August 1, 2012
What We Learned About the Deadline
What do this year’s trade deadline deals tell us about the brave new world of July 31sts to come? Will the expanded playoff format and CBA changes turn out to have made an impact on the way front offices do their non-waiver trading? To an extent, some of the new factors would seem to encourage trading, while others would seem to discourage it. If on balance the amount of activity stays the same, we’re tasked with assessing whether its quality changes.
A few teams are doing what they must do. Sellers like the Astros and Cubs, fighting it out for the coveted no. 1 pick in the draft, are unloading anyone they can unload—drat you, Matt Garza (injury) and Alfonso Soriano (refused trade)!—in exchange for warm young bodies and/or Ben Francisco Cordero. Legit contenders have upgraded further (Angels/Greinke, Tigers/Infante-Sanchez, Dodgers/Ramirez-Victorino-League, etc.).
Beyond that, to be honest, I’m having trouble really assessing what’s been happening. It seems almost as if each team is reacting not only to its own circumstances, but also to different aspects of the new July 31 landscape.
A few notes, then, in the spirit of getting some talk going.
1) Maury Brown devoted his most recent BP column to the new market inefficiency: long-term contracts for stars. (Over at Grantland, Jonah Keri’s thoughts on the post-Victorino—and now post-Pence—Phillies complements Brown’s article nicely.) If behemoth deals (Hamels, Pujols, etc.) become more common, will they seem less cumbersome to trade to another team? I have always thought that part of the so-called immovability of certain mega-contracts owed at least a little to their scarcity, and to how that perception made them look like holy entrenchments on a team’s roster. (This is not to ignore that many of these contracts have no-trade clauses built into them.) At the level of psychology, how could a team consider letting go of a (probably famous) player it had invested so much in signing?
But if there turn out to be more white-whale contracts out there, there’s less weight of attention attached to any single one of them. And with more playoff berths out there, there will, going forward, be more teams in contention on July 31. Why not take the plunge and deal for a $20-plus-million-per-year player owed tens of millions more in upcoming seasons? The thinking, probably, is that you’ll be able to flip him again next year, to another team in need of a stretch-run boost. If not, maybe he’ll actually keep producing and make the contract look at least acceptable, if not better. Would such a trend simply reflect teams’ collective efforts to make something workable of the long-term-contract market inefficiency? Having unwisely sunk piles of money into players like Vernon Wells and Carlos Lee, do teams just start a roundelay of partially subsidizing one another to pay and play these guys for a little while, restocking their farm systems with mid-level prospects as consolation for the end of the old and generous Type A/B compensation rules?