The Dead Tradeline

utley-headerFrom the desk of Joe Sheehan. Joe Sheehan writes for Sports Illustrated and publishes the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter.

When Aaron Sorkin gets around to picking topics for Season Three of “The Newsroom,” I’m guessing he’ll skip over this year’s trade deadline. There were four trades on the day of the deadline, two of which were pretty much swaps of non-entities. Defining the trade deadline as the last four days, we saw 11 trades in total, just one of which involved a star, broadly defined, and just three players traded who might place in the top half of a contending team’s roster.

There were 17 players traded who had seen time in the major leagues this year. Those players, in total, have produced 7.4 bWAR. If you eliminate the prospects going to sellers, teams acquiring players with an eye towards winning this year picked up 12 players who have been good for 9.8 bWAR. Not a single player dealt has been worth even three wins this year, and just one — an injured relief pitcher — has been worth two. The third-best player dealt, Jose Iglesias, was only traded because of the impending suspension of Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, so I guess we can thank the league office for enhancing our week.

The caliber of prospects traded was proportionately weak. Not a single MLB.com top 100 prospect was traded at the deadline, and all this month, just one — Mike Olt — has changed hands. Of the 11 prospects traded, six didn’t rank in their team’s top 20, and no team dealt away a top-three prospect in its own system. (Note: Avisail Garcia no longer qualifies for these lists, and while there are people who like him a lot, he wasn’t on Jonathan Mayo’s preseason top 100. With that said, Garcia was probably the top prospect traded this week.) If you rate all non-ranked prospects as #21 on their team, the average team rank of the prospects dealt was #14.

That’s your 2013 trade deadline: fringe contributors being dealt for fringe prospects. Thanks for the time, folks, drive safely.

Despite a seller’s market, far too many teams out of races failed to convert players who aren’t part of their future for players who might be. The White Sox, though they did trade Jake Peavy and Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton, still employ Alex Rios and Adam Dunn and Alexei Ramirez and Alejandro de Aza. The Mariners still have Brendan Ryan, Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales and Oliver Perez. The Phillies got nothing for Chase Utley, Michael Young and Carlos Ruiz. It’s one thing to hold your players in high esteem and to want to extract maximum value. It’s another to end up doing nothing and getting nothing. The losers of the deadline were these three teams, and perhaps the Giants, all of whom have almost no chance to win this year and have a number of free agents who will not warrant qualifying offers and therefore not return compensatory draft picks if they leave after the season.

With the sellers limited in number, clinging to their wares, and some of them not having much to deal away in any case, it’s not a surprise that so many contenders had to sit out the deadline. There were no #1 or #2 starters available. There were no middle-of-the-order bats available other than Chase Utley, and it’s not like Ruben Amaro Jr. was excited about the idea of trading Utley. The superstars who might have both brought back significant packages and changed races, like Cliff Lee and Giancarlo Stanton, were never really on the market. I can’t really criticize the likes of the Rangers or Indians or Pirates for not pulling the trigger — the deals simply weren’t there.

Were there any winners? The Astros did well to deal Jose Veras, Justin Maxwell and Bud Norris for ranked prospects. Veras and Maxwell don’t have much future value, while Norris may be a #3 starter, but his perceived value is far higher than his actual value at the moment due to a 3.93 ERA that doesn’t match his inferior underlying performance. The Astros dealt high on him and I doubt they’ll regret it. I mentioned that five of the prospects dealt this week were ranked by the teams that traded them; three of those are now Astros. The rebuild continues, and at a good pace.

Xander Bogaerts won. The Red Sox would have been hard-pressed to keep Bogaerts at shortstop with Jose Iglesias around, because the defensive gap between the two is huge. Bogaerts can play shortstop; Iglesias can play it wonderfully. With Iglesias in Detroit as the presumptive replacement for Peralta at shortstop — pretty sure Rick Porcello hasn’t stopped smiling — Bogaerts is much more likely to have a career up the middle. That will be worth a lot of money to him over the next 15 years.

Fantasy players who blew out their FAAB money last week on Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza won. The players who didn’t get those guys watched as just three trades went down across leagues, involving two left-handed relievers and a backup catcher crossing over. The bidding on L.J. Hoes this week is going to be absurd with all that saved money in the pool.

There will be some post-mortem over this deadline, much of it focusing on the presence of a second wild-card berth that presumably gives more teams a shot at the postseason. I don’t really buy it. As of this morning, the gap between the first and second wild-card slot in both leagues was 4 1/2 games, and it doesn’t seem rational to me that a team that thinks of itself as a contender would have been dissuaded by another 4 1/2 games of distance. There are 15 teams above .500 and there are five others that made “sell” trades, leaving ten teams whose decisions might arguably be affected by the presence of a second wild-card slot. Of those ten, four are in the NL West and therefore closer to the division lead than the wild card. I just think there are better reasons for the inaction of the Mets, Mariners, Phillies and such than the second wild-card slot. Those aren’t exactly the game’s top organizations right now.

I do think the other predicted effect is a factor. Teams who might reasonably be expected to win their division and have the wild card as their downside are going to make deals to win their division and stay out of the Coin Flip Game. That’s the Red Sox, that’s the Braves, that’s the Tigers, all of whom made at least minor acquisitions.

The biggest factor, though, is money. There’s so much of it pouring into teams’ coffers that it’s no longer a factor motivating trades. While there are pricey, underperforming players who do get dealt, the sellers are not dying to get these players off their payrolls. Revenue growth outpaces salary growth and that gap shows up on July 31. The Phillies didn’t have to trade Lee. The Brewers don’t have to trade Aramis Ramirez (whose health may have been the bigger reason he stayed put.) The Twins and Padres and Mariners all have players making good money, but they’ll all make payroll and maybe even turn a profit this year. With finances no longer driving players from non-contenders to contenders in July, teams are free to make baseball trades or make no trades at all.

We’ll hit on all 30 teams and what they did or didn’t do, and what it means for the rest of the season, over the next few days in the “third third” previews.

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  • vjp81955

    As a Nationals fan, I feel a perverse happiness the team struggled coming out of the All-Star break, else I fear ownership might have tried to mortgage the future with a deal for now. Instead, the Nats are keeping their young nucleus, given Mike Rizzo more authority and are planning with 2014 (and a new manager) in mind. I’m hoping 2013 is an aberration, and that an off-season deal or two can make the roster more consistent.