Of the enduring images that make live sports television great, few rival the trade deadline shows for pure unalloyed reality. Men in coats staring at phones that don’t ring, then looking plaintively at each other and the hosts as if to say, “We got nothing here. Go to break, do a puppet show, crack a beer, we don’t care. Nothing is happening at this desk.”
But when your entire day’s news haul is Zack Greinke to Houston, as Major League Baseball produced Wednesday, then you have lots of talking about things people aren’t sure they want to hear. And ultimately, you have one more reason why basketball is a better fun generator than baseball. Namely, because the NBA has Daryl Morey, Sam Presti, LeBron James and Uncle Dennis, and MLB has Jeff Luhnow and a buncha Sloan regulars. Results aside, who would you rather drink with?
In truth, the sports are so radically different there are no valid comparison points. One player changes everything in basketball, and this summer, five players blew up the league. In baseball, where homers, walks, and strikeouts are the core of the sport, the need for fringe relief pitchers was adjudged the central mission for just about every contender.
Very few closers actually moved, because even closers no longer matter that much more than other high-leverage relievers. Greinke went to Houston 15 minutes after the deadline, and the only other starter to go to a contender was Tanner Roark to Oakland (do not bring up the Mets, and that’s an order). The impact hitter wasn’t even on offer, unless you think Nicholas Castellanos is a needle-shover. It isn’t that only one big name got moved, nor is it that that the market was ridiculously bullpen-heavy. It was that the 30 Wise Men were so risk-averse with players that haven’t made the major leagues yet so lockstep in their assessments.
And while many people made the link between the loss of the August 31 deadline and the timidity of the general managers, the equally problematic fact is that the most devoted baseball fans in the big-time ball media looked genuinely outraged by the lack of developments.
Tom Verducci looked increasingly tortured by the growing likelihood that there would almost certainly be no new Nathan Eovaldi. Tim Kurkjian kept repeating an agonized version of “Something HAS to happen soon,” even as nothing kept happening. Jeff Passan kept firing out small deal after small deal while every tweet hinted his disappointment. Ken Rosenthal ran down a list of the players who were not traded with the bile nearly streaming from his chin. They saw the new baseball, they smelled rampant cowardice, and they were galactically pissed—at least until the Greinke news that murdered the American League.
By comparison, the NBA offered only a few moves, but they were huge moves, and you could actually hear Adrian Wojnarowski ovulate even though he mastered the art of not guessing at things that were still guesses. Shams Charania kept his information in the fairway as well, and even the yahoos who kept firing out well-planted lies that started with the telling phrase, “I’m hearing that...” kept people interested, if disgusted. Then again, the NBA did its moves with big names in their prime; MLB was 30-somethings and prospects. A true equivalent would have been Mike Trout, Vlad Jr. and Christian Yelich. This wasn’t that. The midseason trade deadline never is.
Still, the NBA did a lot with a little, MLB did little with a lot, and the punditocracy reacted accordingly.
You may argue that market volatility is not a reliable measure of wisdom, and it isn’t. But it is a measure of something the internet values far more: hyperactivity. Motion is often confused for advancement when often all it does is keep talking heads behind desks from chewing the scenery and their mobiles. But again, the NBA’s trades changed its entire power rankings/pecking order; MLB’s largely took one team from favorites to prohibitive favorites. One thing is more fun than the other, and there is only one correct answer.
Greinke might have energized the back end of the MLB deadline, but for the most part, this was a grilled cheese and meh sandwich. You can stack all the middle relievers atop each other in some wacky drunk-powered Jenga tower, but for impact they barely reach Al Horford going to Philadelphia as a teacher’s aide. Maybe we hoped for too much, but MLB delivered too little, and even its truest believers know it.
After all, when you can offend Tom Verducci to the point where one could light a highway flare off his on-air face, you have to rethink your priorities.
Ray Ratto thinks baseball missed its best bet by not finding a way to keep Trevor Bauer and Yasiel Puig on the same team.