Now that the MLB trade deadline has passed, a number of writers have offered their critiques and compliments of the new system. Some have suggested moving the deadline back to August 15th, but Around the Foghorn contributor Marc Delucchi has a drastic plan to reshape the market.
The day of the MLB trade deadline is always one filled with excited energy.
When I was growing up in Hawaii, the nature of time zones meant I always got to wake up to news. In elementary school, I attended a school that abided by an adjusted year round schedule, which meant I often had school on July 31.
My father would pick me up and fill me in on all the biggest moves. Then, when I got home, we would turn on Baseball Tonight and catch up on whatever we had missed.
As I got older, I no longer had classes on July 31. When I woke, I would make my way to our family’s living room and camp out, flipping between deadline shows.
More recently, I’ve mastered a three-device setup with my phone on Twitter, computer balancing multiple live-streams, and television tuned to MLB Network.
This season, leading Around the Foghorn’s deadline coverage, I spent most of the day talking to sources and writing about the latest breaking news. Focused on my writing, I wasn’t as engaged at the deadline holistically.
Once the final transaction news settled, I noticed that a number of writers seemed critical of what they had deemed a boring MLB trade deadline:
Rosenthal details what many have discussed for a while. As more front offices have come to view the game similarly, it has made it harder to line up on big trades. Most concerning of all, teams remain very risk-averse, limiting big moves.
Once Rosenthal’s piece dropped, baseball Twitter seemed split. Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo and Josh Norris both offered counterpoints, arguing this MLB trade deadline was filled with excitement:
This deadline is especially important to understand because it functioned under a new set of rules. August waiver trades were eliminated in an attempt to consolidate more action at the deadline. The league understands that quick-moving news fuels fan engagement. Just look at the NBA offseason.
Jayson Stark of The Athletic dove into the new look deadline.
Part of the aim of eliminating August moves was to force trades earlier into July. While we saw a couple of the biggest deals, the flood still didn’t come until the deadline.
Stark suggested that many executives believed moving the deadline back a couple of weeks, to August 15, would improve the situation. Too many teams still find themselves close enough to the wild card, they argued, and are unwilling to commit to the sell-offs necessary to make the market move.
Having a different perspective than usual makes it difficult to compare this deadline to past years. I don’t know whether this trade deadline was good or bad. I tend to lean towards Norris and Collazo’s take. However, I see where Rosenthal’s sentiment comes from.
I think both sides are missing one big issue. Simply put, the trade deadline process takes too long. Media coverage begins speculating so far in advance of the deadline that fans eventually get worn out.
I’m not innocent of this. I started building hypothetical trade packages for Madison Bumgarner back in mid-May. At times in June, reports emerged that the Giants were shopping Bumgarner early, and at one point he seemed set to join the Twins.
I can understand front office’s complaints that with over 50 games remaining, moving the deadline ahead a couple of weeks could spark greater action. Most importantly for owners, bad teams wouldn’t risk losing attendance in as many games.
However, I don’t think moving the deadline alone solves the bigger problem. The deadline really splits into three entirely different sets of buyers and the current structure doesn’t take these disparities into account.
Teams like the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves are all but guaranteed playoff appearances at this point in the season. They don’t really have any need to make additions at the deadline for the regular season. They want game-changers for the postseason to help ensure a deep run. These teams have the most leverage, since standing pat is an option, which is what both the Yankees and Dodgers did.
Teams like the Brewers, Cubs, and Red Sox are on the edges. They have no guarantees to make the playoffs this season and are motivated to get pieces to push them over the hump. Additions obviously would help in October, but getting to the postseason remains the priority. These teams are in the toughest spot, since they do not want to risk surrendering top prospects only to whiff on October altogether.
Then you have teams like the Mets and Reds. Teams that technically have an outside chance at the playoffs, but are really just aiming to acquire good players with long-term value to help now and in the future.
The last group is always in play. Teams look to add controllable talent in the offseason, spring training, and throughout the season. The placement of the trade deadline doesn’t impact them.
However, the other two groups have drastically different incentives. Here’s my proposal to fill the trade deadline with fireworks while also giving fans a rest from the speculation:
Rule Change 1: Move the MLB Trade Deadline to May 15.
Rule Change 2: Ban all trades, including players on minor league contracts, after that date until the offseason.
Rule Change 3: Open up a 24-hour window for trades from August 15 at 12:00am to August 16 at 12:00am.
Your first reaction might be confusion.
How is banning all trades from May 15 to August 15 going to make moves happen?
It will create urgency.
For all the talk about teams being risk-averse, 60 players were traded at the deadline, many at the buzzer. These front offices continue to be moved by deadlines.
Creating essentially a two trade deadline system would also create greater incentives for both sets of buyers to make moves.
The May 15 deadline would surely be quieter. Just over a quarter of the way into the season, few teams would be willing to be committed sellers. However, that would also work to their benefit.
Teams in that second group of buyers, on the edges of the postseason, will have greater incentives to offer bigger prospect packages if they know they won’t be able to make any outside upgrades for the next three months.
Furthermore, we might overrate how few teams would be willing to sell. On May 15, the Giants were 18-24. They might have been more inclined to move Bumgarner and Smith back then.
Most importantly, teams would know that they would have a 24-hour trade window in August. A team that is over-performing early might be willing to trade prospects to acquire a piece, even a rental, that improves their team immediately. It would help the team win and sell tickets, but if they fell back in the standings, they would have a chance to recoup some of their prospect losses in August.
Now imagine the craziness that would occur in that 24-hour window on August 15.
By that point, teams will have only about 40 games remaining in the season. Plenty of teams will be clearly out of the playoff picture, putting more sellers on the market.
At the same time, the teams with championship aspirations or those in tight divisional or wild-card races would have one last chance to make upgrades. This would be especially valuable to teams that suffered big injuries in the three-month window.
Not only would these changes spark a flurry of moves and guarantee an exciting 24 hours, it would also solve another underlying problem. Since players can be traded at any point from Opening Day to July 31, fans of sellers are constantly on edge about whether a trade is going to happen.
That can take a toll on the players too. While Bumgarner managed to block out the noise, every start from June 1 on was talked about as his potential last start in a Giants uniform. Fans who loved him had to follow the team with that in the back of their mind.
This system would make it clear-cut. If he wasn’t moved by May 15, they’d have him for at least three months. Sometimes certainty is an underrated thing.
The MLB trade deadline showed us that front offices will still act when facing a hard deadline. If the league wants to spark a more exciting trade season, moving the deadline up while creating a late-season trade window would do just that.