Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros general manager, isn't a fan of no-trade clauses after seeing them help the Texas Rangers and hurt the Houston Astros over the past 13 months, as Bob Nightengale details in a new column for USA Today.
As Nightengale outlines (and Luhnow laments), the Astros had a deal in place last year to acquire Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies, only to have Hamels exercise his no-trade clause (which included the right to veto a deal to Houston). Instead, Hamels (and Jake Diekman) went to Texas, and some of the players the Astros would have sent to Philly instead were shipped to the Milwaukee Brewers in a disastrous deal that brought Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston.
Then, of course, Jonathan Lucroy was traded to Cleveland this July, only to veto the deal via a no-trade clause, and end up getting dealt to Texas.
If you are Jeff Luhnow, I can understand staying awake at night wondering what things would be like if you had Cole Hamels instead of Carlos Gomez, and the Rangers had no Cole Hamels and no Jonathan Lucroy. But don't you have to also wonder why it is that Houston seems so often to be included on players' no trade lists, and wonder why Texas is not?
Yes, the Astros still have to shake the stigma of badness that surrounded them after being a historically awful team from 2011-14...but they also appear to have generated a less-than-ideal reputation among players. Having Ryan Vogelsong back out of a deal with Houston prior to 2015, saying he was "uncomfortable" and that the situation there was "weird," is perhaps the most prominent recent example, though Jon Heyman says it was a result of Houston lowering their offer after his medical exam.
But you've got a combination of an organization who is doing things in a non-traditional way generally, while delaying bringing up players to the majors for service time issues unless they agree team-friendly long-term contracts, and that has a low payroll (raising questions about their willingness to spend to be, or remain, competitive). If you are a major league veteran who has been able to get a no-trade clause as part of your deal, it seems understandable that you might be leery of being sent there against your will, and thus include them on your no-trade list.
Personally, I don't begrudge players getting a no-trade clause. I tend to believe that if I am a player, and I'm going to commit to lock myself up long-term with a certain organization, I would want some control over that organization's ability to ship me somewhere else, somewhere I might not want to be. Honestly, I'm surprised more players don't insist on having at least a partial no-trade clause when they are negotiating extensions or new contracts -- especially if they are taking less than they might be able to get elsewhere because it is where they want to be.
So while Luhnow says, in the Nightengale piece, that he wishes teams wouldn't give out no-trade clauses -- especially when a divisional rival, who has prioritized team culture, is landing players because those players are more willing to be traded there -- it comes across as whining. One wonders if maybe Luhnow should instead look at why Houston isn't seen as a desirable destination by players, and see what could be done to fix that.