This week, MLB Network will go into full-bore trade deadline mode. Tuesday afternoon, they'll run a two-hour special edition of MLB Tonight at 2 p.m. ET. Wednesday, the actual deadline day, will see the network rise and shine early at 11 a.m. ET. MLB Tonight will go live until 4 p.m. ET, when they'll throw to their usual two hours of talk shows (MLB Now and Intentional Talk).
All in all, MLB Net will have 17 hours of live coverage of the trade deadline. It mirrors the sort of coverage given to hockey's trade deadline in Canada, and it makes sense, as both the NHL and MLB trade deadlines are most prone to a lot of trading. Which means that a lot of work has to go on behind the scenes, and a lot of research has to be done on not only major leaguers being moved, but a potential cavalcade of minor leaguers as well. That's where Elliott Kalb comes in.
Kalb is MLB Network's Senior Editorial Director, in charge of the channel's research department. Kalb's job is to break down the often byzantine nature of baseball statistics into 20-to-25 page packages for broadcasters and analysts to use each day (on the other side, analysts can come visit them and pick their brains. Kalb told me that Al Leiter is one of the research department's most frequent guests), and also be able to share it with viewers in a manner that is simple to understand.
The trade deadline is the research department's busiest season, aside from the draft. Kalb told me last week that the department has someone working in the network's studios in Secaucus, N.J. at least 19 hours each day. He also has a senior researcher, Marc Adelberg, who's in charge of the draft and prospect work. The trade deadline can take a lot of time and work for the department, as trade rumors can linger with a player and a team for months at a time, with everything coming to a head on Wednesday.
When it comes to the trade deadline, as with any broadcast, Kalb tells me it's about providing the proper context, though the advances in statistics have made things better. "We can give you lists of numbers, and it's meaningless." he said. "Analytics has made it more intelligent. 25 years ago, I was doing NBC's Game of the Week, it was very hard to get things like On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage onto a national telecast."
"It's taken 25 years where those numbers are widely used, widely accepted, widely understood. It's gonna take another generation, another 20-25 years for some of these newer statistics [to have the same effect]. There's room for it all. I love it, but I'm not tied to it. We have to appeal to a lot of people -- kids who are growing up -- explain what these newer numbers and analytics are. It is a challenge to get people to learn these numbers."
Another challenge is sorting out the often unknown prospects who get returned for big-name players in these deals. "You can't know everything yourself, while you have the expertise of the Hall of Famers and current guys, I readily admit that I don't know all of the prospects," Kalb said. 'I rely on guys like Marc and Nate [Purinton, fellow senior researchers] because that's the large part of the commodity that teams are looking to get. It's easy to say 'Alfonso Soriano,' we all know what Alfonso Soriano can give you. We don't know the prospects coming back -- the ceiling, what scouts think of them -- so that does require a lot of legwork. More on the minor leaguers than the big leaguers."
So what goes into providing the right numbers when a trade happens? After our interview, Kalb and his department sent along a ton of info that better explained what they do during the trade deadline. Take, for example, the Matt Garza deal:
When a player is traded, we try to provide as much meaningful information and proper context. Matt Garza was traded to the Rangers. The question everyone asks is this: Can he be a difference-maker in the A.L. West? One way of doing that is showing how many starts he'll be able to make:
Garza will start his first game for the Rangers in their 101st game. He should be able to make 13 starts for Texas. But I do even deeper than that.
Look at the 13 starts he could make for Texas: It's three probable starts vs. the Angels, two probable starts vs. the A's, three probable starts vs Astros; and one start vs. the Mariners. That's nine divisional starts.
July 24 vs. NY Yankees
July 29 vs. LA Angels
Aug. 3 at Oakland
Aug 9 at Houston
Aug 14 vs. Milwaukee
Aug 20 vs. Houston
Aug 26 at Seattle
Sep 1 vs Minnesota
Sep 7 at LA Angels
Sep 13 vs Oakland
Sep 18 at Tampa Bay
Sep 23 vs. Houston
Sep 28 vs LA Angels
Garza has a 2.70 ERA in six games (five starts) vs. the Oakland A's, the team Texas is currently chasing.
Garza faced Oakland once this year, as a member of the Cubs. On July 3, at Oakland, Garza defeated the A's 3-1, allowing 1 run in 8 innings. He gave up just four hits.
One of the players that Texas sent to Chicago for Garza was starter Justin Grimm. Grimm faced the A's once this year as a member of the Rangers, on May 13 at Oakland. Grimm lost 5-1, allowing five runs in five innings. Texas has taken six of 10 meetings with Oakland this year.
Also, has Garza started any big games before? Not in awhile... but remember, he started five postseason games for the Rays, including Game 3 of the 2008 World Series at Citizens Bank Park. Garza gave up homers to Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, and Chase Utley in that game. He left that game trailing 4-1 after six innings, but the Rays got him off the hook, before falling in the ninth.
So with all those numbers available, and with all the work the department does in preparation for the deadline, the question naturally comes up: has a trade ever caught their department totally off-guard? "The Ubaldo Jiminez trade in 2011. Hadn't been pitching well that season and the Indians gave up two top pitching prospects in the trade," said Senior Researcher Nate Purinton. "The shock of the Indians being the acquiring team and the price paid had the office buzzing."
For all of the work he and his team do, Kalb doesn't always find his numbers through his massive depths of research. Sometimes an answer can come from one of his own network's analysts, who've amassed centuries combined in MLB experience. "One of the things I do is use these guys as a resource. I've called, e-mailed our analysts -- I don't know how many times -- to get answers to questions. I call on Jim Kaat, I call on John Smoltz and get their opinions and their knowledge."
When you watch MLB Network's coverage of the trade deadline on Tuesday and Wednesday, listen a little bit, and pay attention to the graphics they show on the screen. You'll see numbers that have been prepared for days and weeks, and information both shown and spoken by analysts that has either been provided to them by Kalb's team, or requested by the analyst himself. It's a fascinating process that leads to an extremely detailed broadcast.
MLB Network, as I mentioned before, goes all-out on the trade deadline. They'll be live for a total of 17 hours covering the event on Tuesday and Wednesday, including the 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. ET MLB Tonight broadcast leading right into the deadline. Not only do they have a full batting order of analysts (Larry Bowa, Sean Casey, John Hart, Kevin Millar, Dan Plesac, Harold Reynolds, Mitch Williams, Tom Verducci) to break down trades, they also have the insiders capable of breaking them.
The legendary Peter Gammons will be live during the deadline coverage, with a camera in his office at MLB Network capable of going live to him whenever news breaks. Similar cameras are set up for fellow insiders Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal. Richard Justice, Bob Nightengale, Phil Rogers and Joel Sherman will be live both in-studio and via the network's Ballpark Cams to report on breaking news. The shows will also break down the biggest trades of last year's deadline.