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The most untradeable contracts in baseball

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Money and performance will make these players hard to move

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

With the MLB trade deadline approaching, several players will change teams. But what about the ones who are the hardest to trade?

The idea of an untradeable player is a bit of an abstract thought anyway. All it takes is two teams to make a deal. A decade ago, Vernon Wells was immovable and then the Blue Jays were able to trade him to the Angels.

Just this last offseason, Matt Kemp had two years and $43 million remaining on his mega-contract, coming off three seasons in which he was below replacement level in total. Yet he was not only moved, but he thrived since rejoining the Dodgers, hitting like his old self this year and deservedly starting in the All-Star Game.

In other words, there is no such thing as an untradeable contract. But there are some that will be much harder to move than others.

These are the type of deals that don’t need to worry too much about July 31. That is only the non-waiver trade deadline. Players can still be traded through Aug. 31 and still be eligible for the postseason with their new team. They just have to clear waivers first, and with these hefty contracts they would clear with ease.

Here are the contracts that are the most difficult to trade, with help in many cases from the indispensable Cot’s Contracts.

The aging legend

Albert Pujols
Remaining guarantee after 2018: $87 million, three years

Pujols is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, and probably an inner-circle one at that. His exploits on the baseball field throughout his career cannot be overstated. But he’s also 38 years old on bad feet who is best suited as a designated hitter. That said, after a below-replacement level 2017, Pujols is back to being a league average hitter this season. Any Pujols trade discussion is probably moot anyway for two reasons: Angels owner Arte Moreno loves Pujols, and Pujols has a no-trade clause in his contract.


Injury-plagued stars

Miguel Cabrera
Remaining guarantee after 2018: $162 million, five years plus two club options

Cabrera is another future Hall of Famer, and he has the advantage of being younger than Pujols (35 this season) and is still potent at the plate. Cabrera hit .299/.395/.448 for the Tigers this year, but he’s out for the season after surgery to repair a torn left biceps tendon. It’s the third time in the last four years that Cabrera missed significant time. He is signed through 2020, his age-40 season, and also has two club option years after that. Like Pujols, Cabrera has a full no-trade clause.

Troy Tulowitzki
Remaining guarantee after 2018: $38 million, two years plus a club option

Tulo was once the gold standard at shortstop, but hasn’t even played yet this season for the Blue Jays — out with a heel injury — after averaging just 98 games per year from 2012-17. Tulowitzki turns 34 in October.

Jacoby Ellsbury
Remaining guarantee after 2018: ~$47.3 million, two years plus a club option

Ellsbury was once a dynamic player at the plate, in the field and on the bases, and parlayed that into a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees. But from 2015-17 the outfielder was a below average hitter (.261/.331/.372, a 91 wRC+) and he hasn’t even played a game yet in 2018, dealing with a host of injuries. His pending return has been an open question all season:


Anchored at first?

Chris Davis
Remaining guarantee after 2018: $92 million, four years

Davis had seasons with 52 ad 47 home runs, and from 2012-17 ranked second in baseball with 223 homers, an average of 37 per year. Before the 2016 season he parlayed that power into a seven-year contract with the Orioles, who have seen just about everything go wrong in 2018. Baltimore is on pace for well over 110 losses, and has already traded both Manny Machado and Zach Britton. Dealing Davis will prove much more difficult, especially since he is hitting a paltry .158/.233/.289 with just 11 home runs in 2018. Yikes.

San Diego Padres v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Eric Hosmer
Remaining guarantee after 2018: $119 million, seven years

Chalk this one up to “not happening,” since Hosmer was just signed this offseason. The Padres inked Hosmer knowing they would be terrible in 2018, and they are. But San Diego has a loaded farm system that will ideally help turn things around for the Padres soon enough. They signed Hosmer to be a part of that group, making him an unlikely trade candidate. But with $17 million per year on average for the next seven years, and with Hosmer hitting just .246/.312/.385 this season, it would be hard to find a taker for that contract anyway.


The arms race

Jordan Zimmermann
Remaining guarantee after 2018: $50 million, two years

I find myself falling into a spelling trap, but the Nationals’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has just one N in his last name while the Tigers’ pitcher Jordan has two Ns. Zimmermann also has two years at $25 million apiece remaining after this season, and a 5.27 ERA in three seasons since signing a five-year contract with Detroit. Zimmermann, now 32, has looked better this year, sporting a 3.97 ERA in 13 starts and a 23% strikeout rate after just 14.5% in his first two years with the Tigers. Per Cot’s Contracts, Zimmermann has a full no-trade clause through the end of 2018, and limited no-trade protection over the next two seasons.

Only seven pitchers have guarantees with a higher average annual value remaining than Zimmermann: Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander.


Options

Jason Heyward
Remaining guarantee after 2018: $106 million, five years

Heyward has been underwhelming since signing his massive eight-year deal with the Cubs. His offense cratered in his first year in Chicago (68 OPS+) but the Cubs won the World Series anyway. Last year he was bad offensively too (84 OPS+). This year he is actually above average with the bat (104 OPS+) for the first time in three years, and he still provides value with his tremendous outfield defense. Still just 28, Heyward is unusually young for a list like this, and the fact he can opt out after 2018 complicates things a tad.