You come up with a brilliant trade idea to post on this site or one like it. You have the Yankees getting better by shedding one of their pricey veterans, maybe by absorbing someone else's big salary, or maybe by bringing in a younger player who's still got some upside. You found the perfect trade partner, figured out how to make the salaries work, gave up enough to make it realistic. Then the first comment in response goes something like this: "You can't trade him...he's got a no-trade clause."
If you find that frustrating, imagine how Brian Cashman feels. Nearly a third of the Yankees' active roster–Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, to be exact–can veto any deal thanks to the full no-trade rights built into their contracts. If seven guys with full no-trades seems like a lot to you, you're right. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the team with the next most of these clauses is San Francisco with four. The Cardinals and Tigers have three apiece, but no one else has more than two. Most teams have zero. Where many clubs are extremely stingy about giving out no-trade rights and some won't allow them at all, the Yankees take an Oprah approach - "You get a no-trade! You get a no-trade!"
To some extent, handing out perks like full no-trade clauses is a cost of doing business on the ultra-competitive free agent market. And in some cases, player veto power can't be avoided. A-Rod, Sabathia, and Teixeira would be able to block deals even without a contract clause thanks to the 10-5 rule, where players with ten full years of service and five with a single club automatically have the right to stay. Still, how much their willingness to include no-trades actually benefits the Yankees in contract talks is questionable, since many of the game's best players don't have them. Clayton Kershaw signed for $215 million in 2014 and doesn't have any no-trade protection other than a clause that gives him an automatic opt-out in the off-season that follows his being dealt. Max Scherzer is a $210 million man that's up for grabs until he reaches 10-5 status in 2019. Of the other top deals signed last winter, only Jon Lester snagged full no-trade rights, while Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez can block trades to only three clubs of their choosing. The Yankees use no-trades as an extra incentive, but it's hard to find an example of a player who took less money to get one.
It's obvious why players want these things. In signing with a team they're making a commitment they can't easily escape and it's nice when the team does the same. Players use free agency as a way to avoid bouncing around every couple of years and no one wants to end up like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and other Jeffrey Loria victims–sold a bill of goods about a new beginning in Miami then sent packing within a year. When you look around baseball at players with full no-trade rights, though, you see mostly future Hall-of-Famers like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, and franchise icons like Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Felix Hernandez, Joe Mauer and Joey Votto. You don't see a lot of players on shorter deals as you do on the Yankees. Brian McCann's five-year $85 million pact came with a full-no trade but the nearly identical contract Russell Martin got from the Blue Jays a year later gives him no protection at all. Carlos Beltran is one of only two players in baseball with a full no-trade clause on a contract of three years or less.
So why do the Yankees feel the need to give out more of these, to less significant players, than anyone else? Are they considered particularly untrustworthy by agents who feel their guys need extra protection? Are they arrogant to a fault in believing that all of their signings will work out so no-trade clauses won't matter? Are they just really bad negotiators? None of these make a whole lot of sense. Whatever the underlying reason, the end result puts more limits on a team that's already limited by payroll concerns. The Yankees, who've talked a lot about flexibility over the past few years, are oddly adept at finding ways not to have any.
Players sometimes waive their no-trade rights, so a theoretical trade involving Beltran or Ellsbury, or in a more fantastical scenario, McCann or Teixeira, doesn't need to go straight in the circular file. Recently, Cole Hamels had a partial no-trade clause that could have blocked his trade to Texas last summer, but he let the deal go through. Prince Fielder, who can block deals to 20 of 29 teams could also have short-circuited his move to Arlington, but he didn't. It has to be awkward to stick around somewhere you know you aren't wanted, and occasionally no-trade rights get parlayed into extra years and money from acquiring teams, which is often why they're on the books to begin with. When it comes to the Yankees' seven, though, full no-trades make the unlikely even more unlikely. If I was Brett Gardner, I'd be talking to my agent.