Is the Trade Deadline Obsolete?

We are approaching Major League Baseball’s annual interleague trade deadline, July 31, 4:00 PM Eastern Time.  It has meaning to me beyond that of baseball players being traded.  My birthday is July 31st and I was born on July 31, 1962 just after 4 PM!  This year I will share the point in time when I reach the half-century mark in age with the finalization of thirty major league teams finalizing their decisions on trading players for each other, for minor leaguers and/or draft picks, or trading minor league players and/or draft picks for established players.

It wasn’t always like that.  Up until 1987, the trade deadline fell on June 15th, closer to midnight.  One of the biggest, if not the biggest stabs in the aorta of Met fans in New York was on June 15, 1977, when the Mets traded Tom Seaver, the only player ever to go through the Mets’ system to make it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, to the Cincinnati Reds for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and a prospect named Dan Norman who only had a cup of coffee in the show.

The June 15th trade deadline was a relic of the pre-1969 era of divisional play.  With only one first place team in each league and no playoffs prior to the World Series, it made sense because many teams were eliminated from contention around this time—especially American League teams visa vie the Yankees of that era.  Divisional play kept teams in contention longer so a decision was made to extend the deadline from June 15th to July 31st to preserve the integrity of the game by not allowing a team playing about .500 ball to sell off its best before they were actually mathematically eliminated.

Today you have three divisions and each league produces three division champions.  Up until this season, one wild card team, the best record non-first place team, would be the forth wheel in an additional round of playoffs prior to the League Championship Series.  Beginning this year, two wild cards in each league will play a single-game showdown to determine which one will play the best record division champ in the first round.  This means few teams will be mathematically eliminated on or before July 31st.

As a long time die-hard Met fan, I would hate to see Sandy Alderson (GM) hock the future of
this team in the outside chance they could achieve a lottery ticket to the postseason, which is effectively what you get if you do not finish first; you play one game against the other wild card, and since it is only one game, any team can win on any given day so the odds on favorite is not that important.  The Mets and teams in a similar quandary should set precedent to building for a winner in the future.  However, can Alderson or a similarly inclined general manager meet his obligation to the integrity of the game this way?  The Mets chances will be slim, about that of being hit by lighting on July 31, 2012 at 4 PM Eastern Time.  But they will be greater than zero—it will not be a complete mathematical anomaly.  To surrender achieving a postseason berth (even a wild card) before mathematical elimination is a low blow to the integrity as the team wearing the blue and orange now, although mediocre at best, will be replaced by an even lesser quality team net, while a wild card is still in the realm of mathematical possibility.  How can Major League Baseball correct this so that teams who need to focus on the future can and avoid this dilemma?  Simple—abolish the trade deadline altogether.  It is an idea whose time has come.

The way it would be set up is anyone could be traded up to August 31st 11:59 PM Eastern Time.  Then every team not mathematically eliminated (all but six teams if things go according to Hoyle) would freeze twenty-five players as a potential postseason roster, and trades among September call-ups and minor leaguers could still take place.  Once a team is mathematically eliminated, those twenty-five would become available for trades and other player transactions.  Players achieved after August 31st could not be on the team’s postseason roster unless an injured player had to be replaced.

With all the negativity in politics and the global economy and foreign affairs these days, it is nice to take a break and talk about baseball!


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