The Indians head into the trade deadline in first place, but are they really capable of running with the best teams in this year's playoffs?
In 1999, the world was anticipating the Y2K bug, Rachel and Ross had just (accidentally) married, and Enema of the State and The Slim Shady LP were selling millions of records against the backdrop of Napster’s ascent.
History tells us the story of two lopsided trades, but History ignores some nuance--and some lessons for this trade deadline.
There are lots of cautionary tales about trading prospects for pitchers in the heat of a pennant race. Some belong specifically to certain fan bases or regions; most also belong specifically to one or another generation. There’s the deal that sent Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to the Red Sox in exchange for Heathcliff Slocumb, and the one that sent Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips to the Indians in exchange for Bartolo Colon. More recently, there was Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, and more recently still, there was Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. There are tons of these, and because of that possessiveness each fan base and generation feels toward its favorites, you’re probably wondering why your personal highlight wasn’t among the ones I just rattled off.
I want to talk, though, about two of the highest-profile versions of this fable in history. As it happened, they occurred just three years apart, and almost 30 years ago. They’re the ones you probably conjured quickest, when you read the first sentence, even if they’re not the ones with which you identify most closely. Here they are:
The Twins are uncharacteristically vowing to be sellers this July. Makes it easier to say 'so long' when these are the parts you have to sell.
The first half was a mess for the Twins.
Offseason optimism that followed last year’s surprising climb over .500 gave way to a 0-9 start, and any notion of contending for the division title (or even a wild card spot) all but vanished by the end of April. Their record is an AL-worst 32-56, which just narrowly avoids the worst mark through 88 games in team history and makes a fifth 90-loss season in the past six years inevitable. Pitching continues to be a disaster, as the Twins have again allowed the league’s most runs after ranking dead last in ERA from 2011-2015, and the young lineup that was supposed to be a strength has instead scored the league’s 10th-most runs.
There’s no saving this season, and the stink of 95-100 losses would make it difficult to believe in the Twins’ ability to bounce back as contenders next year, which would be Year Seven of a rebuilding process that started with a collapse in 2011. However, the second half is crucial for the Twins as they try to figure out exactly where the franchise is headed and whether longtime but increasingly ineffective general manager Terry Ryan should be the one leading them there. There are a dozen veterans who conceivably could be moved by the trade deadline, and at least as many prospects who need roster spots and playing time to be evaluated for 2017 and beyond.
The one thing right about the Rays right now is their rotation. Time to trade some of it?
I guess the good news in Tampa Bay is that, after drafting 13th or later in each of the last eight Junes, they’re looking at a top-five pick in 2017. Other than that, the news is grim. The AL East keeps getting tougher, really. The Red Sox will feel the pain of the penalties levied by MLB in the wake of their bonus-bundling bungle, but they still have a strong farm system (including close to the best single prospect in baseball) in support of a very talented team, and a whole bunch of money. The Yankees have been disciplined lately, though not as aggressive about rebuilding as some would prefer, and if they’re poorly positioned this year and next, they make up for it by being very well positioned for just about every foreseeable season thereafter. The Orioles keep surprising people, which, hey, that could end anytime, but we’re in Year Five of the at-least-respectable Dan Duquette Orioles Era. And then there are the Blue Jays, whose future is a bit uncertain but who have been downright dominant for long stretches over the past two years. When last the Rays snuck up on the division, they had two giants to slay. Maybe they helped cut those giants down to size, but they’re now facing twice as many serious opponents.
That’s not to say that competition is the Rays’ only problem. Their Opening Day payroll, just south of $67 million this year, has been essentially flat since 2009. In 2011, right before the current CBA took effect and made the Draft much harder to manipulate, the team had 10 of the first 60 Draft picks. To even approximate the aggressive use of those picks they envisioned, though, they had to cut their spending by nearly 40 percent from the previous year. The spike in national TV revenues over the last few years and the windfall the league just made by selling off a slice of MLB Advanced Media make the failure to raise payroll a tough one to explain, but if we assume ownership will continue to constrain the baseball operations element this way, then we can also assume it will be tough for the Rays to keep up with the rest of the league for a while—maybe until they’re in a more viable big-league environment.
Having just wrapped up my AL- and NL-only keeper-league trade deadlines last weekend, I have some takeaways to help us navigate future trade deadlines. The first is regarding the importance of growing and knowing trade routes when we are faced with limited time. The next is using strategic trends to predict the behavior of our leaguemates. The last is actually regarding FAAB bidding in keeper leagues following the MLB trade deadlines (when players switch leagues and thus become available).
Limited Time, Pop-up Markets, and Trade Routes
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Here's where you can find all of this year's trade deadline coverage in one spot.
At Baseball Prospectus, we'll be bringing you analysis of every trade and transaction up through Friday's 4 p.m. (ET) non-waiver trade deadline. Check back here for the latest links to our coverage, in chronological order.
Strategy, process, and decision-making help for your deadline dealing.
The real baseball trade deadline approaches. The trade deadline in many fantasy baseball leagues also approaches. It is a wonderful time of the year. To celebrate, we will take a look at some of the strategic and behavioral decision-making factors that we should be considering this time of year. Some of these factors will be old friends, while others will be new acquaintances. We will be going more for breadth than depth here.
League Norms and the Default Effect
We are looking at the intersection of two behaviors here, so buckle up. A norm in many a league is for teams to wait to trade until the trade deadline. A less extreme norm is for teams in the middle of the pack to wait until the traded deadline to decide whether to be buyers or sellers. This is often a powerful norm because it provides owners with (i) an easy route for risk aversion and (ii) a nice default option. These decisions are hard, and the default effect tells us that when we are faced with complex or weighty decisions, we rely more on defaults. In this case, many teams will avoid making moves until the trade deadline.
Examining the ninth-inning impact of possible deadline trades involving relievers.
Because of the All-Star break, there wasn’t much closer news this week. Instead of rehashing the same story lines of the last few weeks, I’m taking a different approach to the Closer Report this time around. With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, and many closers rumored to be available, I’ll take a quick look at each of the potential movers, and all of the fantasy ramifications from possible deals. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.