Mark your calendars for August 31, 2020. Why? This date will be perhaps the most important date in the 60-game sprint that is the MLB season in 2020 —the trade deadline.
In years past, the deadline followed shortly after the All-Star break at the end of July and provided a sense of urgency following the laid back relaxed midsummer classic. Teams classically (and normally) have enough of a sample size to evaluate their respective rosters and identify potential pitfalls or opportunities to strengthen them for a potential playoff run that season or sell high-valued pieces to build for the future. It’s a meticulous process and allows teams a 3-4 month window to truly evaluate what their team needs.
Cutting that time down to only one month and around 30 games and it becomes nearly impossible to gauge exactly how good or how bad each team is. On the other hand, if a team like the Orioles is underwhelming in the first month or so of this 60-game season, it’s easy to imagine them looking to trade whatever pieces they have to stock up on more young talent.
The problem with this scenario however, is that unlike teams that are projected to be bad, there’s always that possibility that a team that was hyped up to be a contender comes out of the gates struggling. Just last year, the Nationals, over 50 games into the season were 19-31. Of course, Washington would go on to win the World Series, but this should serve as a cautionary tale for other high profile teams. Add in that the minor league season has been canceled, teams who are buyers and sellers alike will find a hard time justifying the value of traditional blue chip prospects when looking to make a deal for a high priced veteran piece. This trade deadline continues to look more and more like a logistical nightmare.
I alluded to it earlier talking about strange wins and losses, but I’ll humor myself with this scenario. The Red Sox, who just purged their roster coming into 2020, likely did not anticipate competing with the Rays and Yankees over a full season. Who’s to say then, that if the Red Sox have a solid record after a month of games, they won’t be tempted to try and pull off a mid-season deal to strengthen their chances of competing for a title? What kind of message does it send to the fans after flipping superstar Mookie Betts, only to turn around and deplete an already thin farm system for another high profile player in the midst of a walk year? The optics won’t look good and the ghost of Dombrowski will likely haunt this team even longer.
Let’s also take into account another hypothetical. The Yankees are largely considered favorites out of the American League this year to make it to the World Series. They could face a similar issue. James Paxton is not Cy Young, however, he is a free agent after 2020. If the Yankees are in a similar spot after some early missteps, is it wise to trade a guy like Paxton? Forget for a second that GM’s probably do not have a randomized trade generator like ‘MLB The Show’ and they need to rely on the actual value based on a multitude of factors. Pitchers, in particular, will be lucky to toe the rubber for 12 starts this season, and that’s if everything goes as planned. This is not even taking into account injuries or contracting COVID-19. So, the most any team will have to scout and make a determination prior to making a deal is about 5-6 starts or maybe between 30-40 innings. Is this enough of a sample size to start dangling your future to acquire said pitcher who likely can give you at most another 5-6 starts? If you’re Brian Cashman do you pull the trigger and let Paxton pitch his remaining five starts with another club in hopes you re-sign him in the offseason? What type of message does it send to a player to have to pack up and move in the midst of a pandemic? These are the questions that will inevitably surface as we wade through the turbulent waters of this shortened season.
Let’s assume a blockbuster trade takes place. The key player involved in the deal struggles over 30 games with his new team. Said player is also a free agent at season’s end. How does this affect his free agency trajectory? Let’s use Paxton again in this example. He will likely be in position to cash in on his most lucrative contract after 2020. What pressure is on him if he indeed is traded and only has 5-6 starts to prove his value? Does his market collapse like that of Carnival Cruises? On the other hand, imagine he dominates with his new team? Does his stock soar like that of Zoom?
There were over 30 notable deals that were made last season between July 29 and July 31 alone. I’m predicting we won’t see more than 10 notable deals this season. The risk simply will outweigh the rewards. Players likely will not be thrilled to be sent packing and those who have the protection of a no-trade clause will certainly exercise that privilege. Expect a lot of noise but do not expect many deals. This will likely be a quiet year for transactions. Every team has 60 games to sprint towards a title. I predict every team will want to keep the fragile chemistry and comradery in place to achieve that goal.
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