Last week, Trea Turner was not traded from the Padres to the Nationals. He wasn’t traded because players can’t be traded until a year after they signed – June 13, 2015 in Turner’s case. The asset that was included in the deal was a player to be named later (PTBNL). PTBNLs don’t need to be named until six months later. Conveniently, Turner would be eligible to be traded at this point (of course, it was Turner in the trade – I’m just pointing out the technicality).
Why does the rule exist?
Back in 1985, the Expos drafted college superstar Pete Incaviglia. Inky didn’t want to sign with them, demanding a two-year major league contract. He basically forced the Expos into a draft-and-trade in which they ended up losing substantial value in the transaction. To avoid having future draftees pull the same stunt, MLB implemented the Inky rule, forbidding a player from being traded until a year after he signs a contract.
In other words, because MLB felt that GMs would not be able to trade a prize draftee for a fair return, they implemented a rule to protect the teams.
Why is Turner upset?
Turner has good reason to be upset. The Padres have very little reason to be concerned with Trea’s health or happiness. Let’s say that Turner has an injury for which surgery is the best option. Will they take care of it, or just wait until the Nationals have to pay the bill? Who gets the last PB&J sandwich in the clubhouse? Not Trea. In short, he suddenly becomes the least valuable member of the Padres organization. They probably won’t hire him out as a food tester for Salman Rushdie, but they might make him fire the t-shirt cannon and run the dizzy bat race. They definitely have no incentive to make sure he gets an adequate number of plate appearances for his development.
I’m sure the Nationals don’t love the situation Turner is in. They’d really prefer to be fully in control of Turner’s development. However, the difference between their situation and Turner’s is that they voluntarily entered into the deal. Turner became a lame duck without his consent.
Does he have a case?
Turner’s agent has filed a grievance to free him from the Padres. If MLB wants to stick to its guns, they can tell him to pound sand. After all, at this point, there is merely the rumor that Turner is the PTBNL. By definition, the player hasn’t actually been named, and as such Turner would have no grounds for a grievance. While it’s possible MLB may take a fresh look at the rule, MLB has not made many recent decisions in favor of draftees or minor leaguers. (Note: I am not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on TV.)
If one of these PTBNL draftees were to suffer a significant injury while under the care of their old team, I think we could see teams push for a change. It really does seem like they’re playing with fire, and are fortunate that they haven’t been burned.
What’s the fix?
Let teams trade whatever assets they want. Let them trade draft picks, recent draftees, whatever they want to trade. If a GM can’t get a fair return for a pick or player, this is the fault of the GM. Absent collusion, if a player is of sufficient talent, there will be a market. Let’s say that the Nationals had been unable to sign Strasburg after drafting him. Do you think they would have only been able to trade him for ten cents on the dollar? Allowing teams to trade draft picks would allow them to be more efficient in their picks. Let’s say your team has a 25-year-old stud catcher locked up to a team-friendly long-term deal. You have the top pick in the draft, and the player who is head-and-shoulders above the rest is a 21-year-old college catcher who is about a year away from the majors. You have two options – draft him and convert him to another position, or draft another (lesser) player. Either way, you’re getting less than full value from the pick. If you were allowed to trade the pick, you might ignite a bidding war between several teams and come away with an impact player who is a better fit for your needs. Isn’t that better that taking the second-best option with the pick?Next post: I Was There: The Seat Cushion Game
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