Why This Was the Slowest MLB Trade Deadline in Recent Memory

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Why This Was the Slowest MLB Trade Deadline in Recent Memory
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The massive contracts handed out to players like Cliff Lee is just one reason things were all quiet on the deadline front.

Well, that was some trade deadline.

Emphasis on "dead."

With only four deals going down on July 31—a date that's usually a swap meet jam-packed with wheeling and dealing—this year's version was the slowest just about anyone can remember.

Including Don Zimmer. And he's 82 years old.

That's right, the trade deadline was so quiet, it felt like a Miami Marlins game.

Jokes aside, there really wasn't much action on deadline day, or even during the week leading up to it. We can sit here and make fun of just how much of a letdown it was, but it might be more productive to explore a few reasons why.

Like these.

 

The Biogenesis Cloud

It's no secret that Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig, according to a report in the New York Daily News, are planning to punish several players who have been linked to the latest performance-enhancing drug scandal in one fell swoop.

An announcement could come as soon as Friday, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Leon Halip/Getty Images
Jhonny Peralta could be suspended any day now.

That undoubtedly left more than a few teams unsure on so many levels heading into Wednesday—what to do overall, when the announcements would come exactly, how long the suspensions would be, and whether player appeals could even happen.

While at least one trade had Biogenesis-related implications—the Detroit Tigers' acquisition of infielder Jose Iglesias helps protect them in the event shortstop Jhonny Peralta is suspended—the unfortunate timing and all the unknowns almost certainly had a negative effect on the trade front.

 

Econ 101

Even if you sat in the back and stared at the ceiling of your high school economics class, you probably picked up the whole supply-demand thing.

In case you were too busy counting those drop panels, though, here's a quick refresher: Supply and demand have an inverse relationship, meaning as one goes up, the other goes down and vice versa.

By that theory, then, there should have been plenty of demand at the deadline—and there was. It's just that there was next-to-no supply.

In baseball lingo, there were too many buyers and not enough sellers.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Ervin Santana was a prime trade chip, but the Royals decided they were buyers, not sellers.

Consider: Entering play Thursday, the day after the deadline, only four AL teams—the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros—and only five NL teams—the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers and Marlins—were at least 10 games out of a playoff spot.

The second wild card has turned more teams into playoff racers, or at least made them think they are, which means there are simply fewer clubs that were ready to trade off pieces in the first place.

 

No Rentals, Please

Under the latest collective bargaining agreement, free-agents-to-be no longer carry draft-pick compensation if they're traded over the course of the season.

It used to be a player with an expiring contract could be swapped during the year and his new club could get an extra draft pick (or two) if 1) the team offered the player arbitration, 2) the player rejected and then 3) signed elsewhere in the offseason after qualifying as either a Type A or Type B free agent.

This is how the Angels wound up with Mike Trout, who was a 2009 compensation pick awarded for the loss of free agent Mark Teixeira, who signed with the New York Yankees in January 2009 after being traded to Los Angeles in July 2008.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Maybe more trades would be made if teams still got draft-pick compensation to pick players like Mike Trout.

With that now abolished, however, players on the verge of free agency—essentially, two- or three-month rentals—have less value than they used to. This explains, at least in part, why many of the bigger-name players who did change jerseys—like Jake Peavy, Alfonso Soriano, Bud Norris and Jose Iglesias—are under team control after 2013.

 

Costly Contracts

In the multibillion dollar industry of baseball, money is thrown around like Uncle Rico tosses the pigskin—aimlessly and sometimes without even looking.

Players are routinely landing extensions and free-agent deals for four, five, six years—and beyond—and getting $10 million or $15 million or even $20 million per year on a regular basis.

That much money, obviously, is very hard to move, unless another team is motivated—and actually able—to take on such a financial burden.

Steve Mitchell/Getty Images
Joe Mauer is owed $115 million after 2013.

So even if the Philadelphia Phillies really did dangle Cliff Lee as a chip, or the Colorado Rockies wanted to see what they could get for Troy Tulowitzkior the Twins made Joe Mauer available, each player has so many more tens of millions coming to them that the pool of teams that could feasibly handle such a trade—from both a player personnel and financial standpoint—is severely limited.

 

A Little Certainty Goes a Long Way

This is actually on the opposite end of the spectrum from the last item.

Over the past decade or two, clubs have adopted the strategy of locking up their top young players to long-term extensions to help achieve cost certainty through arbitration and often the first year or two of free agency.

By doing so, teams know exactly what a player's salary will be for the next two, three, four years or more.

A few recent examples? Chris Sale of the White Sox, Carlos Gomez of the Brewers and Howie Kendrick of the Angels, all three of whom are on teams that were squarely in the "sellers" bin at the deadline.

Jason Miller/Getty Images
The $32.5 million owed Sale from 2013 to 2017 is just too team-friendly for the White Sox to surrender.

While there was some chatter surrounding players of this ilk, the fact is, it's almost counterproductive for teams to trade them because of the production per dollar they're providing.

Sure, a Sale, Gomez or Kendrick would bring back a nice return, but other teams would pretty much have to overpay just to get to the table to start talking. Otherwise, it's not worth it for the Sox or the Brewers or the Angels.

 

The Ever-Increasing Value of Prospects

Prospects are currency, but young talent is also valued so much more today than it was even five or 10 years ago.

Part of that, of course, is because of the increasing contract costs to sign players. Teams still have to find production at more team friendly prices somewhere, and players who are under team control—at a comparatively reasonable cost—can be exactly that.

Beyond that, over the past decade, baseball has turned from a game built less around power and strength (ahem, PEDs), and more around speed and athleticism, which is the profile of the young player in his 20s: the prospect.

And teams have gotten smarter, too, when it comes to drafting and unearthing top amateur talent, so they're more apt to hang on to their prospects, especially the very elite ones.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The Rangers probably could have landed Giancarlo Stanton—if they had been willing to deal phenom Jurickson Profar.

Add it all up and there are fewer sellers than usual peddling fewer impact players, many of whom are less valuable because they are either free-agents-to-be or carrying too much contract.

Sprinkle in a little extra concern, courtesy of the Biogenesis scandal, and well, you've got your recipe for a dud of a deadline.

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