During the 10 days leading up to the Aug. 31 trade deadline, 32 deals were made by 13 teams.
At first glance, that would seem to be more than anticipated. Nobody predicted an overly active deadline, given the uncertainty surrounding the rest of this season, and that comes off as a fairly hectic ramp-up to the September stretch run.
In reality, the entire market was driven by two teams, the Padres and Blue Jays, who were responsible for more than one-third of those trades.
Huntington Station native A.J. Preller has developed a reputation for wild shopping sprees since taking over as the Padres’ general manager in 2013, so his behavior wasn’t out of character. Preller has been collecting young talent for years, and he used a chunk of that prospect capital in swapping 26 players in the span of three days.
The Padres swooped in to grab the most coveted pitcher on the block, Cleveland’s Mike Clevinger, and filled just about every noticeable hole, from catcher to bullpen to improving the DH spot with Mitch Moreland. On Friday, the Padres (23-16) had the second-most wins in the National League but still trailed the NL West-leading Dodgers by six games. If the season ended today, San Diego would play the Phillies in the first round.
“The team has shown it’s a good ballclub,” Preller said after Monday’s deadline passed. “It’s a fun team to watch, and when we had some trades that lined up with a farm system that is deep and a young major league team that was deep, it enabled us to make some deals that will help us not only over just the next couple weeks but really the next couple years.”
That’s the tricky part. Was this virus-threatened season really the year to go all-in? The Yankees, Astros, Twins, Dodgers, Cardinals and Cleveland — six perennial World Series contenders who currently would qualify for the 2020 playoffs — didn’t make any trades.
There no doubt is a financial component to that. Without any fans this year, bringing in another marquee player obviously would have zero effect on attendance, i.e. no boost to gate-related revenue. The same holds true for October. In the cost-benefit analysis, some big-market clubs just didn’t see the value in making a significant trade, especially if it meant giving up top prospects or taking on additional payroll.
“Dollars are certainly a part of the equation for any business right now — and more than ever,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “But I can tell you — forgetting the dollars — the matches before we got to the dollars were problematic.
“Those were more problematic than the money. The money would have been another conversation to have. But if you could get people off of the players that you’re unwilling to part with, and then add a player that’s got dollars and shorter control at the same time, it makes it even that much more difficult.”
To get a rough idea of the gate-related losses, we’ll just start with the tickets. In 2019, the Yankees ranked third in overall attendance at 3,304,404. The average ticket price for that season was $48, so doing the math, that adds up to $158.6 million off the top. But that doesn’t include parking, food or merchandise — all key revenue-driving items that could easily take that figure over $300 million.
These are only back-of-the-napkin calculations to help explain the motivation of teams in the coming months and into this winter. Scouting departments have been decimated, with more cutbacks in other off-field areas as well. With extensive cost-cutting measures already in place, that’s an ominous trend for upcoming free agency.
Of more immediate concern is simply completing this season. The odds of MLB succeeding at that seem much better than a month ago, when the Marlins and Cardinals were shut down by team-wide outbreaks that wreaked havoc with the schedule. On Friday, the latest monitoring test results for the past week produced one new positive (an A’s player) out of 12,780 samples, or 0.008%, so the league’s health and safety protocols have been getting even more effective, a very promising sign.
Still, these measures are not airtight, and anything resembling those previous outbreaks easily could scuttle a contending team for the stretch run — or endanger the playoffs as a whole. With that in the back of a GM’s mind, those worries made it harder to pull the trigger.
“It’s an assessment of risk, and an assessment of trying to look at what 2020 is going to be here over the course of the next four weeks,” Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said after Monday’s deadline expired. “We’ve had a lot of changes and a lot of challenges across baseball, and I think we felt that here as well — whether it’s COVID or whether it’s injuries or whether it’s just the uncertain social environment that we find ourselves in. There have been a lot of challenges here.
“And so, a short season, 25 games I think is what we have here as we go forward [20 after Saturday], and wanting to balance putting the best foot forward while also not losing sight of what the big picture is in 2021 and beyond. So that was probably the biggest challenge is making sure that we recognize that we only have 30 days, and we hope to have another 30 days in October. But even that, we’re only talking about a very short sample size.”
Only the Padres, Blue Jays and Cubs made more trades than Van Wagenen, who pulled off three separate buzzer-beating deals — in the final minutes before the deadline — to acquire a trio of supplemental pieces in Robinson Chirinos, Todd Frazier and Miguel Castro at a relatively low cost in minor-league talent.
Can that translate to a big upside for the Mets? No one is really sure what the payoff will be for the remainder of this season. But whatever there is, Preller definitely gave the Padres a better shot at claiming it.