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

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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.

Sign-stealing penalties could be ‘unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history’

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Early this morning we learned that Major League Baseball was planning to talk to former Astros Carlos Beltrán and Alex Cora as part of the sign-stealing investigation. Late this morning Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the investigation is, actually, going to go much wider than that.

Passan reports that Major League Baseball will not limit its focus to the 2017 Astros, who were the subject of the report in The Athletic on Tuesday. Rather, it will also include members of the 2019 Astros and will extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentions the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Oh, it also includes recently-fired Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who the league plans to interview but who, Passan says, has hired a lawyer. Which is sort of interesting in its own right, but let’s stay on topic.

Passan:

The league is attempting to cull tangible evidence from the widespread paranoia of front offices and teams around the game about others cheating and has indicated it will consider levying long suspensions against interviewees who are found to have lied, sources said . . . The penalties for illegal activity are determined by commissioner Rob Manfred, though if the league can prove wrongdoing, the severity could be unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history, sources said.

The Cardinals were fined $2 million when an employee, Chris Correa, hacked the Astros computer system. Correa, of course, was permanently banned from baseball and served prison time. Former Braves GM John Coppolella was likewise given a permanent ban for lying about the team’s circumvention of international signing rules. If Passan’s source is right and the league is going to level heavy penalties here, that’s where you have to start, I imagine.

To me, the stuff about Coppolella’s lying and the bit about interviewees lying mentioned in the block quote is key.

Will anyone have the hammer brought down upon them for being responsible for stealing signs? Hard to say. But they likely will if they are not forthcoming with league investigators. Which is actually a pretty decent way to handle things when one is conducting an internal investigation. Maybe you don’t give amnesty to wrongdoers in the name of information-gathering, but you do signal to them that cooperation is incentivized and lack of cooperation will be punished.

It’s an approach, by the way, that Major League Baseball notably did not take in the course of its PED investigations a decade ago. That led to a final report that had massive gaps in information and caused the league to focus on and publicize only the lowest-hanging fruit. As I argued at the time, if information-gathering, as opposed to P.R. considerations was its true aim, MLB would’ve handled it differently.

In the early stages here, in contrast, it does sound like baseball is taking this seriously. That’s a good thing.