MLB Trading Deadline 2013: The Big Mexican Standoff
This is what happens at a trade deadline when no one blinks. Sure, there were a few semi-notable deals made (Jake Peavy? Ian Kennedy?), but really nothing too earth-shattering. It wasn’t too long ago when you would see big name pitchers and hitters regularly getting shipped from also-rans to contenders in the blink of an eye. No more. The times they are a changin’, and here’s why.
Back in the mid ’90s and into the 2000s it seemed that there were always a handful of teams that could afford to be buyers at the trade deadline and a whole bunch of small market losers who had no choice but to keep off-loading promising young players they would shortly not be able to afford, for yet more prospects that they would develop until they were forced to do the same thing all over again with those guys. Think of it as MLB’s version of Groundhog Day. The most prevalent “buyer” of the time, as they’ve always been, were the New York Yankees. And no deal defined this trading model better (even though it wasn’t a deadline deal) was when the Seattle Mariners shipped Tino Martinez off to the Yankees following the 1995 season for Jeff Nelson, Jim Mecir, Sterling Hitchcock, Russ Davis, and 10 pounds of crap in a five pound bag. Keep in mind that Martinez was traded following a season in which he hit .293 with 31 home runs and 111 rbi’s—pretty much MVP numbers. Plain and simple the M’s knew they couldn’t pay him and basically the Yankees offered more mediocre players than anyone else. It went on like this for years with the Yankees always getting the better of it… at least until the luxury tax kicked in.
When baseball instituted the luxury tax back in 2003, it was done to try to even the playing field between teams with deep pockets to those who barely owned a pair of pants. It worked to a degree, but the wealthier teams generally still spent while the small markets continued to tread water. However, slowly but surely, some smaller market clubs broke through and began to compete and some of the big market teams started tightening their purse strings. As the decade progressed, things began to change a bit. Teams started realizing that they didn’t have to automatically turn their star free-agents-to-be over to teams like the Yankees for next-to-nothing. They started playing, for lack of a better term, hardball. In 2010, once again, it was the Mariners and Yankees involved in one of those defining deadline deals. But this time it was the Bombers who got the shaft. Instead of shipping stud starter Cliff Lee to the Bronx, the M’s pulled the rug out from under Brian Cashman and Co. and instead sent him to division rival Texas. The fact that the Mariners ended up with mostly-disappointing Justin Smoak was inconsequential. The symbolism of saying “no” to the Yankees was felt league-wide. One unnamed GM, said “You don’t do that to the Yankees. They don’t forget that sort of thing.” But many others probably thought: “Oh yeah? Screw the Yankees!”
So here we’ve just finished one of the quietest trading deadlines in years and the main reason is this: most teams simply refuse dump players that can help potential playoff teams for next-to-nothing. The Cubs were the exception, shipping Alfonso Soriano back to the Bronx where he’ll have a field day hitting pop fly home runs over that little league right field porch. They indeed took next-to-nothing in return and puzzlingly also agreed to pick up a significant amount of his remaining contract. But many other teams, notably (again) the Mariners, refused to just turn over marketable power hitters (Ibanez, Morse, Morales) or relievers (Ollie Perez) for bottom-barrel prospects. It was indeed a staring contest between the contenders and the pretenders and no one blinked. Welcome to MLB 2013, where if you want help down the stretch you’d better be prepared to pay.