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July 28, 2004

Prospectus Today

Let's Get This Party Started

by Joe Sheehan

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Maybe it's just me, but I'm starting to get the same sense about this year's trade deadline that I used to get at parties in college around 12:30 or so. The night would start with such great anticipation, thinking there'd be some good hooking up, what with all the talent in the room. As the night wore on, though, it would became clear that nothing was going to happen, and anticipation would slowly become frustration and then desperation. Eventually, I'd just go home, feeling like I'd wasted an awful lot of energy for nothing.

(I'd extend the analogy by comparing, say, Brian Cashman and some girl I wanted to know better back in 1993, but you just know her husband would be reading this and I'd get sued.)

So why is this July turning into a bad re-creation of my college days? Blame it on everyone and everything:

  • There aren't enough teams in the sellers' market. Especially in the NL, so many teams are still in contention that they're all fighting over a small pool of players. Eighteen teams are within five games of a playoff spot, and some of the ones who aren't either have little to trade or are reluctant to cut the legs off what has been a succesful season by their lights. The Royals would love to deal guys like Juan Gonzalez and Brian Anderson, but there's no market. If you're the Brewers or the Tigers, it's hard to cut off what has been a pretty good season by your lights by trading the guys who helped you have it.

    The imbalance between buyers and sellers is probably the biggest factor in the stagnant market. The confusion exhibited by teams like the Astros and Mets, who have flitted from one to the other based on last night's game, hasn't helped.

  • The most sought after players have wielded an inordinate amount of control over the process. Of the four biggest names being tossed around, three have complete say over where they end up. Randy Johnson, Steve Finley, and Carlos Delgado have either vetoed trades, or expressed the idea that they would, in the past few weeks, severely limiting the Diamondbacks' and Blue Jays' efforts to trade them.

    This isn't a complaint about the power those players have. No-trade clauses, like the one Delgado has, are agreed to by both parties, while the 10-and-5 rights that Johnson and Finley have exercised have been around for 25 years. It just so happens that this season those things have brought the trade season to a halt. Is there any doubt that Johnson would be in Anaheim, Finley in Florida, and Delgado in Los Angeles in a world in which they had no say in the matter?

  • Money is an issue in every single conversation anybody in baseball has. No team, save the Yankees, is eager to add payroll, especially in years beyond 2004. Just based on talent, players like Johnson, Larry Walker, Todd Helton and Mike Sweeney should be attractive to contending teams. All of those players are owed eight-figure salaries in 2005, and in some cases, for years beyond that. Those numbers make them untradable.

  • The best teams in baseball have lousy prospects. This is largely a Yankee problem. They have a number of holes to fill, the wherewithal to add high-salaried players without asking their trade partner to assume part of the obligation, and virtually nothing to deal. Years of poor drafting (David Parrish, anyone?) have left the upper levels of their farm system barren. The Yankees have B and C prospects whose status gets inflated in part by being the only guys in the room. In other organizations, players such as Robinson Cano, Ramon Ramirez, and Dioner Navarro wouldn't even have the limited status they currently do.

    The Red Sox, also highly motivated to add players and at least somewhat willing to spend more money, have a smaller version of this problem, with a slighly better pool of prospects to deal, but none of the blue-chip guys that, say, the Angels have.

Teams haven't been able to make deals because the above factors haven't been in sync. The Yankees want to add Johnson, who wants to go to New York, but they have no prospects. The Angels want to add the Big Unit as well, and have the prospects to trade, but can't convince him to come west. The Twins want to add a starting pitcher, have the talent to burn, but can only add so much to their payroll. A number of teams want bullpen help, but getting the Tigers to part with Ugueth Urbina, the Pirates with Jose Mesa, or the Reds with Danny Graves has been hard because those teams are enjoying the air around a .500 record.

As an analyst, I understand what makes this process so difficult.

As a fan, well, it's closing in on 1 a.m. and I want some action.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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