Trades, the expanded Wild Card and parity

Last week’s quick-hit trade deadline moves were surprising in a lot of ways. A week after the fact, I’d like to outline some of the differences between our expectations and the actual moves.

The Wild Card and parity

We’ve been hearing a lot about the expanded Wild Card in the last few years. It’s part of Bud Selig’s vision for the league where everyone’s in the chase, supposedly creating more excitement and better attendance.

Another bigger aspect of his plan that’s supposed to fall in right alongside that is parity. As a true salary cap (or perhaps, true-er cap) is in place with giant luxury tax implications, teams are encouraged to be in the same range of spending as others. Revenue sharing creates even more of a redistributive feel.

As far as these things contribute to an equaling of the playing field like that of the NFL, Selig has done the job. The Yankees’ empire appears to be crumbling, a topic Joe tackled in this morning’s post, and teams like the Marlins and Royals are no longer the worst in their divisions. (The Royals are five games above .500, while the Marlins are six games out in the Wild Card race.)

Tom Verducci believes this makes for mediocre baseball. And perhaps he’s right, but it certainly does make it easier for fans of a team with a losing record to go to a home game with a reasonable chance of going home happy. It doesn’t improve the attitude of the standard Bronx fan who expects his team to average a series win throughout the season, but hey, we all hate those elitists anyway, right?

As I mentioned in a post about fans in June, major league attendance is doing pretty well overall, so that’s not a very good argument. What can be fairly said is that a one-game Wild Card series trivializes so much of the season, boiling down the result of a fairly good 162 games into a single day. It seems to be against the spirit of a game where those who produce over the course of many games are rewarded. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Supposed trade deadline inaction

Another aspect related to Wild Card and parity is that many believed it would always lead to a tentative trade deadline where few big deals were made. Last year that was certainly the case, but this year’s deadline day astounded, removing some credibility from these claims.

The sudden frenzy of moves was surprising and perhaps went unanticipated by many because of the lines we’ve been fed: Look out for a dull deadline. No one will deal because everyone’s “in it.”

Well, here we are. Usually when there are a lot of moves, a good chunk of them happen earlier in the week, but perhaps parity did have an effect — but it was more a delaying of the trades. Teams held on a bit longer to have a better idea of whether or not they really had a chance at a Wild Card berth. Talks with other clubs began in earnest at a later date because the product on the field had yet to be determined past saving for this season.

The A’s trade for Lester also seemingly set off a chain-reaction in the AL to get better quickly. The Tigers reacted by swiping up the best pitcher on the market, David Price, who they weren’t really considered to be targeting. Boston also set in motion a number of other trades following the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes as the club put together the pieces to contend in 2015.

But even so, this trade deadline could have been so much bigger. A relatively small number of clubs were involved in a big way, as five teams handled the biggest moves. Some teams thought to be willing to deal saw a quiet deadline.

Actual inaction

The biggest example was a Phillies club on which virtually every player was available, at a price. And that last part may be why not a single player was moved. The asking price never came close to what other GMs were asking. Yankees GM Brain Cashman inquired about Marlon Byrd and hung up when the asking price was first-round pick Aaron Judge.

Whether or not Ruben Amaro, Jr. was right in saying other GMs weren’t aggressive enough (an alienating statement that triggers some reasonable skepticism), the fact remains that he didn’t see eye-to-eye with any other club. The Phillies could have reasonably moved four or five pieces and reloaded on some mid-level prospects. If the scouting is good on those returns, at least one or two of those players should end up making it. But instead, Philadelphia continues to trot out essentially the same lineup.

The Phillies aren’t alone. Their NL East rival Mets were thought to have several available pieces as well. Bartolo Colon seemed the most likely to be moved, as a veteran starter who could provide rotation depth and experience to a contending club. But unless he’s moved through waivers or is traded upon clearing them, he’ll stay in Queens into next year. There’s an outside chance the Mets can try to move him again next year, but he’s already 41 years old. Realistically, this is their last chance to try to get any long-term value from him for the club.

The expected gridlock of this year’s trade deadline was supposed to show us that parity and an expanded postseason have ruined baseball. But as it turns out, whether or not that’s true seems inconsequential to the deadline. All we’ve learned is the composition of the league’s GMs.

It gets right to the root of the many changes to the national pastime over the last 60 years. Some clubs adapt while others falter. And in baseball, that’s the difference between success and ridicule.

Dan Johnson is editor-in-chief of Three for Ten Sports and former managing editor of The Collegian at Grove City College.

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