In the aftermath of another busy trade deadline in MLB, I have seen a few national baseball writers call for the non-waiver trade deadline to be moved into August. Their primary rationale is the second wild card team, which thus far has achieved its desired goal: to keep more teams in the hunt for the postseason (or at least allow more teams to believe they have a shot, even temporarily). Indeed, eight AL teams are within six games of the wild-card, while five NL teams are within six games. That’s 19 teams with a reasonably realistic chance to play some October baseball – the best kind.
With more teams in the hunt, you might logically conclude this situation would lend itself to more intense, frenzied trading activity. Bidding wars for players conducted by the bottom-feeder teams in an attempt to turn their fortunes around; smaller market teams going for broke by acquiring a stud player stuck on a bad team.
Sadly, that conclusion is incorrect. The new collective bargaining agreement signed in November 2011 changed how the trading game is played. The Bleacher Report article by Zachary Rymer does a terrific job breaking down the details.
In short, Type A and Type B free agents no longer exist. If Team 2 signed a Type A free agent from Team 1, Team 1 was compensated with Team 2’s first-round draft pick. If a Type B free agent were signed, then Team 1 was awarded a “sandwich” pick between the first and second rounds of the next draft.
Example: Ryan Dempster is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. He likely would have been classified as a Type A free agent. If he signs with a team other than the Rangers, Texas would have received that team’s first-round draft pick AND a “sandwich” pick between the first and second rounds. If Dempster were a Type B free agent, the Rangers would have gotten a sandwich pick only. Under the new agreement, Dempster is strictly a rental. The Rangers get no draft picks if he leaves as a free agent after the season.
From this point forward, pending free agents that spend the entire season with the same team can be offered one-year contracts equal to the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players from the prior season. The team would only get a draft pick if the player turns down that offer and signs with a new team.
The draft pick compensation is completely different now too – picks are now called “competitive balance” picks. I don’t even begin to understand that part of it yet. My brain already hurts from the whole qualifying offer business.
The bottom line: these changes have completely negated any potential uptick in trading activity the second wild card team would have generated. Teams are understandably reluctant to part with young talent (the game’s most valuable commodity) for what might turn out to be a one-game-and-done appearance in the postseason. So some baseball writers suggested moving the trade deadline back to, say, August 15, to allow the races to sort themselves out and the true contenders to emerge. While that reasoning seems defensible at first, there are several reasons to keep the deadline where it is.
First of all, the new draft-pick rules and second wild card are big adjustments by themselves, but they both came about this year. Some teams are proactive; others reactive. Some teams probably did not plan on being in the hunt in 2012 (Orioles, A’s). Some time to adapt should be expected. Major League GMs are smart people (well, except for Dan O’Dowd). I would expect by next July that they will a much better handle on using the new rules to assemble their ballclubs. Let’s see how the strategy develops over the next few years before we start clamoring for deadline date changes.
Second, moving the deadline back lessens the overall impact a player can have with his new team. Jeff Sullivan of SB Nation recently called a trade made at the end of July “skee ball in the dark.” Teams already think long and hard before giving up prospects or younger players for two months of a marquee player (plus October if all goes well). Moving the non-waiver trade deadline into August would be like putting the skee ball targets on wheels. Imagine getting only six weeks’ production from a guy in exchange for six years of team control for each prospect traded away. That is a massive risk. Those 2-3 starts, 5-6 saves or 50-60 at-bats lost in late July/early August might be the difference between reaching the postseason and hitting the golf course. Also, if a player slumps or adjusts slowly to his new team, he has less time to make up for it.
If a team isn’t going to get as much use out of a rental player, they will be unwilling to pay such a premium for one. Accordingly, teams with rental players to trade likely will be unable to obtain the bounty of talent they seek. If they want the draft picks, they will need to keep the player all season and then make him a qualifying offer. Players under team control beyond the current season will become even more valuable.
Finally, trading season in baseball isn’t over. Players who clear thru waivers still can be traded to any team. If a player is claimed, a deal can be worked out with the team that claimed him. Some fascinating deals have happened in August over the years. Cliff Lee is a prime example of a player who could be dealt this month. Cutting the potential August intrigue in half would be a mistake.
Considering the questionable decisions Bud Selig has made in the past – All-Star Game/World Series home advantage, disavowing instant replay, etc. – the idea of changing the non-waiver trade deadline should be dropped ASAP. I, for one, definitely do not want him tinkering with it.