If my math is correct, the day after July 30th is July 31st. Today, folks, is July 30th. The one true trade deadline for MLB teams in this new format is July 31st. That means there’s transaction action galore, right?
Wrong. Tremendously wrong. There has barely been a peep on the trade front across the baseball landscape to date, and even the one big move - Marcus Stroman going from the Toronto Blue Jays to the New York Mets - both makes barely any sense and was widely panned for Toronto’s return.
The biggest non-Stroman pitchers to move so far have been none other than Homer Bailey, Jordan Lyles, and Andrew Cashner, a veritable who’s who of who the hell? Lyles, for what its worth, has a career 5.29 ERA and has been worth an incredible -3.2 bWAR in his career, and he’s the one real “import” to the tightly packed National League Central race - he came from the now-tanking Pittsburgh Pirates to help ‘reinforce’ the decimated Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff.
The glut of teams hell-bent on pitching themselves as actual contenders this year is staggering, highlighted by none other than our own Cincinnati Reds. At 6.5 games back in their division and 6 games under the .500 mark, they’re still intent on not only holding on to their otherwise prime trade chips, they’re reportedly still looking to augment this group for some winning ways in 2019. That a club in that position is a holder/buyer and not seller at this juncture - especially with the great number of players they have on the cusp of free agency - seems to have helped define what has so far been one of the more mundane trade seasons on record.
In fact, if you scour the NL Central landscape, it appears that Lyles is so far the only player of note who’s been picked up at all.
The Chicago Cubs swung a deal to bring in Martin Maldonado a few weeks back, but that was more an emergency depth move while Willson Contreras was out injured, and Maldonado has logged a grand total of 13 PA as a Cub - and with Contreras now back healthy, Chicago’s already trying to move Maldonado on to someone else. Aside from that, the shell of Derek Holland was brought in after being DFA’d by San Francisco, and that’s the entirety of the moves so far from the one true financial powerhouse of the division.
Down in St. Louis, the Cardinals have been eerily silent, too. Zac Rosscup was brought in from the Los Angeles Dodgers after also being DFA’d, but he’s been optioned to AAA already. That’s it, despite their great run of form having them back tied for the lead in the division.
Milwaukee, as we noted, is on the prowl for pitching help, and that led them to Lyles, somehow. Despite being connected with some of the biggest would-be movers at this deadline for much of the early part of the season, however, they’ve not made the kind of splash that once seemed inevitable. That’s in part due to their now depleted farm system, one that took major hits over the last two years as they acquired superstar Christian Yelich and later buttressed that with moves for supporting cast members for their playoff run. In other words, they aren’t really even positioned to make a big splash at this juncture unless they’re willing to trade pieces off their big league roster.
That leaves the Reds as the only other ‘buyer’ shopping at this deadline, and as the inimitable Fred Regorter detailed yesterday, perhaps the market conditions themselves should dictate that the Reds be buyers as much or more than their desire to become relevant with some more 2019 wins. If pending free agents like Tanner Roark are ‘untouchable’ and the club hasn’t been bowled over for a Yasiel Puig deal, maybe it really is prudent to be a bargain hunter at the bargain store when the bargain store is the only store open. If the returns are so light that they aren’t going to impact the future by failing to cash-in on trade chips, the inverse must be true, to - meaning that the Reds shouldn’t have to give up any franchise-altering talent to pick up a piece or two that could make 2019 a little bit more fun. All it takes, really, is a commitment from the front office and ownership to make hoarding as much cash as possible not the priority, something that they sure as hell hinted was finally the case when they splurged this past winter.
I’m not willing to say the Central is ripe for the taking, but as it has been all season long, it’s certainly a wide-open race. The Reds will have to do some historic kind of winning to make them a part of its interesting finale, but that’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities - especially if them make the kind of additions at this deadline that their division peers seem so far unwilling to make. After all, the ‘06 Cardinals did squeak into the playoffs by winning the Central with a paltry 83 wins, and we all know how that season ended for the BFIB.
For now, though, everyone appears to be playing a game of deadline chicken, and it’s both boring as hell and looking more and more like a potential missed opportunity to jump ahead of rival clubs who aren’t willing to blink first. Maybe, though, we’ll be graced with a day and a half of fireworks before it’s all said and done, and maybe, just maybe, the Cincinnati Reds will finally play a part.