Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is set for July 31 at 4 p.m. ET like it is every year, but this season it’s anything but ordinary.
The league implemented a new system this year with a singular trade deadline on July’s final day, rather than the July 31 “non-waiver deadline” followed by Aug. 31’s “waiver deadline,” which made trades possible up until the end of August.
While the August deadline was a bit of an afterthought to fans, front offices could count on having an extra month to evaluate their teams and decide what areas could be strengthened by a veteran or two as summer wrapped up.
“A lot of these executives are very methodical, knowing they have a soft deadline,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the previous system. “But now it’s slow-moving and guys are feeling each other out and when it gets 11th hour on July 31st – with a hard deadline – it’s going to be frantic, is my guess.”
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Justin Verlander went 4-1 in the 2017 postseason after being acquired by the Astros in August. (Photo: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports)
Here’s why the new singular trade deadline is such a big deal:
Teams must make a decision – now
For better or worse, there’s no safety net anymore.
Teams can’t wait until a hot or cold streak in August to make a decision whether they are going for it.
With the two wild-card spots, this is even more pertinent. All but two of the National League’s 15 teams are within eight games of a playoff spot. That’s not a small deficit, particularly with so many jockeying for position, but it’s certainly not impossible to overcome.
Unsurprisingly, general managers aren’t exactly happy with this new impetus. They’re facing substantially more pressure – both internal and external – to immediately make the tough decisions they’ve been able to delay in the past.
There is a growing sentiment among GMs to push the #MLB trade deadline back to Aug. 15 to give teams more time to determine whether they are buyers or sellers in light of slow activity. They will discuss at the GM meetings in November in Phoenix.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 29, 2019
There’s obviously a great deal of fiscal philosophy at the trade deadline. But now as a buyer, you can’t wait and avoid paying for a high-priced veteran’s services in the month of August.
Last year, the New York Yankees saved about $2 million by holding off until the August deadline to trade for Andrew McCutchen. Josh Donaldson was injured for most of the 2018 season and the Cleveland Indians were able to wait until he was healthy, trading for him on Aug. 31. Cleveland also got $2.7 million from Toronto to help cover the nearly $4 million Donaldson was due in September.
In 2017, the Detroit Tigers paid Justin Verlander more than $4.5 million before trading him to the Houston Astros on Aug. 31.
This, of course, goes both ways. If you think you’re in contention at the end of July, you can’t wait a month, and then ship someone out in August to ditch their September salary.
It’s all about depth
Of course, Verlander, Donaldson and McCutchen are outliers, as most players traded in August aren’t former MVPs.
August was largely time for contenders to bolster their teams with role players for the stretch run. Now, general managers have to cram everything in before the July deadline.
Look no further than last season. The Dodgers were able to land former World Series MVP and platoon specialist David Freese on August 20. He only played 19 games in September, but hit .385 in 39 at-bats and then went 7-for-22 with six RBI in the postseason.
That trade wasn’t as sexy as the team’s move for Manny Machado a month earlier, but acquiring a guy like Freese is the kind of mid-level move that often goes unnoticed.
Without the extra month to see where injuries or ineffectiveness may befall them, it’s possible that buyers will focus on these sorts of depth-centric moves in the next two days.
Follow USA TODAY Sports MLB editor Jesse Yomtov on Twitter: @JesseYomtov
Contributing: Gabe Lacques