Pushing back Trade Deadline could be a help
More postseason berths means teams could use more time to assess themselves
The addition of a second Wild Card in each league has fundamentally changed the postseason races, ensuring a sense of inclusivity for certain clubs that might not have existed in the previous playoff alignment.
So should the non-waiver Trade Deadline fundamentally change, too?
"That's been brought up [at] every General Managers Meeting," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said last September.
The topic came up because Melvin's Brewers went on a 24-6 run shortly after trading Zack Greinke to the Angels on July 27. At the time of the trade, the Brewers were 10 games back of the second National League Wild Card spot. By Sept. 21, they were just 1 1/2 games back.
Now, the Greinke trade was a defensible, necessary move, given Greinke's impending free agency, the timing of the Deadline and the Brew Crew's place in the standings.
But a long season has been made psychologically longer by the addition of a postseason spot in each league, and the Brewers tested that length when they went on a surprising, sustained stretch of positive play, post-ace. It didn't lead to a postseason berth, but it did lead to internal questions, after the fact, about whether the right move had been made at the Deadline.
There is debate within the industry about whether July 31 is late enough in the baseball calendar for dealing decisions of such magnitude to be made. For while teams can acquire postseason-eligible players for their roster through the end of August, the waiver process complicates that avenue for deals.
Some GMs have taken up the stance that a Deadline in the neighborhood of Aug. 15 might make more strategic sense, now that more teams have mathematical claim to contention status as the season moves into its final two months. But there has been no clear consensus on the benefits of such a move.
"It is a constant discussion," Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. "A lot of dialogue."
Were the GMs to come to agreement about pushing back the Deadline, a proposal would then be placed before the 30 team owners. Once approved by ownership, the idea would be sent to the players' union for collective bargaining purposes.
The discussion has yet to reach that stage because the cons certainly have their place among the pros.
On the plus side, a later Deadline would give clubs a clearer sense of where they sit before pulling the trigger on a trade that can affect their direction for years to come. It's not that flaws or tendencies can't be assessed by the midway point, but it is the inherent competitive nature of any GM or club owner to want to eke every last drop of opportunity out of the 162-game schedule with the roster they built and financed, no matter how realistic their chances might be.
A look at the standings on Tuesday morning is enough to cause some unease for those on the fence. The largest division lead is the six-game advantage the Braves hold on the Nationals in the NL East. Beyond that, every division race has at least one club within 2 1/2 games of the leader, and, in all, there are 20 teams that are either sitting in a postseason spot or are within six games of one. Hesitancy to sign up as a seller is understandable.
"If there are one or two teams that clearly define themselves as a seller at any point in the season," said Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, "those are usually teams building from the ground up. It didn't take them by surprise."
Here, the Marlins, Astros, Cubs and Mets would each apply. And for a few teams, such as the Brewers, White Sox and Mariners, that entered the season expecting to compete, the standings would lead you to believe it's probably time to put the focus on 2014.
But after watching the Blue Jays win 11 straight last month to quickly climb into competitive coherence, it's difficult to dismiss some of the sub-.500 teams (Dodgers, Phillies, Angels and Royals) who put so much emphasis on the immediate into their winter strategies. They will certainly be slow to throw in the towel on 2013.
The problem, though, with the notion of moving the Deadline back is that it might slow the market to a crawl. Deadlines inherently force action, and a later Trade Deadline would likely limit a contending club's ability to address its needs ahead of that decided date.
"It's not a coincidence that more deals are done the week preceding the Trade Deadline," Antonetti said.
A later Deadline would have a tangible impact on trade returns, too. The Brewers might have had reason to wish they had kept Greinke when they suddenly found themselves in the hunt last August, but it seems doubtful they would have netted a prospect of Jean Segura's caliber had they not dealt Greinke when they did. Greinke made 30 percent of his starts for the Angels before the Aug. 15 date that has been floated as an alternative to July 31.
"You can't want black-and-white answers on who's a buyer and who's a seller but then get upset if you sell," Dipoto said. "Whatever the date is, 30 clubs are in agreement that that's the date they'll operate on. And then, if your situation changes, you still have the ability as a baseball organization to address it in August."
A year ago, the Red Sox acknowledged their season gone awry and dealt $250 million worth of salaries to the Dodgers on Aug. 25. That, of course, was truly a 1-in-250-million scenario, as the Dodgers were in a unique position to absorb an absurd amount of monetary commitments. But the ever-evolving regional television landscape and its impact on team payrolls could lead to more instances in which a club with deep pockets is willing and able to take on the more cumbersome contracts posted on the August waiver wire.
"That August deadline," Dipoto said, "is probably becoming a more fashionable thing than in past years."
And July 31 remains the non-waiver endpoint of the swapping season, even as postseason expansion tends to keep clarity and certainty at arm's length.
Maybe it will lead to some regrets, but at least it will prompt activity.