Can MLB teams buy and sell players soccer-style?

Probably the most famous baseball transaction of all time was the sale of a player. The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees akin to how soccer clubs still sell players today. However, we hardly ever see transactions like that in baseball anymore. Every once a in a while you see a guy get traded for future considerations that wind up being cash, or the sending teams agree to pay the receiving team a part of the player’s salary, or the receiving teams sends a player and cash to the sending team in exchange for the player. However, you don’t really ever see a team straight-up buy a player from another team. Is there any reason for this? Part of me vaugly recalls that the commissioners office might have blocked transactions like that back in the 60’s or 70’s as “agains the interests of the game” or something like that, and I think there was an issue with cash changing hands in the Arod to the Red Sox trade that got nixed by the unions. Still, as I pointed out above, cash or partial-cash deals still happen from time to time. So, if the Yankees offered the Blue Jays $50 million for Roy Hallady, is there a rule that would stop the deal from happening? I asume there is since it doesn’t happen, but I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer via google.

No rule in and of itself. Bowie Kuhn stopped Charlie Finlay from selling Catfish Hunter for cash under his blanket power to stop actions “detrimental to the game.” Later, Hunter became a free agent.

It’s not done as much these days because the teams generally have plenty of money and getting a player – any player – is better. A sale of Halladay to the Yankees would certainly get scrutiny by the commissioner’s office (though I doubt Bud Selig would have the guts to void it), but for a lesser player, it can easily be done.

I’m surprised that if it isn’t banned outright that it doesn’t happen more often. For example, the Mets suck right now and the “talk” is that they really can’t do much in the trade market because they don’t have any prospects that other teams are interested in. They do however, have lots of money. You would think that trying to buy players from the Pirates or the Marlins would be a good alternative.

Actually, the sales blocked were those of Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue. Hunter had already left.

I’m pretty sure there’s a rule against cash sales–I can’t find it online, but sports stories allude to it and it isn’t necessarily something MLB would publish. No prominent player has been sold outright for cash in recent decades. Of course, there are ways to pass money “under the table”–for example, accepting an overpaid player that you don’t really want, as part of a deal, to lighten the payroll of the opposite team.

The commissioner has to approve cash sales above a certain dollar value. That’s the Finley Rule.

But a deal looks better to the fans if there’s some warm body or two coming back in return, and warm bodies are plentiful.

Remember, the big cash sales were at a point when the owners were not multibillionares and there was no TV income. Teams would often have financial problems and would sell players to stay afloat. This was, BTW, standard in the minor leagues prior to the farm system – a team would make ends meet by selling their best players to another team higher up in the food chain.

Connie Mack twice broke up great teams because he couldn’t afford to pay them, and got a large sum of cash in the transactions.

At this point, the teams don’t need the money – or, at least, the amount of money they would get without the commissioner’s approval. Since the money isn’t going to help them, it’s not an inducement to trade. Players – even minor leaguers – are a better deal because there’s a chance they’ll be useful.

In addition, the low-level players they can get cheap in a trade they can just as easily get cheap in the free agent market and save the money (they’ll have to pay any player a salary, anyway, and you can probably sign a free agent player to a minor league contract and pay them less than buying a major league player).

As Fredy noted, Catfish Hunter was long gone by the time Bowie Kuhn stepped in to stop Charlie Finley from selling off players. Catfish became a free agent and signed with the Yankees at the end of the 1975 season. Shorlty afterward, the reserve clause was abolished, and a host of veteran players were due to become free agents at the end of 1976.

Many of Charlie Finley’s best players were going to become free agents, and FInley saw that he was going to lose them and get NOTHING in return. He tried to sell off their contracts, just so that it wouldn’t be a TOTAL loss. At that point, the inept and dishonest Bowie Kuhn, who had always hated Finley, stepped in and voided the sales. As a result, the A’s dynasty was destroyed. Finley lost all thoise free agents, and received no compensation of any kind for them.

Finley was forced to sell off the team soon afterward. He claimed (and I believed him) that all he wanted was to get some money that he could pour back into his scouting and minor league system. Bowie Kuhn’s actions made that impossible.

Finley found it hilarious that, a few ywears later, Kuhn and the owners forced a 1981 work stoppage on the grounds that… owners who lost free agents were entitled to compensation!!!