Phillies hamstrung by Burrell's no-trade clause

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Pat Gillick is quite nimble for a 69-year-old. Just think of all the hoops he jumped through before dealing Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, high-profile players with big salaries and complete no-trade clauses.

This winter, Philadelphia fans will see whether Gillick can complete the hat trick with Pat Burrell, whose .222 average with runners in scoring position eclipsed his 29 homers and 95 RBI. It said a lot when manager Charlie Manuel batted 40-year-old Jeff Conine in the No. 5 spot in September to protect cleanup hitter Ryan Howard when the games mattered most.

Still, no matter how tiresome it gets watching Burrell wave at sliders, he might not be going anywhere. The Phillies say they expect Burrell to be more productive after a winter to rest his injured foot. He also has two years and $27 million left on his contract, and any trade partner probably would be asked to assume about half of it.

Finally, Burrell has a complete no-trade clause, and he has told the Phillies he has no interest in waiving it.

Did someone say "immovable object"?

"Pat wants to stay in Philly. He wants to play here. He's made that clear to us," Gillick said. "Our thought right now is that he'll be here. But if we get something on the table for any of our players that could improve the club, we'd have to take a look at it."

Gillick, who previously built winners in Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle, is no fan of blanket no-trade clauses. He's willing to bend in negotiations and let a player pick 6-8 clubs where he won't accept a trade without permission. Anything more liberal than that and Gillick feels hamstrung.

Some of his peers -- such as Boston's Theo Epstein and the Yankees' Brian Cashman -- sure know that feeling.

Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, perennial All-Stars mentioned in recent trade speculation, are in a situation similar to Burrell's. Their contracts are big enough to exclude most clubs from the process, yet they have a right to dictate exactly where they want to go.

Gillick is so averse to giving out complete no-trade provisions that he says it could be a "deal breaker" when the Phillies negotiate with big free agents this winter. (Yes, that means you, Alfonso Soriano).

"Situations change," Gillick said. "Your club might be constituted differently from one year to the next, and anything that restricts your flexibility is a problem. If you have a player under contract and you're paying the sums we're paying now, I think clubs ought to have the freedom to trade that player."

Cherished right
Even before the advent of free agency, players understood the value of calling the shots. Baseball's 1973 labor agreement was the first to include the 10-and-5 rule, which gives players with 10 years of big-league service time and five with the same club the right to veto any trade.

In his book "Lords of the Realm," John Helyar writes that the pursuit of a no-trade clause was the driving force behind Andy Messersmith's decision to test the reserve clause by playing the entire 1975 season without a contract. Along with Dave McNally, Messersmith paved the way for free agency.

Agent Scott Boras estimates that 12-13 of his current clients have full no-trade clauses. That includes Carlos Beltran, who signed with the Mets, in part, because they agreed to such a provision when Houston would not.

"One of the real valued rights of free agency and being a star player is the club saying, 'We want you in our city, we want you on our team, and we're going to assure you that by giving you a no-trade clause,'" Boras said.

Given the history, it's only natural players want such an assurance in writing.

"Babe Ruth is a great example," Boras said. "He was pretty darned good, but he still got traded."

Through the years, players with limited no-trade clauses have learned to use them strategically to protect their interests. Pitchers traditionally crossed Colorado off their list, at least before the humidor. And a player who values winning is likely to steer clear of, say, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins submits a list each November of eight teams he won't accept a trade to without giving permission. A baseball source said it includes some teams with elite shortstops -- a way for Rollins to protect himself in case some contender wants to trade for him and shift him to second base.

Boras said star players often seek no-trade clauses because they don't want to deal with the trauma of uprooting their families every two or three years.

"This clause is the beacon for 'I love my family,'" Boras said. "The first question that wives ask me is, 'Can we get a no-trade clause?' They want certainty."

Team officials, naturally, see a different motivation.

"When you try to trade the guy someplace he says, 'Yeah, I'll waive my [no-trade clause], but I want X number of dollars,' " Gillick said. "It's a money grab."

Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, who once ran three professional franchises in Atlanta, has steadfastly refused to give out no-trades. Six years ago, when the Braves lost out to Texas in their quest to sign Alex Rodriguez, Atlanta's unwillingness to include a no-trade provision was cited as a factor.

Kasten chuckles at that characterization. "We did wind up $126 million short of the total number," he said. "That might have been a factor as well."

But as Kasten points out, the Braves signed Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones to long-term deals and lured Greg Maddux from Chicago without a no-trade clause. He has held the line with star players in basketball (Dominique Wilkins and Moses Malone) and hockey (Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk), too.

"I've seen too many cases where no-trade clauses resulted in real turmoil for a franchise," Kasten said. "I can negotiate away money, but I never felt comfortable negotiating away my ability to improve the team. That's something we need to hold on to as tenaciously as we can."

Gillick's challenge
In Philadelphia, former GM Ed Wade agreed to the contract restrictions that are now making Gillick's life so challenging. The Phillies had just traded third baseman Scott Rolen to St. Louis because they couldn't sign him to a long-term deal, and they needed to generate some good will with the fan base.

Abreu and Burrell weren't terrible investments, just not the players the Phillies decided they wanted to build around. When Gillick began shipping out veterans to turn over the team leadership to Chase Utley and Howard, he found the no-trade clauses hampered his mobility.

Thome told the Phillies he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to two clubs -- the Indians or the White Sox -- before Gillick sent him to Chicago for Aaron Rowand last November. The Phillies focused on four clubs before trading Abreu to the Yankees, then had to kick in $1.5 million to get him to agree to the deal.

Although Gillick has been criticized for getting little in return for Abreu, he had almost no leverage.

"If the other club is aware a player will only go to certain places, it hurts you on what you can get back in return," Gillick said. "With contracts of that size, you can't talk to 29 other clubs. But you might be able to talk to, say, 10 clubs. That's a hell of a lot better than three or four. "

The Phillies were caught off guard last week by reports that Burrell might consider waiving his no-trade provision to go to San Francisco. Don't count on him winding up there. If the Giants re-sign Barry Bonds, Burrell would be out of luck in left field. And although there were rumblings that San Francisco might play Burrell at first base, the Phillies tried him there earlier in his career and he didn't exactly warm to the position.

Finally, the Phillies have received no indication that the Giants are interested. One club official said the clubs have had "zero" discussions about Burrell.

Burrell's agent, Greg Genske, didn't return calls seeking comment. But it's not difficult to envision places for which Burrell might be willing to waive his no-trade clause. Arizona, the California teams, Boston and the two New York clubs are about it. That's a finite universe of suitors.

Oddly enough, the worse things get in Philadelphia, the more receptive Burrell could become to a deal. If Phillies fans continue to boo him in the spring or his playing time diminishes, he might be more willing to consider other destinations.

Now for the bad news: That's the point at which Burrell's value would be lowest and the Phillies could get the least in return.

"The danger when you enter into a contract of that magnitude is that you're probably signing a guy at his peak time," an American League executive said. "Your emotions are high and he's coming off a great year, and you say, 'We're not going to move him anyway. Let's give him a no-trade.' Three years later, you have Pat Burrell."

At the moment, the Phillies still have Pat Burrell. How long they keep him could hinge on how open-minded he is and how inventive Gillick is. It's not as if the Phillies haven't been down this road before.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.