Atlanta Braves Policy: No Trade or Not No Trade?

There’s a subtlety in the Brandon Phillips deal that could use some further explanation: the no-trade provision.

The Cincinnati Reds have been trying for multiple years to get Brandon Phillips removed from their payroll.  But on every occasion tried, Phillips blocked trades.  So how did the Atlanta Braves manage to do what no one else could manage?

MLB’s Collective Bargaining agreement has had a nice provision in it for a couple of decades now:  the “10 and 5 rights” rule.

In short, a player in the league for 10 years – with the most recent five consecutive years being on the same club – has the option of vetoing any trade sending his elsewhere.

Phillips is coming toward the end of a 10 year contract extension that runs from 2008 through this season.  He broke into the majors with Cleveland, but has been a Red since 2006 and reached 10-and-5 status late in 2014.

This is impossible to verify, but it is possible that Phillips could be baseball’s King of Trade Vetoes, having been rumored to nix deals on multiple occasions… though there’s an open dispute about whether he did so in the rumored deal with the Braves from last November.

But last night, I suggested that one possible scenario for the Braves might be to trade Phillips themselves if he has a positive year and Ozzie Albies is deemed ready for the majors.  Is that still the case?

Braves’ Team Policy

The Atlanta Braves do not support requests for no-trade clauses for their players – that’s been the case for quite a while now and the team reiterated that policy today:

“We want to be clear regarding the contract provisions we made for Brandon Phillips. Since John Schuerholz took over as GM in 1991, we have never granted no-trade provisions and we have no intention of changing that policy.  …

“It should be noted that we never included no-trade or limited-trade provisions for players such as Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, as well as future Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones, and we have no intention to include these provisions in the future.”

Yes, that message is clear.  If you think you want no-trade protection, then try another team, for even these stalwarts of our recent history weren’t afforded with such a luxury.

Could that policy eliminate from contention for certain free agents?  Sure:  it’s possible.  But John Schuerholz made the call 25 years ago to instill his belief that it was more beneficial to the club to have maximum flexibility over player personnel than to miss out on a couple of ‘names’ here and there.

For an example of how that might have worked, consider Brandon Phillips himself, along with his former mates:

The Reds had made huge commitments to 4 players over the last decade:  Philips, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, and Joey VottoAll of them except Bailey have had some sort of no-trade provision.  Until today, only Bruce was willing to be traded.

4 players, $453.5 million in total contracts... and very limited flexibility as the Reds’ needs changed.  This explains a lot about their plight right now.

So What Happened Here?

Back to the Braves’ press release on the subject:

“Brandon had a limited no-trade provision to 12 clubs of his choosing when he signed his extension with the Reds in 2012. Later in the contract he gained a full ‘no-trade’ through his 10/5 rights as a player. Teams are obligated to honor the contract of players they trade for. We will honor Brandon’s limited no-trade clause because we are bound to honor the contract provision just as we are bound to honor other contract terms whenever we trade for a player. 
“If Brandon would happen to be traded from the Braves to another team, he would receive a $500,000 assignment bonus.”

So did the team grant Phillips a no-trade provision or not?  The answer may depend on which set of alternate facts you’d like to adhere to, but the ultimate answer is “no”:

  • The 10-and-5 rights are now void.  That clock now restarts.  By Phillips accepting the trade, that is no longer part of the equation.
  • Players are often compensated for waiving that right.  So far, that has not happened.
  • Still in Phillips’ contract is that 12-team limited no-trade provision, so yes:  they now a player under contract with a limited no-trade clause.
  • The Braves did apparently negotiate a “future waiver” around that provision:  Phillips will receive $500K if Atlanta trades him.
  • From the unspecific wording of the memo, you could argue that he gets the $500K regardless of which team he might be traded to.
  • This is effectively a “pre-negotiated settlement” for his next trade… which you could view as a 30-team restriction.

So it isn’t so much that the team granted Phillips a no-trade clause, it’s that he already had one and the Braves wanted to (a) get him out of Cincinnati; and (b) make sure that his contract didn’t pose a problem later down the road.

Note this is the same situation Atlanta faced when acquiring Justin Upton from Arizona with his 4-team NTC. That clause remained in place while Justin was a Brave.

Additionally, Freddie Freeman is scheduled to acquire 10-and-5 rights early in 2020 and thus will become untradable then (here’s hoping we wouldn’t even want to, either).

So while this scenario is not without precedent, give John Coppolella extra marks here – not only for the deal itself, but also for going the extra mile now to insure maximum team flexibility should the need present itself later this season.

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