Evan Drellich’s article in Boston Herald this past Sunday quoted Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski as saying about potential trades:
“It’s still early. I can tell you I’ve done a great deal of work, there’s five clubs that are willing to talk about it. They’re the same five clubs that have been at it all year, so it’s still a little early for that type of situation. We’ll just see what happens. I think the thing you got to remember is, it takes two clubs to make a deal. And most clubs, as I’ve said all along—and it hasn’t changed whatsoever really—are not prepared to move towards 2017 and be in a position of where they’re willing to move.”
This caused many people on the internet with an understanding of supply and demand to proclaim that their team should sell right now. Their thought process probably went as follows: with so few teams selling, teams willing to sell should be able to net big returns for players who can help teams win right now.
The problem with this thought process is that buyers do not have to choose to participate; they do not have to acquire a player right now. Sure, having Andrew Miller for 85 games is going to be more valuable than having Andrew Miller for 70 games. At the same time, as more teams become sellers (as supply increases), as is likely to happen in the upcoming month, the price of acquiring such players will go down.
As fans we want things to happen right now, so it makes sense why we’d think that selling now would be the right thing to do. A trade would be fun and entertaining, it would make all the below-average baseball we have been viewing seem like it was worthwhile, it would give us hope, and, most importantly, it would make us feel like our team had direction as opposed to being dedicated to mediocrity. Whether it is unfortunate or fortunate, front offices are not making decisions based on fans’ interests.
So how are they making their decisions? I have no idea. But I would guess they are looking to improve their team as much as they can within whatever kind of budgetary restrictions they face. I would also guess that they are doing some sort of balancing act between short-term success and long-term success. In this specific instance, buyers do not have to make a trade right now if they feel they can get a better deal later.
Not groundbreaking stuff in the least, but this is worth discussing because of how we analyze trades and in-season strategy. Player evaluation (which players a front office chooses to trade for), positional evaluation (which positions a front office chooses to upgrade), and magnitude (does this trade move the needle enough) always get the spotlight when we analyze trades. The ability to analyze and “time” the market is rarely discussed. Again, we are not talking overarching strategy here (should Team X be rebuilding or going for it is a never-ending discussion for each team not firmly entrenched in either position), we are talking about a part (market evaluation) of executing an overarching strategy.
So why does a front office’s ability, or lack thereof, fail to get ink and/or publicity? The obvious reason is because we are all ignorant to the pertinent facts. None of us are in the room and the quotes we get from those that are in the room should always be taken skeptically if we can get such quotes at all. Also, this analysis more difficult than popular parts previously listed.
The less obvious reason–although hinted at previously–for this lack of coverage, is that “timing the market” might not actually exist. Put differently, game theory exists. Wikipedia tells us that “game theory is the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers." In other words, when the Braves ask for a king’s ransom for Aroldys Vizcaino because they are one of the few active sellers, the Red Sox are saying, “we know that you know that we know that prices are going to be coming down drastically, so let’s make a more reasonable deal. What do you say?”
So why do we see so few of these trades? Why don’t we see more reasonable trades made earlier in the season when it makes more sense for both sides–the buyer gets improved production for a longer period of time, while the seller ensures that they get return on a trade chip? Again, I do not know, but my best guess is because of how we (people) deal with uncertainty. Our brains are not wired to weigh the odds and make the best guess; rather, they are designed to minimize all possible risk and uncertainty. The former is better for making reasonable trades about an uncertain future, while the latter is better for making it to breeding age and feeding one’s young.
This is all to say that every time a front office makes a trade, that front office puts their careers or legacies on the line, and when the stakes are that great, we tend hold out for certainty. In this case, every front office is holding out for the Addison Russell or Dansby Swanson package to fall into its lap (or, from the buyer’s perspective, the Josh Donaldson trade). It only takes one team overpaying to make ignoring what future trade markets are likely to dictate worth the wait.
We all want trades, but the influences of future markets and the fact that there are real jobs on the line make it so that there is probably not as much of an actual trade market right now as we would like to believe. While it’s not what we want, it sure beats our team overpaying to make something happen right now.