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July 25, 2008 at 9:05 AM

No-trade clause? Small problem

The final week leading into the July 31 trade deadline is upon us and — as expected — this is when things truly start to get serious. As many of you have already heard, the New York Yankees held an organizational meeting in Tampa yesterday to try to narrow down trade targets. Not surprisingly, the name of Jarrod Washburn keeps coming up.
As we mentioned a while back, shedding Washburn makes sense for the Mariners. He’s an attractive commodity simply in being lefthanded. He’s putting up some strong numbers. He’s not going to cost teams an arm and a leg. And he’s not really going to help the Mariners win a title next season. Washburn would allow you to eat another 190 innings or so out of the rotation if all goes well. But the team has surplus in lefty starting pitching. Even if Ryan Rowland-Smith doesn’t work out, you’ve still got Ryan Feierabend. It’s time to move on.
There’s been a hullabaloo of sorts over Washburn’s no-trade clause. Some have speculated that Washburn would want a contract extension if he’s to go to New York. Of course he’d like an extension based off seven good weeks of pitching. Who wouldn’t? It’s not going to happen. As you can see from this fan blog in NYC, there’s plenty of angst about taking a gamble on Washburn beyond even this season, let alone 2009.
But hey, a player has to try to get the most he can. But, as with all things in a negotiation, once you see the plausible and the totally impractical, you move away from the latter and towards the former. To me, this whole no-trade thing represents a very minor obstacle. Here’s how it works: in the majors, players have these no-trade deals inserted in their contracts. It’s a negotiated clause and, as in most business negotiations in the non-sports world, if you want out of a contract clause, you have to give something up in return. It’s more a token gesture than anything else. Sometimes, you can buy your way out for $50,000. Gets the player an extra car, or a nice round-the-world cruise for the family over the winter.
The thing is, the player worked hard to get the no-trade into the contract. Most of them will be reluctant to give it up for nothing.
So, if you’re the Mariners and you have a chance to offload more than $13 million to the Yankees in Washburn’s remaining salary, are you going to risk scuttling the deal over a $50,000 payout? Or a $200,000 payout? A $500,000 payout? No, you’re not. Well, you’re not unless you’re really dumb. No jokes please. I’m being serious. Well, a few jokes, but let’s not sidetrack the discussion. Even if the Yanks balk at ponying up some cash for Washburn, the M’s could always do it if push came to shove. Like I said, they aren’t going to blow a cash-shedding move of this proportion over a small fraction of dough.

It’s a non-issue. Seriously, it is. Do you think for a moment that Washburn, well into his 30s, is going to want to stick it out for a rebuilding job in Seattle next season if he has a shot at going to a contender? In a place, Yankee Stadium, where he’s pitched well during his career?
Yes, he’s more a small-town guy. But at worst, he’ll be there one full season in 2009. I think he can handle it. He may say otherwise. Of course he will. It’s a negotiation. But ultimately, I’d be shocked if Washburn doesn’t get moved.
One thing that intrigues me in the Washburn deal is seeing the name of Yankees outfield prospect Brett Gardner now amongst the possible trade returns being bandied about. This blog points out why Gardner would be interesting for the M’s.
The guy gets on base. At least, he did in Class AAA. An OBP higher than .400? Gardner drew walks once every six at-bats in his AAA career? They’ve outlawed that in Seattle, haven’t they? Much like jaywalking? Gardner plays the game well, too. A solid defender, who can also get bunts down. Imagine having a center fielder who plays the game right, gets on base, steals bases and disrupts opposing pitchers? Oh wait, the M’s had that last season. Not so much any more. Ichiro had one of his typical all-star years in 2007. Didn’t walk, but otherwise was a serious disruption to opponents for an 88-win squad. Now, he’s not as dazzling at the plate and he’s a right fielder. Obviously, if Gardner became the center fielder, you’d have a bit of a power outage in the outfield. A serious power outage. That duo would have to steal a whole lot of bases to make up for the lack of extra-base hits. But hey, it would at least give fans something to get excited about at the top of the order. Any deal that involves Gardner would give the M’s a return I didn’t think was possible in a Washburn trade. Yes, they might have to take on some pricier players as well. It’s why Washburn’s not going to get a seven-figure buyout of his no-trade — simply because it will be impossible to offload every dime of his contract. But now, if Gardner’s name is in there, you’re talking about getting some value back. Having Kei Igawa shoved down your throat, at $4 million for each of the next three years, becomes a little more palatable if you think you have your center fielder of the future in Gardner.
So, these are some of the ideas and issues being tossed around by the M’s for now.
What do you folks think? Igawa’s put up some decent Class AAA numbers. It isn’t the numbers that have ruined his name less than two years out of Japan. Well, OK, maybe the major league totals have hurt his reputation. But it’s more a money thing. He’s being paid an awful lot to be a good AAA pitcher.
Still, the M’s are used to throwing away money. Gardner would be under club control for years to come. You could split the difference and look at it as roughtly $4.5 million for a starting center fielder and a decent AAA lefty starter. Not to mention shaving off all those millions for Washburn. Remember, as well, while money matters to every team, the M’s have more of it to spend than some clubs do. But nothing is ever absolute. Gardner might stink in the majors. What do you think? Would it be worth it to the M’s to make a Washburn-Igawa trade if Gardner was a part of it? Let’s hear some thoughts.



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