Rob Manfred didn't pull a reporter aside on Wednesday and start screaming about changes to the trade deadline. He showed up to a function and answered a few questions. No, he hasn't figured out the Pete Rose mess, but an explanation is coming. Yes, he's working with President Obama's administration on what normalized relations with Cuba means for baseball.
And, sure, maybe it's time to scrutinize the July 31 trade deadline and see if it needs to change now that more teams feel like they're in a postseason race with the second wild card.
Wait, what did he just say?
the trade deadline
The headline isn't deceptive, mind you. Manfred said it. And of all the things he said, that was the big story.
"I think that the July 31st deadline is something that we may want to revisit in the context of the revised playoff format," Manfred said Wednesday. "Obviously when you have two additional opportunities to be in the playoffs, you have more teams in the hunt and they may want to wait a little longer before they make decisions."
"On the other hand, you've got to remember, we want teams that the core of which have been together for the year playing in the postseason," he said. "So you have to just balance those two issues, I think."
It isn't an unpopular idea. When I tweeted out a column about the second wild card ruining the deadline, there were three responses about moving the deadline back. It makes a certain amount of sense. But this looks like a clear case of "be careful what you wish for."
Everyone agrees, mostly, that there shouldn't be a televised auction on September 30, with all the eliminated teams offering their best pending free agents to the highest bidder, drastically altering the postseason, right? I mean, it would be amazing and would probably challenge the NFL Draft for viewers, and maybe it would be the greatest thing in sports history ... but it wouldn't exactly be fair, right? The idea of the postseason is to match the best teams against the best teams, not the best team that magically added David Price vs. the best team that magically added Todd Frazier.
Listen, stop thinking about the televised auction. The point is that it's not realistic to move the trade deadline later than September 1. That's a little too close to a WWE-style twist, where someone comes out of the tunnel and jumps off the top rope to save someone from certain defeat at the last second. Then the deals would shift from "What would help us make the postseason" to "what would help us line up with this specific postseason opponent."
What we're really talking about, then, would be a week or two. August 10. Maybe August 15. A lot of baseball can happen in two weeks -- six-game losing streaks, seven-game winning streaks, and injuries could ruin/improve the hopes of a team that felt differently on July 31 -- so the idea is that with more teams deciding to sell, the trade deadline would be more exciting.
Maybe. Here are some reasons why that's not a guarantee, though.
Teams won't pay as much for a six-week rental
Let's say the deadline is now August 15. The Tigers are out of it, and they're willing to trade David Price. The jig's up, the dream is dead, the bidding starts at three top prospects.
That sort of trade would appeal to exactly one kind of team: A team leading their race handily and looking for a postseason ringer. The problem is that there usually aren't two or three of those at the same time, all looking to exchange assets to stack a postseason rotation. If you're looking for a bidding war, you're probably not going to get one for a six-week rental.
If a team is still in the race on August 15, but maybe two or three games back, what are they going to give up for eight starts of David Price? He's not a warlock or a lawyer. He doesn't cast a spell or file a brief with Major League Baseball to eliminate the three-game deficit. He comes in and pitches, mostly good games, with the possibility of a stinker or two mixed in. Everyone remembers CC Sabathia with the Brewers, but that's not how deadline acquisitions work for almost everyone else. With the deadline moved back, there's even less of that. It's just too hard for one starting pitcher to make that much of a difference over eight starts. Not unless he's replacing, like, Jeff Francoeur in the rotation.
The same goes for a first baseman, shortstop, closer ... how much can one player change things over six weeks? It's already an issue with the July 31 deadline, but two months + the potential postseason games is a low bar we're used to. The thought of a six-week rental would make the bubble teams back out. Unless the prices were low, that is. If the sellers were willing to accept something worth just a little more than the forthcoming compensation pick, well, maybe that changes things. But now you've made the deadline boring for selling teams.
Boring and less worthwhile.
Turning more teams into sellers only penalizes the truly awful teams that need more help
The Phillies, man. They've been working the phones on Cole Hamels for years.
Phillies: We will accept no fewer than *five* of your top prospects!
Phillies: We will accept no fewer than *three* of your top prospects!
Phillies: We will accept no fewer than *one* of your top prospects, with some bits and pieces sprinkled in!
Tigers: Hey, just a note that David Price is for sale now and better than Cole Hamels.
Baseball: great leapin lizards yowza hey alright
All that work just to have the market flooded with options. The teams that know they're awful should be offering their wares and competing with other teams that know they're awful. The supply is low. The demand is high. If anything, the deadline should be moved up to June 30 to make teams be realistic about their fortunes. More White Flag trades, not fewer, that's what I say.
The six-week-rental aspect already shifts the leverage to the buyers. Adding more sellers does it even more. It would create more deadline tourists, teams that could afford to swing in and ditch a couple of pending free agents before spending wildly in the offseason. Moving the deadline back would help teams that are a) ostensibly in win-now mode, but b) had a disappointing season because of injuries or other unexpected calamities. It would penalize the teams hoping to escape the sewer.
There are arguments for moving the deadline into August. More activity. More deals. And that's very exciting. Hey, I'm following a team that is hopefully buying at the deadline, and I would love there to be 36 different pitchers lined up on a Costco shelf. But the increased activity will come at the cost of smaller returns to the sellers and diminished value to the players' new teams, and the new deadline would benefit the teams already closer to contending than others. I'm fine with the status quo, even if the second wild card has made a difference in deadline activity.
That September 30 auction idea, though ...
Can't stop thinking about it ...
Okay, give me a couple hours to work up a 1500-word proposal, and I'll be right back.