Why the Trade Deadline was so boring
The trade deadline is always an anticipated time for baseball fans, a nice jolt of excitement before the stretch run. Unfortunately, the way baseball is structured at the moment could mean that boring trade deadlines could be the norm, instead of this year just being an aberration.
The most obvious explanation is the implementation of the second wild card. That extra playoff spot puts more teams in the playoff hunt, whether in reality or in their own minds. Coming into today, nine teams in the AL are within 5 games of a playoff spot. There are only seven teams in the NL in that situation thanks to the Central dominance. However, the NL does include Washington and Philadelphia, two front offices with higher opinions of their clubs than the standings warrant. That doesn’t leave a lot of teams in “seller” mode, which inherently depresses the market.
The other major explanation is that prospects have grown in perceived value over recent years. Cost control has become a big deal in baseball, and just about every front office understands the value of having a cheap, young player under their control for the first six years of their big league career. They are loath to trade a prospect for a two month rental or some random reliever. This means the odds of some of the more infamous deadline deals, such as Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, have gone down significantly. There are arguments that prospects have become too valued, but for the time being at least, this is the way of the world.
There is one other reason for the lack of trades that’s gone under the radar, another wrinkle from the new CBA. Simply put, a team that trades for an impending free agent may no longer receive a compensatory draft pick if that player signs elsewhere over the winter. That was always the consolation prize for those two month rentals, the draft pick received if the player leaves in free agency. This rule changes makes short-term rentals even less attractive. As a result, the sellers that are out there won’t get as much back as before, which makes them potentially less likely to make a deal.
2013 could be a one year blip in trade deadline activity, but there are structural reasons that point to the quietness becoming a trend.