Today is the day that Major League Baseball fans have had circled on their calendar for weeks. The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is here, with many rumors circulating about players who will make a difference in the pennant race.
But there is a new wrinkle to things this year: The second Wild Card team in both leagues. With one more team having a chance to make the playoffs, the number of teams feeling like they are "in it" is so great that anyone and everyone could be linked to a possible trade chip.
In fact, as things stand right now, there are 19 teams who are within 5.5 games of a Wild Card spot, and only nine are more than 10 games out.
The idea of having so many contenders makes it difficult to imagine a lot of major trade activity, but when teams are desperate enough they will try anything.
Take, for instance, the Los Angeles Angels. If you were to ask anyone who the second-best team in the favorite for one of the two Wild Card spots was four days ago, you would have probably gotten close to a unanimous vote for the Angels.
They are a flawed team—who isn't?—but also boast a solid offense thanks to Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Albert Pujols, as well as a solid pitching staff led by Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
Their division rivals in Oakland have put together one of the most surprising one-month runs in baseball this season (18-4 entering Tuesday) to get back into the playoff race in a season when the A's were clearly supposed to be rebuilding. Taking a straw poll, everyone would say that the Angels were a superior team to the A's, even after Oakland's incredible July.
Yet after feeling the heat from the A's, still being a handful of games behind Texas and not wanting to take their chances on missing the playoffs again, the Angels dealt three of their best prospects—shortstop Jean Segura and pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena—to Milwaukee for Zack Greinke, who will be a free agent at the end of the year.
It also helped matters that the Rangers were reportedly showing a lot of interest in Greinke. That friendly division rivalry, combined with the Angels' desire to prove they are not only a playoff team but one that should be much closer to Texas in the division, caused them to pull the string.
In the past, teams in contention would have been more than content to stand pat and take their chances on winning the Wild Card, because they were guaranteed a series in the postseason.
Now, with the new playoff format and the one-game playoff between the two Wild Card teams, there is a lot more reward to winning the division. The Angels understood that and pulled the trigger on a player who will probably end up being the biggest difference-maker we see dealt before the 4:00 p.m. EST deadline.
More teams may not want to take the risk of dealing prospects for an impact player who can help them down the stretch, which is fine. Every year we hear a lot of rumors about players that never happen; it is all part of the process.
Adding the second Wild Card has changed so much about the way teams conduct business. They have to plan decisions based around that potential one-game playoff instead of worrying about how far behind the division leader and first Wild Card team they might be.
Even if you don't like the playoff format with two Wild Card teams—I don't because I think it waters down the postseason—it is going to make the trade deadline that much more interesting because more teams feel like they have a chance to get in the postseason.
Owners might pressure their general managers to make a deal, even a bad one, hoping to get that one-game playoff at home and collect on the extra revenue they would get from being able to charge playoff prices for tickets.
Sure, the number of teams selling is smaller, which limits the big names that we will see on the market. But it is fun to see so many teams who are either serious contenders or convincing themselves they are at least think about taking a shot on someone they would otherwise have no business going after.