Lost in the flurry of activity sure to unfold between now and July 31 is the fact that MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline isn’t a hard deadline at all.
Last year August was arguably as busy as July. Justin Morneau, Michael Young, John Axford, Michael Morse, Marlon Byrd, Kurt Suzuki, David DeJesus and Alex Rios were all traded after July 31.
Under baseball’s expanded playoff format, fewer teams are out of contention this time of year. The sport’s more profitable than ever, which means fewer teams need to unload salary. So many executives around the game view July 31 as something of a soft deadline in expectation of another busy August.
“This is just a feeling, but I think there’s potentially going to be more activity in August this year than in years past,” Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said.
Others around the league agree, with one assistant GM going so far as to predict more activity in August than in July.
Start with the fact that so few teams are out of it. Consider that 21 teams are within 6.5 games of a playoff berth, and that those on the fringes of the race can’t necessarily admit to ownership or fans that 2014 isn’t their year just yet.
“I do think that the sheer number of teams that are in striking distance of the Wild Card, that impacts the market,” Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels told Sportsnet.
AUGUST TRADE RULES: After July 31 players must be placed on waivers to be traded. If they clear waivers, they can be dealt to any team. If they are claimed, they can be traded or assigned to the claiming team, but the waivers are revocable, so many claimed players stay put. Players are routinely placed on waivers in August, and most claims do not result in deals.
Before baseball expanded its playoff format to include ten teams, more clubs were out of contention early.
“There’s so much parity right now,” Anthopoulos said. “No one’s truly out of it because of the second Wild Card, and I think teams want to buy themselves as much time as they can.”
The Rangers are one of the few teams that have started selling, joining the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. But while Texas will listen to offers, they’re most likely to continue dealing pending free agents such as Jason Frasor. Dream all you like about Adrian Beltre, but the Rangers expect to keep him.
“We’re not in a position where we’re a traditional seller,” Daniels said. “The guys who are under control beyond this year fit for us going forward.”
Money factors in, too. Before massive TV deals were the norm and baseball’s current revenue sharing system was implemented, teams occasionally had to make moves to shed salary. Some executives say the money now in the game means fewer teams are motivated to move expensive players.
“There aren’t too many guys that the team just wants to unload salary,” Daniels said. “That used to be a bigger driver. Now with a lot of big contracts signed in the past few years, it might be cyclical. It might get back to that at some point, but right now I don’t hear a lot of teams just looking to unload salary.”
Still, with the exception of the 2012 blockbuster that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles, most major deals take place in July. Players like David Price and Ben Zobrist wouldn’t clear waivers, so the non-waiver deadline exerts real pressure when it comes to trade candidates who are both affordable and productive.
But could Cliff Lee and his $25 million salary clear? Could Martin Prado and his $11 million salary clear? At the very least it seems possible.
One executive expects we’ll see a lot of waiver blocking early in August when teams typically try to prevent their rivals from improving. Another exec suggested that even though teams will want to make moves, the logistical challenges of trading in August will get in the way at times.
Yet by the end of August, activity should pick up again. In particular, high-salaried players and pending free agents will be on the move.
Anthopoulos points out that mid- and lower-tier free agents can no longer be turned into draft picks. While the likes of Rod Barajas, Miguel Olivo, Kevin Gregg, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco could once yield first round picks, teams must now trade those players to recoup any value for them. Plus, compensation picks are now supplemental first rounders instead of first rounders. “The draft pick isn’t as valuable as it was under the previous CBA,” Anthopoulos said.
It all contributes to a different climate for deal-making.
Baseball executives have considered moving the trade deadline back, but for now, they’re dealing with a deadline that’s just a touch too early for some teams to know where they stand. As a result, we’re likely in for a busy August.