Is the NL Wild-Card Race Good or Bad for MLB?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2019

DENVER, CO - JULY 16:  Mark Melancon #41 and Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants celebrate an 8-4 win in 10 innings over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 16, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

If you like parity, the National League is the place for you.

The Miami Marlins are the only NL team out of the playoff race. Nine clubs are within six games of the second wild-card spot, including six under-.500 teams.

Contrast that to the American League, where no sub-.500 team has a snowball's chance and the 50-48 Los Angeles Angels are 5.5 games off the pace.

Now, the question: Is this good or bad for MLB? Will it enhance fan excitement or make a mockery of both the playoff chase and the trade deadline?

In a way, the timing of the Senior Circuit's remarkable parity couldn't be worse. 

During the offseason, MLB announced a number of rule tweaks. One of them cemented July 31 as the official trade deadline and eliminated the option of waiver trades, which previously were in play until August 31.

Put simply, teams must jettison and/or add assets on or before the end of July. Period. (Unless they're placed on waivers.)

It seemed like a logical way to simplify the process and imbue the deadline with dramatic finality. But it's left a number of NL contenders in a bind.

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For weeks if not months, it's been obvious that the San Francisco Giants should sell contract-year assets such as All-Star closer Will Smith and left-hander Madison Bumgarner, a postseason legend who would entice any World Series hopeful.

The Giants, however, have won 13 of their past 15 games. Despite a ho-him 48-49 record, they're only 2.5 games out in the wild-card race.

FanGraphs projected them for a 78-84 finish entering Thursday. But Bay Area fans are permitted to dream. Other than the Los Angeles Dodgers (64-35), no team is running away with anything in the NL.

"We're very invested in this season and it's been really exciting seeing how the team has played," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on KNBR's Murph and Mac show. "Every pennant race and every opportunity you have to get to the playoffs has a ton of value."

What about the New York Mets, who opened a series against the Giants on Thursday? They've had an underwhelming, injury-marred season. But at 44-52, they're only six games out of a postseason berth.

Should they trade chips such as pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler or try for a miracle run?

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

As ESPN.com's Jeff Passan succinctly put it, "What's clear, at this point, is that almost nothing is clear."

You could argue that's a good thing. More teams in the hunt. More fans energized. What's not to like?

This appeared to be MLB's intent when it implemented the second wild-card spot: give more squads a prayer.

Combined with the hard July 31 deadline, though, the NL's parity might spoil the 2019 trade season. Players such as the aforementioned Smith, Bumgarner, Syndergaard and Wheeler could tip any number of races if they were dealt.

Not to mention Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig and ace Luis Castillo. Or Pittsburgh Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez. Or various impact guys on clubs clinging by their fingernails to contention who should (probably) sell now, acquire controllable talent and set their sights on the future.

But maybe not?

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

There's no easy fix here. No rule tweak will have a magic-wand effect. But if this season's trade deadline is more a traffic jam than a Daytona 500, blame the parity in the National League.

It could deny fans the chance to see Bumgarner author another historic postseason performance. Or it may keep Puig and his bat-licking antics off the October stage. Syndergaard and his thunderbolt fastball may be stuck on a going-nowhere Mets club.

As USA Today's Ted Berg opined, "My hunch is that the huge number of teams with some glimmer of a chance at October baseball combines with the new rule against August trades to turn MLB front offices gun-shy come the end of the month."

Other than reinstating the late-August waiver rule, it's hard to say what the league could do to fix this problem. And, arguably, things are no better in the AL, where nearly half the teams are either rebuilding or outright tanking. Why should boosters of the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, etc., give a damn?

Ultimately, this comes down to whether you prefer parity or a flurry of high-profile summer trades. Because under the present MLB parameters, we seemingly can't have both.


All standings and statistics current as of Friday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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