhaps the reason why he structured the last months of the deal in such a way.

    Maybe he doesn’t want to play next year. But, if he does, I can’t believe this episode impresses other GM’s. He just missed being a part of the ’05 White Sox and, at age 36, appears indifferent towards playing in October. He knows the Astros are in desperate shape about to be thrown into the lion’s den with TEX and LAA next year. Nobody would argue that the best thing for the Astros would be for him to accept the trade. But, it is also true that Lee’s good faith fulfillment of his contract is not dependent upon him being concerned about the post-2012 Astros.

    He won’t win the baseball version of a Profiles in Courage award, to be sure. The 1st and 15th are great, but a strong desire to play for a title is also disproportionately present in the best and most driven athletes. Many players more talented than Lee either never played in October (Banks) or only made it once early in his career (Murphy).

    Thanks for the shout out, Craig. I enjoy your work. I’ve already got some good stuff for the next 38 Studios thread.

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