The End of the Deals?

Jerry Modene looks into another exciting, or is that "ho-hum", trading deadline and decides times have changed.

As we approach yet another quiet July 31 Trading Deadline, fans and media are all asking the multi-million-dollar question?  Where are the deals?

What's becoming apparent over the past few years is that we're very likely seeing the end of the deals - at least the Deadline Deals that we got so used to in the late 1990's and early 2000's.

There are several reasons for this:

1. The bottom-tier teams have gotten tired of serving as, essentially, minor-league taxi squads for the richer teams.

2. With the cost of major-league talent continuing to skyrocket (anybody over the three-year mark is virtually guaranteed over a million a season; anyone over six years is virtually guaranteed $5-7 million; any starting pitcher capable of throwing 180 innings a year (doesn't matter whether they're any good or not) is going to make $10 million), teams are beginning to hold onto their kids a bit more.

As an aside, one effect of this is that we're seeing an increasing number of teams that have maybe four or five high-salaried guys and about 12-15 lower salaried guys - with only a handful of medium-salaried guys; it's the medium-salaried guys - the guys who aren't good enough to command megabucks salaries or multi-year deals, but who are either too good or have too much service time for a team to get away with paying them under $1 million - who are getting squeezed out.


This is nothing new; we see it every winter when the medium-tier guys get non-tendered rather than the team letting them take advantage of their arbitration rights. This is one of the biggest criticisms of the Players' Union, the fact that the current structure really only benefits the star players and not the veteran rank-and-filers.

3. The wild card. Too many teams still feel, at the end of July, that they are still in the race. You remember the flak the White Sox took when they "gave up" on their season when they were only 3 1/2 games out. Even Friday night, on the Padres' postgame show, the announcers were talking about Randy Johnson's pending back surgery (he's going to be out the rest of the season) and how the D'backs are now in a position of having to "demonstrate their commitment to winning" to their fans, by
picking up a pitcher to replace Johnson.

4. The luxury tax or whatever it's called currently - the lower-tier teams now have some extra money with which to hang on to their veterans; they no longer have to sell off their players, as if they were Bill Veeck's Browns, to survive the season.

As a result of all of these factors, we've seen a decrease in the trading-deadline deals, especially the salary-dump kind of deals which I think were bad for baseball anyway - I was getting tired of the rich getting richer and the poor staying poor, even though the Cards benefited mightily from such deals (McGwire, Clark, Rolen, Finley, to a lesser extent Timlin and Hitchcock).

However, MLB likes the buzz that trades create, and I suspect they want very much to see more deadline deals. Thus, what will probably eventually happen is that the non-waiver trading deadline (which used to be June 15, you'll recall) will be pushed back even further, perhaps to August 15 - or, possibly, eliminated altogether and combined with the August 31 eligible-for-postseason play deadline. By that later date,
more teams will have fallen enough out of the race to avoid being criticized for "giving up".

This, of course, would represent nearly a full reversal from 1922, when the trading deadline was first instituted anyway. That season, the Browns were in a tight pennant race with the Yankees, and in August and September, the Yankees went out and bought a couple of key players and managed to hold off the Browns for the pennant. The Browns, with Branch Rickey (their former president but by then, of course, running the Cardinals) riding point for them, filed a formal complaint with the commissioner that off-season and Judge Landis, agreeing with them, instituted the June 15 trading deadline that we all grew up to know and love.

At any rate, until things change, we're not likely to see any more deadline blockbuster deals; all we're going to see is spare parts (Lofton, Hairston) or emergency replacements (Iguchi) being dealt; we're not going to see Izzy going anywhere in a McGwire-type deal for kids who may or may not pan out. We might see a talent-for-talent deal, a-la Lankford-for-Williams, and I must say I prefer those kind of trades anyway.

So we'll see.



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