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Every season near the trade deadline, we see teams that are out of it trading expensive players and/or free agents-to-be, typically for younger players or prospects. For example, Matt Garza, set to become a free agent after the season, was traded to the Rangers for a few prospects.

It made sense for the Cubs to trade Garza, because he wasn't under contract any further than this season, and thus doesn't have much value to them.

Compare Garza to someone like Mike Trout, who is likely the most valuable property in baseball, given his skill and inexpensive cost over the next several years. There's no way the Angels would trade him, because he'll be the cost-controlled centerpiece of the team for years to come.

However, with the Angels out of it this year, what if they wanted to trade Trout to a contender (say the Pirates), but only for the remainder of this season? That is, they'd get several top prospects now, and would have an agreement with the Pirates that they'd trade him back in the offseason (for something pretty worthless, say for a journeyman minor leaguer).

The Pirates get Trout for the stretch run and are happy to give up a few prospects. Trout doesn't have much value to the Angels this year, but he has a ton of value for next year. So they get a few prospects for him, in exchange for the part of his career which has very little value to them.

So in effect, the Pirates are renting or borrowing him for the remainder of 2013.

Why don't trades like this happen? Are there any rules prohibiting trades like this?

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Welcome to Sports SE! The Mike Trout angle you present is hypothetical. One suggestion I have is summarizing what you mean more concisely for clarity. (ie. Can a team trade a player for assets with the agreement that the contender trades the player back for assets in the offseason? Hence, a valuable player can contribute to a playoff team while receiving developmental assets as a non-playoff team.) –  edmastermind29 Aug 9 '13 at 19:34

1 Answer 1

This is banned explicitly in the 2008 rules (only ones I could find, and may be replaced since the new CBA was issues, but I'm going to go out on a limb that this particular section's language has not changed)

(i) PLAYER LOANS.

(1) Prohibited at Major League Level. All right or claim of a Major League Club to a player, unless it is under an optional agreement approved by the Commissioner, shall cease upon outright assignment to another organization. No arrangement between Clubs for the loan or return of a player shall be binding between the parties to it or recognized by other Clubs. This Rule 11(i) does not authorize the selection of such players, or other players, from an owned or affiliated Club under Rule 5.

(2) Permitted at Minor League Level. With the prior approval of the Commissioner, Clubs may arrange for the loan and return, prior to September 30 of the same year, for players under Minor League contracts during the championship season.

In other words, if Mike Trout were to be loaned to the Pirates for the remainder of the season with the implicit or explicit agreement that he would be returned following the season, MLB rules specify that this agreement is null and void as soon as the transfer is made. This frees the Pirates of any obligation to return him and they would not do it (I believe the "optional agreement" terminology refers to Players to be named later, but I'm not 100% sure).

Even if a deal like this did happen (with honor rather than enforceable agreements binding the teams), I believe that both MLB and the MLBPA would oppose it. There are innumerable competitive balance, honest and business reasons not to perform moves like this.

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