clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

If the MLB trade deadline were moved to Aug. 31, here's what every National League team would have done

New, comments

A month ago, the Nationals thought they were leading the chase for the postseason. They have regrets.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Back in July, I wrote about how moving the trade deadline to August was a mistake. The first argument was that teams wouldn't pay as much for a four-, five- or six-week rental, hurting the selling teams. The second argument was that allowing the teams that just slipped out of the race to be on even footing with the truly awful teams only hurts the latter kind of team. There's more supply to go with the demand, and prices drop.

Now it's September, and we'll have to compare and contrast with what the August 31 deadline would have looked like in an alternate reality. We took a look at the American League on Tuesday, and now it's time for the Senior Circuit. If the trade deadline were at the end of August instead of July, what would National League teams have done differently?


At the actual deadline: Half-game up in NL West
On August 31: 5 1/2 games up in NL West
What they would have done differently: Lost the Marlins' number, picked up a bullpen arm

Until Clayton Kershaw is hoisting a golden trophy and carrying Vin Scully around on his shoulders during the parade down ... Los Angeles Street ... I'll continue to beat the same expired horse: This isn't the kind of franchise that needs to be so clever. The Alex Wood deal was creative, and regardless of results, the Mat Latos trade still made a certain amount of sense. But neither of them are going to scare another team in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers' best prospects stayed put, and the team became incrementally better, things a normal team would be happy to accomplish. Except the Dodgers don't need the cost-savings of pre-arbitration players to survive quite like other teams, and they benefited from incremental upgrades a lot less. In a deadline where Johnny Cueto, David Price and Cole Hamels were all dealt, the Dodgers got creative instead. They recited Thoreau at the belching competition, when all they needed to do was flex their muscles and belch really, really loud. Metaphorically speaking.

With that out of the way, if the Dodgers had a trade deadline on Monday, they would have ditched the Latos, and focused their powers on a high-profile bullpen arm. Apparently, the Reds were asking for blood sacrifices for Aroldis Chapman, and there wasn't a really enchanting name after that, so I'm not sure if they would have come away with anyone fancier than Jim Johnson.


At the actual deadline: Half-game back in NL West, two games up in Wild Card
On August 31: 3 1/2 games back in NL West, 5 1/2 games behind Wild Card
What they would have done differently: Not much

The Giants had an August schedule of doom, playing almost exclusively against postseason-bound teams. They played the Cubs twice, the Cardinals twice, the Rangers, the Astros and the Nationals when everyone still assumed they were good. They somehow outscored their opponents for the month by 10 runs. They also fell into an industrial turbine and ruined their season by losing almost every one-run game. If the trade deadline were, say, today, the Giants would lick their wounds and stay the heck away.

As is, we have a hint of their philosophy based on their waiver trades. When Hunter Pence went down to an oblique tweak, they quickly acquired Marlon Byrd. When Norichika Aoki didn't look right after a concussion, they quickly acquired Alejandro De Aza. They were always going to be aggressive, and they probably wouldn't have waited for the Aug. 31 deadline. The only difference would have been that they could have explored premium outfielders like Yoenis Cespedes.

And Mike Leake was always the Giants' destiny. He was acquired by Newtonian physics, and luckily the Giants were okay with it.


At the actual deadline: Eight games back in NL West, 7 1/2 behind Wild Card
On August 31: 9 1/2 back in NL West, 11 1/2 behind Wild Card
What they would have done differently: Look, I don't even know

The Padres claimed they were still trying for 2015, and that's why they were inactive at the deadline. But they were 7 1/2 games away from any kind of postseason spot, and they have a bunch of abacus-twiddling smart folks in the front office. They knew the odds against a miracle run. They knew that if they didn't trade Justin Upton, their return for him was likely to be a draft pick in the 30/40 range. They were aware of the risks and the rewards.

So an August deadline wouldn't have changed a thing. They're thinking long-term, and they're looking to be more Blue Jays, less Marlins.


At the actual deadline: Seven games back in NL West, 6 1/2 behind Wild Card
On August 31: 9 1/2 back in NL West, 11 1/2 behind Wild Card
What they would have done differently: Nothing ... unless they got froggy after a mid-August winning streak

On August 23, the Diamondbacks completed a four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, who were basically starting eight Ron Oesters and one Joey Votto, and there was suddenly a slight tickle of a buzz around them. They were just five games behind the Dodgers, after all, with a few games left against them. Were they contenders?

They were not contenders. So unless Dave Stewart got (stayed?) weird and decided that the mini-streak against one of the NL's worst teams meant something, they were going to be soft-sellers in July or August.


At the actual deadline: Way back
On August 31: Way, way back
What they would have done differently: Nothing, unless another team blew them away for Carlos Gonzalez

The Rockies were going to trade Tulowitzki before the season ended, if only because he was about to get full no-trade protection as a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the league, five with his current team). Because of his injury history, they probably weren't interested in waiting until August 31, hoping to extract every last drop of value. There was a ticking clock in Denver, and it sounded an awful lot like a slowly fraying hamstring. If the Blue Jays were still the team, I could see them completing the trade on the exact same day. They had urgency, the Rockies had urgency and the two sides lined up awfully well.

The difference might have been with Carlos Gonzalez, who cooled down a touch (.297 OBP in August) but still had something that wasn't available elsewhere on the market (12 dingers in August). With an extra month, maybe a desperate team like the Giants or an emboldened team like the Rangers would have changed their willingness to take a risk on an expensive player with a troubling injury history.


At the actual deadline: 5 1/2 games up in NL Central
On August 31: 4 1/2 games up in NL Central
What they would have done differently: Oh, who cares

They wouldn't have made a major deal, regardless of what August brought. They're on their way to a 100-win season, and the minor moves of Brandon Moss and Jonathan Broxton are working out because of course they are.

When Matt Holliday was hurt, they counted on Randall Grichuk, who was awesome. When Grichuk got hurt, they relied on Stephen Piscotty, who was awesome, with help from Tommy Pham. In the event that Piscotty or Pham get hurt, they'll call up Franklin Mandroons. And if Mandroons gets hurt, they'll call up Earl Stambler, and they'll all be awesome.

They'll keep Stack Jorgensen in Double-A unless they really need to, but he's awesome, too. Just roll with it. This will never end.


At the actual deadline: 10 1/2 games back in NL Central, two games behind Wild Card
On August 31: 9 1/2 games back in NL Central, 5 1/2 up in Wild Card
What they would have done differently: A bolder postseason focus, perhaps

After six different "eh, more of the same" capsules, finally we have something that might be different. If the trade deadline were on Monday, the Cubs might have made a for-the-postseason deal, like the Royals did with Johnny Cueto. They certainly have the prospects and movable pieces, and the allure of a Lester/Arrieta/Price postseason rotation would have been too tempting to pass up once they were a few games up in the Wild Card race. Instead, uh, enjoy your Dan Haren, free with proof of purchase and shipping.

This is something of a common theme with the idea of moving the deadline to August 31: It makes it less likely that teams are going to overpay for that one last piece for their postseason hopes, especially when it comes to a starting pitcher, but it might make a deal more likely for a team that's far ahead in the race. It's always a risk to allocate farm resources for a postseason start or five, but when it comes to teams like the Cubs and Royals, their fans have earned that risk.

Just imagine an NLDS with Lester/Arrieta/Price going against Kershaw/Greinke/Hamels. Where's the arms race, National League? Where's the arms race?


At the actual deadline: 5 1/2 games back in NL Central, five games up in Wild Card
On August 31: 4 1/2 games back in NL Central, 10 1/2 games up in Wild Card
What they would have done differently: A bolder postseason focus, perhaps

Unlike the Cubs, the Pirates were relatively secure with their postseason status at the July deadline. They had their chance to try the Royals gambit and build on an already strong team. Also unlike the Cubs, they have to operate under some financial constraints that would prevent them from getting someone like Cole Hamels.

Just like the Cubs, though, just one more starting pitcher would make a huge difference. A.J. Burnett went on the DL on July 31, and the Pirates are making do with Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ, which isn't a bad strategy for a team on a budget. Playing fantasy baseball and pretending they had one of those super-fancy hypothetical rotations, though, kind of warms your heart.

Still, the Pirates have the Wild Card experience to know just how fragile the one-game playoff hopes can be. This is a team built on renewable resources; blowing some of them on a two-month rental wouldn't fit their plans. With an August deadline, it makes it even less likely that they'd blow their prospects for a one-month rental. Their deadline strategy seems pretty clear and modest, regardless of which month the deadline happens.


At the actual deadline: Way back
On August 31: Way, way back
What they would have done differently: Nothing

Sell, sell, sell. The only difference other than the quality of the Johnny Cueto trade package -- and this is just the bananas going from my brain to my fingers -- is that it's possible that another team would take on enough of Joey Votto's remaining $210 million to make the Reds consider a deal. I have no idea how desperate the Reds are to get out from under the commitment, or if they would consider it at all. But if they were ever going to do it, now would be the time. Votto is suddenly the best hitter in the NL again.

I can't even tell if Reds fans are throwing things at me or making that I'm-interested face. It's a lot of money. It's a special player. It's a weird situation for a team in deep-rebuild mode. They might just want Votto around as the face of the franchise for the next couple years and hope he keeps on something of a Hall of Fame path when the youngsters are ready.

Of course, there's almost no way that Votto didn't clear waivers, so if this were a possibility, it was still possible, whether the deadline was in July or August. Don't mind me.


At the actual deadline: Way back
On August 31: Way, way back
What they would have done differently: Nothing

It was always sell-mode for the Brewers. While Zack Wheeler is a fine young pitcher if healthy, it looks like they got lucky with the Mets backing out on the Carlos Gomez deal. The package from the Astros was much deeper and far less risky. That's the main difference with the obvious sellers at a fictional deadline -- the quality of prospects received for a player with a month less in the season. The Brewers were dangling a player under contract for next year, though, so it doesn't quite apply to them.


At the actual deadline: Three games back in NL East, 4 1/2 behind Wild Card
On August 31: 5 1/2 up in NL East
What they would have done differently: Nothing

When the Mets backed out of the Carlos Gomez trade for nebulous, hip-related reasons that were disputed by the Brewers, Gomez and Scott Boras, I was so sure they were just making a PR play. "Oh, we would love to acquire this player and his substantial contract, but he has hip beetles that made us skeptical. You understand, don't you, fans?"

Then they acquired Yoenis Cespedes and went on a magnificent tear. Michael Conforto has been amazing, and if you buy into the WAR, Curtis Granderson has been one of the most valuable players in the league this season. Wilmer Flores became a danged folk hero, and he's hit .310/.341/.506 since his baptism of tears. They pulled away from the Nationals and dominated their divisional race. The Mets are going to be the postseason team no one wants to mess around with.

Would that have happened without the vote of confidence that came with Cespedes, though? There's no way to quantify it, but like the Blue Jays, the Mets went from mediocre-at-best postseason odds to frontrunners after a sparkling trade deadline, and it's impossible to be dispassionate about what the decision to go for it really meant.

It's possible that when August 31 came around, the Mets would have been in a wholly different position, with an entirely different deadline strategy. If they were this far ahead, maybe they would have figured they didn't need to trade pitching depth for another outfielder.

Looking into my crystal ball (a partially working Virtual Boy), though, I'm going to guess that the Mets were still in a good spot, but not pulling away quite like this, which would make the Cespedes trade sensible all over gain. Considering he's a rental, they might have had to give up less, but that's the main difference.


At the actual deadline: Three games up in NL East
On August 31: 5 1/2 games back in NL East, eight games behind Wild Card
What they would have done differently: Oh, things. They would have done things differently.

This might be the most fascinating hypothetical of the August trade deadline. The Nationals were up, and not only were they up, they had that feeling that they were in their rightful spot. They were supposed to be in first. They weren't supposed to be challenged. And what does a team like that need? Bits and pieces. A new closer, perhaps. They don't need to monkey around too much with the active roster.

Then everything melted into goo. Denard Span is gone for the season. Stephen Strasburg might be, or at least he'll be unable to help for a while. Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond probably aren't busting out of their slumps. The Nationals, as currently constructed, are kind of hosed.

So it's worth looking at their schedule and seeing exactly when they would have made the pre-deadline panic trade. They would have. With an extra month of the deadline, they would have dropped the need for an accessory like an extra closer, and they would have been bold in a half-dozen other ways. The Nationals can do bold. They just didn't think they needed it at the July 31 deadline.

Cole Hamels? I mean, sure. Carlos Gonzalez? That seems like a classic Nationals WTF move. More than almost any other team in baseball, an August deadline would have changed the Nationals' plans the most. An extra closer? C'mon. The manager doesn't even know what to do with those.


At the actual deadline: Nine games back in NL East, 11 1/2 behind Wild Card
On August 31: Not quite as close
What they would have done differently: Figured out different ways to help the Dodgers.

Is that bitter? That's probably a little bitter. But after watching Jose Peraza for a series, I sure hope the Braves know what they're doing with Hector Olivera. Who, again, is over 30 and coming off a serious injury, with the long-term effects of his left-bicep thrombosis still unknown.

It's not a bad idea for the Braves to reload instead of rebuild, though, even if it's going to be harder to do without Alex Wood. The August deadline might have butterfly-effected the Dodgers away and allowed them to keep Wood, and the general strategy wouldn't have changed much. When the core of the team is under 25 and under contract for a while, it's pretty hard to do anything splashy at the trade deadline, regardless of what month it is.


At the actual deadline: Way back
On August 31: Way, way back
What they would have done differently: Not much

They were sellers. They were going to be sellers a month later. The main difference would have been that Mat Latos and Dan Haren were in danger of pitching so poorly, they wouldn't have brought back even a B- prospect. So if there's a team that benefited the most from the earlier deadline, it was the one with the hot-potato starting pitchers of dubious quality.


At the actual deadline: The worst team in baseball
On August 31: Trying to screw up their No. 1 overall pick chances
What they would have done differently: Nothing

An extra month of those stupid Cole Hamels rumors.


Good gravy. Another month of rumors would have been the end of poor Ken Rosenthal. And then there was that debate over the Phillies overplaying their hand, or not overplaying their hand, and if they blew it.


Well, the Phillies did okay with their haul from the Rangers, so the only difference is if another month would have allowed more teams to enter the race (CUBS, WHERE WERE YOU ON THIS), or forced more teams out. They were going to trade Hamels and Papelbon, and considering that both were under contract for 2016, at least, that extra month probably wasn't going to decimate their prospect return.

* * *

Add it all up, and what do you get? The Cubs might have been more bold. The Nationals would have been more panicky. The Dodgers might have focused on the bullpen more and the Giants might have traded their best chips as soon as Hunter Pence got hurt. The Cardinals have a Jurassic Park filled with productive young outfielders, and one day the security system will fail and they'll take over the mainland.

After going through every team in the league, though, the biggest effect would have been that the Reds wouldn't have picked up as much for a month of Cueto and that the Tigers wouldn't have had the same leverage with Price. That's just a guess, but it seems less likely that they would have gone to a desperate team scratching for a postseason spot like the Giants, and more likely that they would have gone to a front-running team in pole position, looking to add more armor for a deep postseason run.

It's almost a matter of personal preference: Do you want to see more super teams in the postseason, or do you want to watch teams gamble a month earlier just to get to the postseason? That's the biggest difference between a July deadline and one at the end of August.