Opinion

Padres: Stop Offering No-Trade Clauses

Monday, July 20, 2009 | The Jake Peavy saga, which continues to wear on both club and player, is further proof that the Padres need to stop giving players the right to veto trades.

No-trade clauses to Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko and Brian Giles backfired for the Padres. Now the front office likely regrets giving the same hammer to Peavy, the staff ace.

New CEO Jeff Moorad should declare an end to issuing no-trade clauses.

If Peavy’s consent weren’t needed for a trade, Kevin Towers likely would’ve dealt Peavy for a bundle of young talent one of the last two off-seasons.

Now Peavy is back on the disabled list — a reminder of the ace’s injury risk that, along with a soaring salary, influenced the decision to start shopping him last October.

Don’t blame Peavy. He earned his clout by pitching well for several years, often at a salary below market value. Two Decembers ago, when Towers and Peavy’s agent, Barry Axelrod, discussed an extension, Peavy had just won the Cy Young award in a unanimous vote.

The Padres considered whether to trade him, extend him or let him walk two years later as a free agent. After much debate that fell short of a unanimous consensus, Towers gave Peavy a three-year extension that bought out Peavy’s first three years of free agency. The pact also empowered Peavy to nix a trade to any of the other 29 clubs, presumably in return for salary concessions.

Clubs such as the Atlanta Braves refuse to give no-trade authority to a player. Ironically, attempts to trade Peavy to Atlanta in November were weakened by Peavy’s reluctance to go there.

By giving players the no-trade hammer, the Padres are failing to leverage two of their assets — San Diego’s allure and Towers’ trading skill.

Sure, a player might decide to leave as a free agent if the Padres don’t give him a no-trade clause. But that’s a chance the Padres should be willing to take.

In my 15 years as a Padres beat writer, I found that most players are eager to stay in San Diego, even if it’s for a smaller salary. Some begged to return, even after getting the cold shoulder.

Take center-fielder Mike Cameron. He tried to rejoin the Padres two off-seasons ago, even after the club failed to make him a salary offer and then hired another center fielder, Jim Edmonds. Cameron had played on four Seattle Mariners teams that reached the playoffs, a Cincinnati Reds team that won 96 games, a New York Mets club that won 89 games and a 90-win team on Chicago’s south side.

But the chance to stay with the Padres so excited him that he was willing to share time with Edmonds. Rebuffed again by the Padres, he ended up in Milwaukee.

Trading is what Towers does best. Likely influenced by cost-cutting bosses, he nonetheless continues to shackle himself by giving out no-trade clauses.

In true Padres tradition, the club later deems the player’s contract too expensive as the bigger salaries come due.

That’s when the calliope starts to play. The Padres try to deal a player who, in fact, is a de facto GM, able to shoot down any trade destination.

Make no mistake: the Padres’ circus-like attempts to trade Peavy, while understandable, lowered respect for them within the industry and their own clubhouse.

Moorad, for one, lost points when he allowed Towers to try to trade Peavy to the White Sox in May, although Peavy had made it clear he doesn’t want to go to the American League, save, perhaps, for a move to Anaheim.

The Padres put Peavy in the position of having to turn down Sox GM Kenny Williams. Both Peavy and Axelrod admire Williams, a straight shooter. When Williams called him to sell him on joining the Sox, Peavy didn’t enjoy being in the position of having to say no.

Cost-Cutting Remains Motivation Behind Most Moves

Then there’s the financial dimension of Peavy’s contract, which still has $58 million on it.

When Towers said recently that Peavy might be better off staying on the DL for the rest of this season — because returning too soon might lead to further injury — he reinforced the idea that cost-cutting remains the driving force behind most Padres baseball moves, despite all of the hoopla last spring surrounding Moorad’s arrival as the club’s presumptive owner.

Peavy hadn’t even been examined a second time by Padres doctors when Towers made the remark.

How could Peavy staying on the DL relate to team finances? The Padres potentially could gain a seven-figure refund on Peavy’s $11 million salary if the damaged ankle tendon keeps Peavy on the DL for a number of months.

If Peavy needs surgery to repair the ankle tendon, he’s been told it likely would take 12-18 months for him to return to the mound. Via an insurance claim, a missed season might save the cost-cutting Padres a good chunk of the $15 million they owe Peavy in 2010.

“I’m not going to comment on anything that relates to insurance,” said Towers, who answers to Moorad.

Moorad said on Sunday that the insurance is “not a factor at all” in Padres decisions relating to Peavy’s comeback. The CEO confirmed that he familiarized himself with the insurance policy. “They’re never quite as good as you hope they are,” he said.

The Padres have experience at successful claims on injured players. Insurance claims in 2003 on Trevor Hoffman and Nevin each brought them a seven-figure windfall. San Diego-based attorney Harvey Levine won an $11.9 million settlement on behalf of the Padres in 2001 when he demonstrated that pitcher Randy Myers had shoulder problems that were covered by the club’s policy with Lloyd’s of London.

The policy on Peavy has no exemptions for body parts, a strong sign that Peavy got a clean bill of health when the club guaranteed him $52 million for 2010-2012. Disability policies tend to cover only injuries that sideline a player for half the season or longer. Refunds tend to be for 50 percent to 80 percent of the salary.

“It’s not like a standard policy you buy for your auto,” Levine said. “You really need to know what you are doing with these policies. There are so many issues that come up.”

What’s Peavy’s Trade Value and Will He Be Gone In the Offseason?

Peavy, for his part, expects to pitch for the Padres again in August. Driving that expectation, he said, was word from Padres doctors who examined him Thursday, after removing the walking boot that Peavy had worn for five weeks. “They told me it was a four-week process,” he said after playing catch for the first time since June. “Based on what they said, I expect to pitch again this season.”

Said Towers: “It’s good news. He felt good coming out of the boot and hopefully he gets better and better. We’ll know a lot more after he starts working out and throwing. That’s truly when you know. He needs to be 100 percent. If he’s 100 percent, we’re not going to hold him back.

“But we don’t want him to get hurt or have an ankle turn into a shoulder or elbow.”

Anyone who suggests that a healthy Peavy shut it down for the rest of the season probably shouldn’t say that within earshot of the ace, who last pitched on June 13. He bristled when asked on Thursday if he’s heard that kind of speculation.

“Anybody who says that either hasn’t been an athlete or hasn’t been a competitor,” Peavy said.

Peavy, who was limping during his final game before going on the DL, said he’s not interested in trying to pitch through pain.

Yet even if Peavy finishes out the season, the 28-year-old’s ankle problems might not be behind him. The pitcher said it’s possible that his recent ankle troubles relate somewhat to an ankle fracture he suffered in 1998. The recent injury, Peavy said, was caused by running the bases against the Cubs on May 22. Based on what I’ve read of medical websites, Peavy’s frayed tendon might owe partly to wear and tear over a course of years.

Assuming that Peavy returns in August and shows that he is healthy, how much trade value would he have this offseason?

I asked two veteran talent evaluators who do not work for the Padres.

“I still think you could get an ‘A’ prospect for him,” said a veteran scout and executive. “But I think the Padres would have to eat some of the salary.”

Here’s the response of a successful scout/executive from the National League: “I think he’d have pretty good value,” he said. “Except, because of the economy, there are only a few number of teams that can take the money. And Peavy is holding the cards. He likes the Cubs and the Dodgers. I don’t know if he’d pitch in New York or for the Red Sox. Still, if he showed he was all right, because the injury wasn’t his arm, I think he’d have value. When he’s right, he’s a leader of a staff.”

Peavy’s $15 million salary could chew up one-third of the team’s payroll in 2010, so it seems farfetched to expect the Padres not to revisit trade talks if Peavy shows he is healthy. Peavy’s salary rises to $16 million in 2011 and $17 million in 2012. In their history, the Padres never have paid a player salary of more than $10 million.

Towers was asked Thursday about the likelihood of trading Peavy next off-season, “I don’t see where we don’t have him, especially if he doesn’t pitch the rest of this year,” he said. “He’s got no-trade powers. It’s probably easier to see him with us than not being with us.”

Moorad said the club plans to ultimately “reconstruct the payroll” from its present $46 million to about $70 million to $80 million. He acknowledged the probability that goal will not be met next year. “In a perfect world,” he said, “it’s a 2011 result.”

Please contact Tom Krasovic directly at tkrasovic@aol.com with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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