Weekly Mailbag: Trades and the 2020 Season
Before we dive in to this week’s mailbag, I’d like to acknowledge all of you that continue to read the weekly Friday posts, whether they’ve been traditional mailbags or the “Not The Weekly Mailbag” that’s run more frequently over the last few months. While many of us may not be happy about the largely failed process it took to bring Major League Baseball back, at least we’ll finally have some baseball to talk about. Given that fact, I’d like to start answering your questions with far greater frequency. I’d like for the mailbag to return on a weekly basis, so please send me your questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com.
For all of our readers who have never sent a question to the mailbag, don’t be shy! For some rough guidelines, check out the mailbag announcement post.
We only have one group of questions for this week, but together, they are worth their own post. Without any further ado, let’s get at it:
Lionel asks: How will the shortened season affect trading activity?
Will teams still try to acquire star players approaching free agency when the player will play such a small number of times before hitting the open market?
Will teams be as willing to trade away stars when the players will only cost 37% of the ‘normal’ salary?
There’s a lot to unpack here, and Lionel echos many of the questions that I have been thinking about as well. For reference, the trade deadline will be on August 31st this year. With the 60 game season slated to begin on or around July 23rd, teams will likely be a little more than halfway through their respective seasons by the trade deadline. While that may seem reasonable, it is still incredible to me that we will even talk about player trades in a truncated season that will likely take place as people remain in real danger of contracting and spreading a highly contagious and deadly disease. We don’t normally think about this, but the logistics of a player trading one city for another are significant, and will present real public health concerns. From that perspective, part of me thinks that we will see fewer trades than we would under even vaguely normal circumstances.
Additionally, while we are talking about a trade deadline that happens after slightly more than the halfway point for the season, it is still an incredibly small sample size! We are talking about a deadline that could force major roster decisions after the equivalent of a bad April out of Spring Training. From a statistical standpoint, there will be so much noise in the stats that we see that it would be really hard to justify reshaping a roster for a playoff run. Between public health and noisy statistics, my first instinct is to say that we’ll see a light trade deadline in 2020.
However, there’s more here than meets the eye. Remember, we’ve spent 3 months listening to many owners cry poverty by proxy. Through the various “offers” MLB made the MLBPA, owners claimed that paying players prorated salaries would lead to more dire financial situations. For most owners, I think that there were enough ways to manipulate their revenue and cost figures to hide both their real profits over the last few seasons and boost their projected losses in 2020 without fans in the stand. While I truly believe both of those statements, I do think there are teams that have ownership groups in precarious financial situations.
Looking around the league, the A’s, Indians, Mets, Rangers, Pirates, and Rays all strike me as teams that may find themselves in dire financial straits in 2020. We heard a lot even before the country shutdown due to the pandemic about the Indians shopping Francisco Lindor due to cost. I have no idea whether he will be dealt prior to the trade deadline, but I would almost be shocked if Lindor weren’t moved by the start of the 2021 season. If Indians’ management gets desperate enough, who’s to say that a team in the hunt in August (likely more than 2/3 of the league) doesn’t try to pry a guy like Lindor from the Indians at a discounted rate? If the concern is just money, not baseball, a team like the Indians already finds themselves at a disadvantage from a negotiation standpoint, so it is likely that deals for stars on financially strapped teams will come at a discount. For the acquiring team, the salary for 2020 is almost a non-factor. I could see a deal like this going down on or before August 31st.
As far as acquisition cost is concerned, we have an interesting question to answer. A player acquired on August 31st will likely only play 20-25 regular season games and a maximum of 18 in the playoffs with their new club in 2020. If that player is on an expiring contract, that is a really small number of games. For sure, acquisition cost for a player of this type will be depressed compared to their usual July 31st value on the trade market. On the other hand, one could argue that a star player is potentially worth far more to a team in a small sample size than even an average player if the star player “gets hot at the right time.” Acquiring a star player at this year’s deadline is possibly an even greater risk/reward proposition than it is normally, so I think there are a very small number of teams that will consider doing it.
That said, no matter what we think about the 2020 season, the winner of the season will still get a World Series trophy. As Yankee fans know well, flags fly forever, so if a team finds itself one star short of a juggernaut, I see no reason why a star on an expiring contract can’t be traded this year.
That’s all for this week! Thanks, as always, for reading, and don’t forget to send your questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. See you all next week!