This St. Louis Cardinal season has been unlike any other. As we approach the halfway point, the MLB needs to make one more rule change to make it better.
In two weeks, the St. Louis Cardinals will have (hopefully) played a total of 26 games. The other teams in the MLB will have played around 35 games. This doesn’t seem like a notable number for any reason– however, it is at this point of the season that Major League Baseball has placed the 2020 trade deadline.
In a conventional season, the trade deadline is on July 31st, at which point a team has played around 105 games. For those that don’t want to work out the math, 105 games is 65% of a full 162 game season. At this point in the season, most teams know whether they should buy or sell at the deadline.
Compare that number to this year’s arbitrary August 31st date– not only does the regular deadline include three times as many games for front offices to learn about their teams, but 35 is only 58% of the season. How are teams supposed to use this data to make good decisions about improving their ball clubs?
It’s not just the small sample size that makes the timing of this year’s trade deadline a bad idea. The traditional concept of trading for a “rental” player whose contract expires at the end of the season has much less value. For example, instead of trading for Matt Holliday, having him on the roster for 63 games, and then getting the chance to pitch him on resigning as a free agent, teams will have their rentals for half that time and have no way of showing the power of their home-town market. Unless you’re the Dodgers, this is a really big deal.
Because the price for a rental player is going to be smaller than ever, more teams are just going to hold on to their expected free agents and hope to acquire a compensation pick in the draft. Even a low-round draft choice will be worth more than what any team is willing to pay for 30 games of an expiring contract. The free agent market might be larger than normal next offseason without a trade deadline, but it looks like it will be that way regardless.
In addition, the expanded playoffs this season means there will be practically no sellers. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates are more than four games out of the second wild card National League, and the American League-worst Boston Red Sox are only four games out for the AL second wild card. A lot could change in the next set of games, but just playing around .500 until the 31st will keep more teams in the running this season than ever before. If every team is a buyer, there’s even less of a market for deadline deals.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, teams need to be able to acquire more players in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. The Cardinals are fortunate to have enough depth in their minor league system that they can call up five rookies in one day and still field a competitive team. Other teams aren’t so lucky.
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From the day their game was postponed on July 27th until they resumed play on August 4th, the Marlins signed, traded for, or called up 17 players. If the worst-case-scenario happens and another outbreak occurs on a major league team after the trade deadline is passed, that team should be allowed to acquire major league talent from any source possible. It would be unreasonable to expect a team to fill that many open roster spots without trading, and it would be unsafe for players– especially pitchers– who might be forced into unusual roles.
The trade deadline is always exciting. Big names are moved, teams risk it all, and it’s a really important day in the pennant race. Because of the small sample size, increased playoffs, and greater risk of injury and sickness, this year’s deadline looks like it will have practically no action.
We’ve seen more strange rules this year than ever before. The MLB even changed double-headers to seven-innings a week after the season began. There’s no reason that they can’t also remove this year’s August 31st trade deadline. Whether they push it back to the end of the regular season or just remove it altogether, there is no reason to restrict a team’s ability to trade this year.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in an even stranger position than most in this regard. With only five games to go off of and a third of the roster on the IL, John Mozeliak might have the toughest position in baseball right now. The removal of the trade deadline would give the Cardinals much more time to improve their roster– whether it is for this season or next.