Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 28, 2019

Time For Contenders To Roll The Dice

The Great Game is steeped in tradition, to the point of being hidebound according to some critics. Yet in the next few days fans will see the impact of a significant change in the rules introduced just this season, one that may well impact this year’s playoff races. Fans have long been familiar with the July 31st trading deadline, while also knowing that it was not absolute. Under the old rules, players could still be traded once the calendar turned to August, but only if they first cleared waivers, the system by which a contract is offered up to all twenty-nine other teams in reverse order of their place in the standings. That has sometimes meant dramatic player movement in August, as when Justin Verlander cleared waivers because no other team wanted to assume his huge contract and was then traded from Detroit to Houston in 2017.

But impact players rarely go unclaimed while on the waiver wire, so the most significant in-season trades have always been made under the July deadline. Starting this year they will have to be, because the last day of this month is now the absolute deadline for trading any player with a major league contract until the end of the World Series. This new clock is ticking, and in the next few days playoff bound franchises will be looking to shore up weak spots, cellar dwellers will be intent on acquiring prospects for the inevitable wait until next year, and general managers of teams in between will be forced to decide whether to buy or sell, all while knowing that they don’t have an extra month to make things right.

Although the deadline is just three days away, as Sunday dawned sports websites had been largely empty of reports about any significant trades. That began to change late Sunday afternoon with word that the Toronto Blue Jays had agreed to trade pitcher Marcus Stroman to New York. Rumors about that move had been floating around for some time, except it turned out those whispers were not quite accurate. For the deal that Toronto made was not, as had been expected, with the team in the Bronx, but rather with the franchise resident in Queens. It’s the Mets, not the Yankees, sending minor league prospects north of the border in exchange for the ground ball inducing right hander.

While still well ahead in the AL East standings, the Yankees have had an especially tough week during which their starting rotation has looked like it didn’t belong in AA, much less the major leagues. News that Stroman, one of just a handful of top pitchers likely to be on the move this week is going elsewhere will surely bring back memories of other hurlers rumored to be headed to the Bronx in recent years who wound up wearing some other uniform, like Gerrit Cole (Pittsburgh to Houston) and Patrick Corbin (Arizona to Washington). Perhaps when Yankee fans consider that the Blue Jays were apparently asking for both Deivi Garcia, New York’s top minor league pitching prospect, and two-time All-Star infielder Gleyber Torres, they will understand why general manager Brian Cashman chose to pass.

The trade seems like an odd one for the Mets, who are currently five games under .500 and all but out of hope for even a Wild Card ticket to the postseason. Whether this is first-year GM Brodie Van Wagenen planning for 2020 or buying a replacement for one or more of his current starters who he’s about to move, Mets faithful will know by the middle of this week. For now, most of the paid pundits think it’s likely that Van Wagenen will do his best to trade Noah Syndergaard and perhaps Zack Wheeler or Jason Vargas as well. Of course, none of those pundits had Stroman going to Citi Field.

Assuming the reporting is correct, the Blue Jays’ ask of the Yankees illustrates the key dynamic that plays out in every phone call between general managers as Wednesday afternoon’s deadline draws near. Selling teams will strive to get all that they can in return for their player and buying franchises must make a quick but crucial decision about how much future talent they are prepared to lose. Fans of teams that are buying at the deadline – those in the playoff chase – are naturally focused on this year and expect their franchise’s management to deliver the key player who will make the difference down the stretch.

That’s not as easy as it sounds, and it’s a particularly dicey proposition when the trade involves pitchers, who as starters impact only one game in five, and as relievers have an even more limited role. The Great Game’s history is littered with bad deadline deals. One of the most infamous was in 1990, when Boston sent a young prospect named Jeff Bagwell to Houston for reliever Larry Anderson. Based on Wins Above Replacement posted by both players after the trade, the Red Sox gave away 79.9 future WAR from Bagwell, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017, to acquire 3.8 from Anderson. Even worse, most of Anderson’s production was for other teams, as he left Boston after just that one partial season as a free agent.

The Red Sox are by no means alone. Over the years all thirty franchises have made a deal or three along those lines, trades that aren’t highlighted in any team’s official media guide. As this year’s new single deadline approaches, every general manager of a contending franchise will be trying hard to avoid becoming the guy who makes the next one.

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