On Aug. 25, after the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers completed their blockbuster trade involving Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, I was having a conversation with a friend, explaining what had happened and why it was significant.
"But wasn't there already a trade deadline?" she asked. "There was another trade deadline you were talking about. How can there have been a deadline but trades are still being done?"
My initial impulse was to think, "OK, she doesn't understand baseball," and I went into a lengthy explanation about the difference between the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. I detailed how the waiver process worked, leaving the original team with the choice of working out a trade, letting the player go or keeping the player.
But as I was talking, the absurdity of the "trade deadline" began to occur to me. My friend was right. Why are there two trade deadlines? No other sport has this. If deals can still be made a month later through waivers—even if that process makes trading presumably more difficult—what sense is there in having that initial "trade deadline?
Before I continue, I should say that I personally like having both trade deadlines. Any team can make a deal at that July 31 deadline, but to make a deal by Aug. 31 requires more creativity to navigate the waiver process and a healthy amount of luck.
It should probably also be noted that the Dodgers-Red Sox deal was basically a trade of a lifetime. We may never see a trade like that again, if for no other reason than it would take a team like the Dodgers to throw conventional financial considerations out the window, disregard the concept of a budget and boldly claim the biggest contracts available.
The trend these days is to keep payroll under the luxury tax, which goes into effect when a team's payroll has exceeded a certain limit. This year and next year, the threshold will be $178 million. In 2014, the luxury tax will be applied to payrolls over $189 million. (This article by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb details the entire process.)
So unless a team just doesn't care about the luxury tax or decides it's worth going past the threshold in an all-in pursuit of a championship, we likely won't see a late-season spending spree like the one the Dodgers went on for years to come. That is, unless this is the Dodgers' way of doing business from here on out.
But should baseball institute one trade deadline, restricting any sort of dealing from that point forward through the end of the season? Should a team like the Dodgers be able to acquire talent on the level of Gonzalez and Beckett after the presumed "trade deadline" has passed?
This wouldn't restrict teams from continuing to make additions to their rosters from waivers. Teams release players, making them free agents and available to be acquired by the other 29 clubs in baseball.
If the Baltimore Orioles want to pick up Joe Saunders and Randy Wolf in an effort to bolster their starting rotations through September, that could still be allowed regardless of whether or not a waiver trade deadline is in place.
In effect, one hard deadline would just take the trade aspect out of the process we currently have. Now, if a player is claimed on waivers, the claiming team and the original team have 48 hours to work out a trade. The original team can also either just let the player go, leaving the claiming team to take on his salary, or pull the player off waivers and keep him for the rest of the season.
If baseball were to institute a hard deadline, however, the question becomes when it should take place during the season.
Should the deadline remain at July 31, giving teams two months to incorporate the changes that have been made? If a team acquires a free-agent-to-be, shouldn't it get at least two months' return on its investment? Or is that just the risk of doing business if a team decides to take on a one-month "rental"?
For instance, the Red Sox would not have traded Gonzalez and Beckett on July 31. They still considered themselves in contention for a wild-card playoff spot in the AL. But one month later, it became clear that the season was lost.
Moving a hard trade deadline to Aug. 31 seems to be too far back, however. Teams and their fans would only enjoy the benefits of their new players for one month of the regular season. Those clubs trading away players would only have a month to compensate for their losses. A two-week push, perhaps to Aug. 15 (as proposed here last month) seems more sensible.
One deadline would prevent a team like the Dodgers from flexing its financial muscles to subvert the system and take on more talent after the other teams in baseball have done what they can.
Wouldn't the NL West race be more competitively balanced if both the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants had until a hard deadline to improve their teams?
From there, a division champion would be determined by what happens on the field. If either team wanted to make additions from waivers, so be it. But both teams would have the same pool to choose from.
If there's no other reason to institute a hard trade deadline, competitive balance should be it. Every team should play by the same rules, regardless of payroll and market size.
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