What If MLB Teams Could Loan Their Biggest Superstars at the Deadline?July 30, 2018
Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are two of MLB's biggest potential trade-deadline prizes, and they probably aren't going anywhere.
The New York Mets right-handers are 30 and 25 years old, respectively. DeGrom is under club control through 2020; Syndergaard won't hit free agency until after the 2021 season at the soonest. DeGrom is in the midst of a Cy Young Award-caliber season, and Syndergaard, injury issues aside, owns one of baseball's most electric arms.
The Mets are buried in last place in the National League East. But those are the type of assets you build around, not the kind you ship away.
What if New York could loan out its co-aces, however, with the assurance they'd return to Queens after the season?
It's nothing more than a thought exercise, obviously. League officials won't rewrite the trade rules in the middle of summer.
There is a precedent, however. Professional soccer players in the English Premier League can be "loaned" out for limited periods before returning to their club of origin. Sometimes, they make a significant difference for their new squads.
What if the same standard were applied to MLB?
To give credit where it's due, NBC Sports' Christopher Crawford recently floated the notion:
Christopher Crawford @Crawford_MILB
A thought: Let's say that MLB had a rule where a team could "borrow" an MLB player starting July 31. It would be like any other trade, only the player -- if he's under contract -- returns to the team in November. What would a player like Mike Trout get in that situation?
That's a fascinating hypothetical. What would an offense-hungry contender pay for a few months of Mike Trout's services? At least one top-level prospect, probably, plus ancillary pieces.
The Los Angeles Dodgers surrendered power-hitting prospect Yusniel Diaz to the Baltimore Orioles to rent Manny Machado in June. Diaz became the Orioles' No. 2 prospect, per MLB.com, and the O's also netted bat-missing right-hander Dean Kremer and third baseman Rylan Bannon, who'd hit 20 homers at High-A, as well as right-hander Zach Pop and infielder Breyvic Valera.
Renting out Trout would help the Los Angeles Angels to rebuild their farm system and set them up for future contention. And it would put the game's best player in a position to perform on the postseason stage, where he's logged a scant 15 plate appearances in seven-plus big league seasons.
Picture Trout temporarily in the middle of the Chicago Cubs' or New York Yankees' lineups. Are you not intrigued?
The same could be said for any number of star players who are toiling for teams on the fringe of or essentially eliminated from contention: the Miami Marlins' J.T. Realmuto, the San Francisco Giants' Madison Bumgarner, the Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto. They'd tip the balance of power wherever they landed while adding exponential excitement to October.
This proposal will engender hired-gun cynicism. It's the antithesis of loyalty. If your loyalty lies with the guy donning the laundry of your choice above all else, surely you're fuming.
But as MLB wrestles with declining attendance and waning enthusiasm, it needs to get creative. It needs to find ways to put the best players in the spotlight and crank up the drama.
Plus, free agency has already decimated the concept of franchise fealty. Whatever lip service they pay to the fans and cities they temporarily call home, most players follow the money. As they should.
Let's cast aside the charade, then, and admit it's about entertainment. Many in the NBA have embraced the superteam, where contenders load up on superstars intent on winning a title. Why shouldn't baseball follow suit?
"I'd give up everything I have, all of the individual awards I've ever won, for a World Series," Trout said in June, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "It would be so sick to win the World Series, ride around with that trophy, and see everyone so happy. That's something you dream about."
Unfortunately for Trout, the Angels entered play Sunday 13 games behind the Houston Astros in the American League West and eight games off the wild-card pace. The odds that he'll realize his dream with the Halos in 2018 hover somewhere in the vicinity of zero.
Would it be as sweet if he did it in another uniform? That's an open question. But it would be sweeter than watching the postseason from his couch.
Trout, deGrom, Syndergaard et al. will likely remain with their current clubs in 2018. If you root for the Angels and Mets, then you're probably happy about that.
If you're a fan of the game, on the other hand, it's an unfortunate reality—with a possible, if drastic, fix.