The MLB trade deadline has passed, and for the most part, it was the usual story. It’s not really Haves and Have-nots anymore, because any team can and should be a Have considering the immense wealth every MLB team has even before opening the gates. It’s more Wants and Want-nots. So the Wants, like the Padres, Yankees, Astros, and some others picking off the wares of the Want-nots for pieces that the Want-nots will sell their fans as being a major part of whenever they feel like being Wants again.
Except, when is that? Is that even a firm date? A nebulous one? Less and less these days it feels like any team is settling on a firm date.
Take the Orioles, who flogged their one identifiable player the past few years in Trey Mancini to the Astros before the deadline. The arc of this used to be, and is still supposed to be, that a team eats shit for years but then starts to move toward the light. It’s not necessarily linear always, but it is supposed to be progress. The romantic side of it is that players like Mancini, who had to eat all that shit but ingratiated himself with the fans and city because he did get to enjoy the fruits of all that, perhaps more than anyone else on the team because of what he’s been through.
Fans have accepted the fact, or more likely have been beaten into submission, that any player approaching 30, even getting within two years of that number and/or free agency, is going to be jettisoned for something controllable, young, and cheap that promises a better day. But that’s supposed to have a crescendo.
Mike Elias’s comments after dealing Mancini were truly cynical. Sure, maybe the wild-card doesn’t mean much, and the O’s certainly don’t need to go all out in the form of trading for pieces for just a chance at three extra games on the road. But not trading anyone away certainly wouldn’t hurt them. And there is some benefit to playing exciting games in August and September. It wouldn’t cost a team anything, and maybe even make them a little more with raised attendance. At some point, you get off the floor. A season like this is when the endpoint is actually supposed to come into sight, and the path to it.
The calculation should have been if we’re going to move Mancini, it must be for something more valuable in the immediate future, because this is when the Orioles are, supposedly, arching up. Mancini barely costs anything next year, with a mutual option for $10 million. Instead, the O’s got two prospects that aren’t above High-A and are at least two years away, and probably three years from seriously contributing to a contender. Same goes for the return for closer Pablo Lopez. How is that more valuable next year than Mancini, in a season where the O’s are supposed to build on this one?
When exactly does stuff stop getting pushed off to the future by teams like the Orioles? When do they step on the gas? What if the O’s are just hanging around a wild-card spot again next year (certainly a possibility considering where the Jays and Yankees are and could be)? Well, considering where Baltimore is now, there really isn’t anything left to toss overboard. Is that the standard?
The Orioles had a chance to at least be interesting for the final two months of the season. They traded that away for not even the chance to be better next season. When does the promise of a distant future become hollow?
If you want an example of a team that can’t even do that calculation, we bring you the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs ended up with perhaps the second-biggest chip available in Willson Contreras, after Juan Soto shockingly ended up on the market. They got nothing for him. They will get nothing for him. They sat on their hands as the deadline passed and Contreras remained a Cub (as did Ian Happ, another certainty to be moved, or so we thought).
Again, the calculation should be what is more valuable to the Cubs in the coming years, what they could have from keeping Contreras, or what they could get for him in a trade. But by not even thinking about the former and then farting away the latter, they’ll end up with neither conclusion. They’ll let Contreras go in free agency for a draft pick at the end of the first round which won’t do them any good for four or five seasons. And nothing else.
There is a value to setting a price on a player in a trade that has to be met, and if it’s not metyou don’t trade the player because otherwise, teams will be shorting you on any deal you want to make from there on out. But that calculation only works if you’re willing to then keep the player and wring the production from him in the ensuing years. Otherwise, you’re just nixing trades for the sake of nixing a trade and keeping a reputation other than trying to make your team better. The Cubs have had two of the biggest players available the past two seasons in Contreras and Craig Kimbrel and ended up with an infielder who is basically Mighty Mac in Punch-Out without the star punch (Nick Madrigal) and a reliever without an arm (Codi Heuer) and a hand full of themselves.
So when is the Cubs’ tomorrow? If it’s a rebuild they didn’t move it forward at all. If they’re trying to win they fucked that up by not signing Contreras long-term. This is just nothing. The Cubs are nothing. And they seem quite content in their nowhere land.