The 2020 MLB trade deadline is two weeks from today, Aug. 31. But unlike most years, the expectation is that there will be little major activity.
There are so many reasons why. More playoff teams (16) means fewer sellers. A drastically shortened season allows for so much more randomness. An acquiring team would be getting just one regular-season month of a rental player as opposed to two.
The topic came up last week on the Phillies Talk podcast with former Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr., now a color commentator on Phillies broadcasts on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
"I feel for the GMs a little bit in this situation because it's so dramatically different," he said. "It is so difficult. Number one, is this really a real season? Am I really winning a championship by making these one or two moves? For the Dodgers, maybe it is because it's been 100 years since they won the World Series, it seems like. Maybe it is for them. Maybe it is for a team like the Cleveland Indians, who haven't ever won a World Series, or the San Diego Padres.
"But I just don't know that I want to give up the farm for this type of a season unless I know that I have all those pieces in place. Do I maybe want to make some tweaks? Of course. Do I want to do it for the people in the clubhouse and for my manager and the coaches to show them that I want to try to take that step to make our team a little bit better so we can not just get to the postseason but get through it? I think that's an important element that some people don't think is all that important. I know as a player and as a coach that getting a boost from the front office in that situation is huge. But the question is at what cost?"
Here's another major reason to not expect a major trade: Teams have not had eyes on many of the prospects you'd typically see on the move ahead of the trade deadline. With no minor-league season, unless the prospect is on an active major-league roster, it's nearly impossible to properly scout or analyze his growth.
"One of many challenges is, number one, you don't get to see some of the prospects you may be dealing with," Amaro said. "They haven't played all year. Have they developed? Are they better players now? Did they regress? I haven't seen this guy step foot on the field, so neither my analytics department nor my scouting staff has seen this guy to be able to make a real assessment. How do we project this guy? I've got to go based on Arizona Fall League or winter ball information or just hope that my last few reports on the guy from back in August of 2019 (are still accurate). You just don't know. It's a full year of these guys not being able to play, not being able to hone their skills and develop."
There is also the looming uncertainty of the offseason. How much money will teams actually spend on free agents after a year with lost revenues because of zero ticket sales? Will teams be as willing to take on substantial money in a trade this summer? Will the trade market be more active than usual this winter because of a decreased appetite to spend in free agency?
"There is a (team) control issue, there is a money issue in 2021," Amaro said. "What is my budget? A lot of these GMs are flying blind. What is my budget next year, how am I going to allocate my dollars? There is a whole host of challenges created by this very, very short season. I just, for the life of me, I can't imagine there will be very many major trades. If there's one or two, I'd be surprised. There may be some small tweaks where a team that's out of it has a bullpen piece you maybe take a flier on. Maybe a sixth starter if you need one or if you have a pandemic issue where a guy gets sick and you need another starter.
"I just can't see a ton of movement based on how I think GMs operate in this day and age — there's not a whole lot of gunslingers out there anymore. I think they're much more reserved and meticulous right now. There are some guys who are really creative and do some crazy things but I think they're fewer and far between."