For a long time, Major League Baseball had the best, most exciting trade deadline among the four major sports. In recent seasons, that excitement has been eclipsed by the popularity of the NBA, but baseball still stands ahead of football and hockey in terms of in-season movement.
In an effort to shake things up a bit, baseball’s trade deadline underwent some changes in the offseason.
Notably, while July 31 has always been deadline day, in past years it was a bit of a misnomer. July 31 was technically just the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in years past. The month of August has always allowed trades to be made as long as players pass through waivers. If a player is claimed off waivers, his team can either pull him back, let him go for nothing, or negotiate a deal with his claiming team only.
This obviously made for much more limited movement in August, but it was always an option.
Not anymore. Now? July 31 the *only* deadline.
The August revocable waivers trade deadline was always a bit convoluted, and it never made much sense to have more than one deadline. So it’s logical to think the powers that be would want to simplify things for the league.
Reportedly, Major League Baseball is hoping the change will not only help simplify in-season moves, but also help jumpstart offseason activity. The thinking is if teams have even just one fewer option to improve their roster midseason, then contenders will be forced to get aggressive in the offseason.
It remains to be seen if that will come to fruition, but one forthcoming change does seem pretty obvious. The singular trade deadline should make for a much more active July.
Both buyers and sellers have to commit to a direction earlier in the season now. Last year, for example, the Nationals executed their mini-firesale in mid-August, once it had become clear they were not going to compete for the postseason. At the end of the July they were still undecided, which is why they held onto Bryce Harper.
Considering how long it can take major deals to come together, teams have to essentially decide by the All-Star break if they are in or out on competing for October. It will be especially difficult for teams to read the writing on the wall when they are hovering around .500.
As of this writing, there are 10 teams within six games of .500 in either direction, and that doesn’t include organizations like the Red Sox, Nationals and Athletics who have quality records but are way behind runaway division leaders. Will they want to trade away controllable assets for a shot at a one-game Wild Card berth?
General Managers who can forecast their team’s likelihood of competing, and respond accordingly, will be rewarded under the new system. Orioles GM Mike Elias already began his team’s sell-off, trading Andrew Cashner away weeks before the end of July. By contrast, in 2018 both Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were moved by the Orioles with under an hour to go on deadline day.
It’s hard to perfectly predict all the ways rule changes can affect a sport, but in the case of the singular trade deadline, it’s obvious that teams are now required to commit earlier, with fewer games of information from which to work.
That’s exciting for a sport that could use some more player movement-related excitement.
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